HOTSEAT- Dome dude: Laurance makes sure the show goes on
As July drags on, Richard Laurance is starting to sweat, but it's not due to the dog days of summer or. Since 2002, he has been supervising construction of the John Paul Jones Arena, UVA's new exercise in basketball and entertainment. With the grand opening just weeks away, it's crunch time.
"My job is from the beginning of the concept to the completion of the construction," says Laurence. "I got in at the beginning– the concept, hired the architects, and then the construction contractors."
So if the building throws a temper tantrum during Cirque du Soleil's performance on opening night August 1, he's the one who'll have to answer for it. It's a tough burden to carry at times, but Laurance says, although he's soon to retire, he's up to the task– and has been for more than 40 years.
"I spent 25 years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, traveling the world doing facilities management– construction, design, operation, and maintenance," he says. "And I've had 18 years at the University doing essentially the same thing."
Over the years, Laurance picked up on a few common threads that pretty much connect every project. "They all have their own particular issues– different personalities, different people, different funding," he says. "You always try for three things: quality product, on time, within budget."
It's that last item that has proven to be most stubborn with JPJ, even with the nearly $130 million allotted for the facility. "There's been interest in getting a lot more in and building a facility that costs a lot more," he says. "In the beginning, you have to look at the budget and control it. With each project I learned it even more: you have to catch it at the beginning."
Surprisingly, his secret weapon is miles and miles of red tape.
"On this particular project, I've learned a little more about controlling budget with– believe it or not– a lot of detailed budget reporting," he laughs. "We've had more reporting on this project than on any project I've ever been involved with, just to make sure that we don't go wacko."
The promoters have gone wacko with the events schedule, though. By the the time the basketball season kicks off on November 12, the domed stadium will already have hosted Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, and James Taylor. Any one of those would have been huge news on its own, but together they're so cool it's disorienting. Where are we, again?
We have the size and scope of the project to thank for that, and Laurance says that JPJ is the only arena of its kind in the country, and the largest one in the state. "I think it's spectacular," he says. "For Central Virginia, this is the start of something very very big."
Why here? After 25 years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, I was looking for another extension to my already exciting career. Bill Middleton was the Assistant Vice President of facilities at UVA and said working at the University was exciting and challenging and I would be a good fit. He was correct.
What's worst about living here? My grandkids live in Alexandria, and it used to be 24 traffic lights between the two houses. Now it's 52.
Favorite hangout? Brick Oven every Friday night
Most overrated virtue? Temperance
People would be surprised to know: My wife and I are currently cashing social security checks every month.
What would you change about yourself? I'd learn to leave work issues at work.
Proudest accomplishment? It's a tie: (1) Being married to my incredible wife, Pat, for 41 years; (2) Obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering and financial management; (3) Completing the three largest projects in UVA history on time, on budget, with all quality goals met.
People find most annoying about you: I'm totally focused on the project/goals/mission that I'm assigned, and I'm inflexible on any interference with these tasks. My motto: "The current job is the most important I will ever have. Just get it done and don't interfere with my staff's progress."
Who do you admire? All military personnel who are serving and protecting our country.
Favorite book? Faith of My Fathers by John McCain
Subject that causes you to rant? When people are late for meetings or don't meet schedules or budget parameters
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Being a part of the team that designed and constructed the $86 million Carl Smith Center, the medical research facility, and the $129.8 million John Paul Jones Arena on time, on budget, with quality throughout.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? 9/11
What do you drive? 2002 Buick Lasabre
In your car CD player right now: Eric Clapton
Next journey? Become an astronaut. I'm going to just "take up space" and perhaps accomplish a little bit of consulting at the University.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? In the 6th grade when the teacher was out of the room, a kid game of throwing the blackboard erasers developed, and I threw a great pitch to a friend on the other side of the room. Unfortunately, the teacher came back early, my fastball was a little high, and Mrs. Moberg took a direct hit to the head. She said nothing; but the stare to the whole class was frightening. Later that day, I mentioned it to a friend and another teacher overheard the conversation. A four-hour assignment to kindergarten was the punishment.
Regret: No regrets
Favorite comfort food: Ice cream
Always in your refrigerator: Orange juice; turkey
Must see TV: NCIS, Desperate Housewives
Favorite Cartoon: Road Runner
Describe a perfect day. A Saturday morning, quiet breakfast, power walk, visit the grandkids. Extra special if UVA football, basketball, lacrosse, or baseball team wins a big game.
Walter Mitty fantasy: slam dunk to win an NBA title
Who'd play you in the movie? Dustin Hoffman
Most embarrassing moment? Landing a Cessna airplane upside down. As a 22-year-old student pilot, I was practicing emergency landings without power and pulled out a little late, hit the nose wheel, and flipped the plane over. I now enjoy letting others fly the planes.
Best advice you ever got? From my father, a manufacturing executive with Martin Marietta Company. He said every defeat creates a new opportunity and is a learning experience. I've relayed this to my grandkids who are now excellent skaters. "It's not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get up that counts."
Favorite bumper sticker? No money, no time, no deal
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO