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U.Va. Engineering student helps shape Grounds through Alderman Library construction

Sarah Besecky assisted with the renovation of Alderman Library through her summer internship program

<p>Besecky applied for an internship at a company that was in the midst of renovating Alderman Library, one of her favorite buildings on Grounds.</p>

Besecky applied for an internship at a company that was in the midst of renovating Alderman Library, one of her favorite buildings on Grounds.

Third-year Engineering student Sarah Besecky has always been fascinated by the process of building construction, from observing the progress of local construction sites to taking courses on the subject and pursuing a career in construction management. In an effort to achieve her dream of working in the civil engineering field, Besecky applied for an internship at a company in the midst of renovating one of her favorite buildings on Grounds — Alderman Library.

“Growing up, there was always a lot of construction going on,” Besecky said. “It was really interesting to pass different construction sites each week … and see sites go from a hole in the ground to a fully built building in a matter of months, or over the course of a year."

Sweden-based contractor Skanska, who was awarded the construction management contract for the Alderman Library renovation in June 2019, noticed this passion in Besecky, who applied to intern at the company when she received an email about the opportunity from the Engineering School. Skanska selected her as an intern at the construction site, where she would gain hands-on experience.

An important part of Besecky’s job with the construction management team is keeping up communication among everyone working on the project. She does the most work on Request For Information submittals — which help the subcontractors, design team, the architect and the owners communicate with each other, making collaboration between teams easier and keeping their work efficient. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               “I also have some other smaller items that I do, such as doing an underpinning case study — which is the process of supporting the existing building by laying a foundation for it,” Besecky said. “We excavate right next to the building so it doesn't fall in, and so I've been keeping track of that as well as the ... pieces incorporated into pouring each pit.”

Besecky’s work on the Alderman Library construction site allowed her to take the numbers-based material from courses she has taken at the University and see where it comes into play during building planning and construction. For example, Besecky took what she learned in her physics courses — such as the math involved in how structures stand — and applied it in real life scenarios. Her experiences over the summer applied her love for civil engineering and ignited her passion even further, while introducing her to a new aspect of construction she had not considered in the past — construction management.

“I learned that there's a lot of different components of construction that I didn't know existed before now, like how construction sites are organized and how different subcontractors are brought in as well as ... the different roles these subcontractors have on the project and the various specializations they have that make them qualified for these roles,” Besecky said

Besecky’s work on the library renovation didn’t just introduce her to a career path — it also presented her with the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on Grounds.

“It's really cool ... to have this project at U.Va. because throughout your time here, everyone always asks about how you are going to leave an impact on Grounds,” Besecky said. “Working on this project means that whenever I visit in the future, I will always get to say that I helped build the library … Knowing that countless students will get to study here when the construction is completed is very exciting.”

The library renovation project planning began in the spring of 2016 with the goal of improving a facility beginning to show its age, with its plumbing, wiring, heating and air conditioning reaching the point of failure. The building will be renovated to meet the current standards of safety as well as suit the needs of modern students, including improved lighting with the addition of wide-spread light sources as well utilization of existing light wells, easier books and updated south and north entrances. Work on the renovation started in January 2020, with its cost of $100 million being partly funded by a $40 million donation from an anonymous donor, as well as a $1 million donation from board of visitors members Robert and Molly Hardie. 

As the summer comes to an end, the renovation reaches a crucial point. Recently, a concrete subcontractor came on site to start working on the foundations of new expansions on the main building. This marks the end of the excavation and demolition of the site and the beginning of the construction of the new structures.

Since COVID-19 put the entire world on pause, many projects postponed their work until conditions improve. But, Besecky explained, it has not impacted the renovation during her time interning with the company.

“Since I started, COVID really hasn't impacted our work,” Besecky said. “We've all been on site, continuing to work. Especially with the state mandates and everything kind of going away — at least as of right now — it's been full steam ahead.”

As the impact of COVID-19 lessened throughout the summer, the renovation is still on pace to be completed in 2023, with the library set to re-open in the spring. While Besecky will not be attending the University to take advantage of the facility by the time of its completion, she knows she will always be able to look at the building and know that it represents her mark on Grounds during her time as a student.