Charlene Prost/ENR

Daniel Hunyar was on the highway in his black pickup truck just after 6 a.m. He was hoping to make his 45-minute commute in time to grab coffee and maybe a bagel or doughnut before meetings with subcontractors and superintendents on a $265-million hotel, conference center and garage addition at an Ameristar casino on the bank of the Missouri River in St. Charles, Mo., just north of St. Louis.

The 57-year-old Walton Construction Co. LLC vice president and project executive, with 35 years of construction experience, was expecting to plan and coordinate the upcoming work week. But when his BlackBerry rang, it was a call from an onsite superintendent assigned to watch over rising river water levels after unusually heavy rain.

“The river is likely to crest at 10 feet above flood stage by Thursday,” Hunyar reports from the call. What Hunyar knows, having done the homework on what could go wrong for the massive project, was that flood water could wipe out millions of dollars worth of building materials and equipment, electrical and gas lines, and 15 trailers filled with office equipment.

A flood also could idle  subcontractors and crews who had worked since February of last year to build the 25-story, 400-room luxury hotel, conference center, 2,000-car garage and pool. The addition expands Ameristar’s existing 130,000-sq-ft casino and entertainment area that has remained open during construction, thanks to Hunyar’s planning.

Hunyar’s response to this possible crisis was low-key but take-charge. He told the superintendent via BlackBerry: “Don’t panic. I’ll be there in about 30 minutes...and we’ll get going.”

Once on site, Hunyar and his associates rolled out a site-evacuation plan they had put together early on in case the unpredictable river misbehaved. Crews hoisted electrical and gas lines high. Extra workers came to help move trailers, materials and equipment to higher ground, some into completed levels of buildings so interior work could continue as water rose outside.

The plan worked so well that the site was ready before the flood arrived. It was “almost immaculate, to the point that we bent over picking up cigarette butts” so nothing would pollute the river, Hunyar says.

Walton Construction
Ameristar casino stayed open throughout the expansion

Buck Stops Here

More typically, Hunyar is in meetings to keep up with job progress, change orders, personnel and budget issues, and snags with getting materials on time. Hunyar spent much of this afternoon in a conference call with architects and others working to resolve the project’s latest challenge. Just weeks before the hotel was topped out, Ameristar owners decided to change the design of the entrance to give it a more dramatic look. Pushing to meet project deadlines is part of his day’s work. “The buck stops here,” he says.

Hunyar says he got into this field “by accident.” The St. Louis native went to the University of Missouri at Rolla, thinking he’d like to be an architect. But an architecture major wasn’t available there at the time, so he wound up with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in engineering management.  He graduated when engineering jobs were scarce, but he found a job with a construction company. “I just stayed in construction,” he says, “although...I still doodle.”