Give a Little Bit: Volunteering Is Up in a Down Economy

The number of people getting involved in their communities went up by 1.6 million to 63.4 million last year, the biggest single-year increase in volunteers since 2003, according to a report released in June by the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service.

The report states that Americans spent 100 million more hours between September 2008 and September 2009 helping their communities, despite a national recession and high unemployment. And, it would seem, the upward trend in volunteerism has not missed the construction and design industries—both of which have been hit with unemployment rates above 20%.

“During this economic slowdown marked by reduced hours and layoffs, many in our architectural and engineering community (in Denver) have spent their spare time reaching out to other groups and individuals in a way that shares their experience and expertise,” says Kathy Ford, SEM Architects and Women in Design member. Women in Design, or WiD, is a volunteer, nonprofit group of architects, engineers, designers and contractors that help other nonprofits such as ACE Mentor and Feed Denver.

“Even though there isn’t a lot of construction work above ground to be had, we can still invest in our field in ways that stimulate future growth and feed our communities and artistic souls,” she says.

The top four activities for service across the country last year were fundraising, collecting or distributing food, providing general labor or transportation and tutoring or teaching. With more time on their hands, construction industry professionals almost doubled the number of firms who participated in the Denver ACE Mentor Program.

“We had 51 firms participate in ACE in 2010 and only 37 in 2009,” says Christi Longsdorf, ACE Mentor Denver program director. “Despite the economy, and everyone desperately trying to win projects, I think people still want to give back and remember why they love this industry.”

It is no secret that the future of the construction industry is currently in flux. And it is unknown how the industry will look once full economic recovery takes hold. But what is sure is that the lessons learned in this recession will include a commitment to volunteerism and a drive to give back to the community as well as the industry.

Riding the Rails: FasTracks Program Achieves Major Milestones

Denver’s light rail system, already a hit with local commuters and topping its ridership projections, gained more momentum this summer. Several key pieces of the FasTracks project came together recently, starting with the signing this month by officials from the Regional Transportation District and the Union Pacific Railroad for RTD’s purchase of railroad property and the construction and relocation of UP facilities for the FasTracks transit expansion.

The agreements total $78 million and provide property needed to build the East Corridor (from Denver Union Station to Airport Boulevard), the Gold Line (from Pecos Junction to Ralston Road), and the West Corridor (relocation of UP’s Burnham Yard Lead to the south).

This is the second property transaction between RTD and UP for FasTracks. The first transaction, which totaled $118 million to purchase the right-of-way to build the North Metro Corridor, occurred in 2009.

In June, RTD selected the Denver Transit Partners to build and operate the commuter rail lines to Denver International Airport, Arvada-Wheat Ridge and south Westminster.

Denver Transit Partners’ proposal came in at $2.085 billion—$300 million lower than RTD’s budget estimate of $2.385 billion. The proposal also included opening the central line between Denver and DIA by January 2016, 11 months ahead of RTD’s deadline. The first stages of construction, which include relocation of utilities and freight tracks along the DIA route, are slated to begin soon.

In July, world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava unveiled his designs for a 500-room Westin Hotel, a commuter train station, and a rail bridge at Denver International Airport. The bridge, which will be located about a mile and a half from the airport, is a 720-ft-long, steel-and-concrete suspension bridge with a 620-ft span. All components of the project total $650 million and will, in Calatrava’s words, “create a kind of link between the city and the airport. We are almost exporting the urban quality of Denver into the airport.”

In all, FasTracks will build 122 miles of commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, add 21,000 new parking spaces, redevelop Denver Union Station and redirect bus service to better connect the eight-county District. The FasTracks investment initiative is projected to create more than 10,000 construction-related jobs during the height of construction and will pump billions of dollars into the regional economy.