A water line in the wrong place. Supply chain problems. Chipped granite pavers in a plaza design that required precision. These were some of the major challenges WES Construction faced as it raced a tight timetable to ensure “The Embrace” was ready the dedication ceremony on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 16.
Boston’s monument to Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Corretta Scott King, the large bronze monument, along with a tiled plaza and "Peace Walk" ringing it were the product of years of design, permitting, planning and fundraising.
Hank Willis Thomas based the sculpture’s design on a photo of the couple embracing after Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The 20-ft-tall bronze monument represents the Kings’ intertwined arms and hands.
But while the buildup to the groundbreaking was more akin to a marathon requiring years of persistence from backers, construction of the plaza and installation of the sculpture was more like a sprint, taking just under nine months to complete.
“The construction team was great,” said Neil Schwartz, WES Construction project manager, citing as well the work of subcontractors Mass Bay Electric and United Stone and Site. “The team on my side really came through.”
Working directly for the city under a contract with the Boston Parks and Recreation Dept., WES Construction and MASS Design were in charge of designing and building out 90% of the plaza, leaving untouched the final 10%, where the 66,000 lb. sculpture was eventually installed.
The first major hurdle, one that was unexpected, came in the spring when the construction team discovered the site survey city officials had given them was not correct as it ran right over a 1920s, 30-in. water main. Instead of trying to move the water main, which would have been an extensive project, WES Construction convinced the city to move the entire plaza site by 16-20 ft.
While city officials handled the paperwork and permitting required to do that, getting permission to move the site was not an overnight process, roughly eating up a month of construction time.
The second major challenge was a delay in delivery of the granite pavers, with supply chain issues causing a significant delay. The granite and other materials had been ordered before WES Construction was hired for the job.
“We didn’t have control over it,” Schwartz said. "It was hard to motivate those individuals to get us the product ahead of time.” An added complicaton was finding some of the pavers chipped during the long delivery ride from Wisconsin.
United Stone and Site were able to keep the project rolling by cutting down and retooling the damaged pieces so they could fit in other locations.
“They are very good at their craft,” Schwartz said.
In the end, all parts of the complicated project came together with time to spare, ensuring the sculpture and the plaza were ready in time for the high-profile MLK Day dedication of the monument, which featured a host of political leaders and other dignitaries.
“MassDesign got things rolling for us and the city was fantastic to work with,” he said.