Building Bonds – Brothers Forge Construction Careers, Family Ties

by Cindy D. Meixel, photo editor. Photos by Cindy D. Meixel, except as credited.

Corey Sarver’s first job after graduating from Pennsylvania College of Technology was building a prison on top of a mountain in Virginia.

Later, he found himself four blocks from the White House, constructing the George Washington University School of Business. Today, he is finishing four years as senior project manager, overseeing the construction of the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick, Md. The multimillion-dollar bio-safety laboratory is being built for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Once Sarver’s crew from Gilbane Building Co. and other specialists move out and the labs are certified this winter, the four-story structure is expected to “go hot” in the spring, and scientists outfitted in biohazard suits will move in, along with lethal infectious diseases like bubonic plague, Ebola and Marburg. There are few laboratories in the world capable of experimenting with such highly communicable pathogens. The top-security NIAID facility resembles a high-tech submarine with air-pressure-locking stainless-steel doors leading from outer labs to an inner sanctum Bio-Safety Level 4 lab, where killer viruses are quarantined.Corey Sarver, '97, the oldest of three brothers (all Pennsylvania College of Technology alumni) working for Gilbane Building Co., stands in the atrium of the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick, Md., where, starting this spring, government scientists will study lethal infectious diseases.

“This has certainly been one of my most challenging projects,” Sarver admitted. “Getting it done will be a relief.”

"They were always
building something."

What’s next for this ’97 construction management graduate? He gets to go “play” at Maryland’s Towson University, where he’ll oversee the construction of a basketball arena.

“That’ll be more interesting to me, since it’s sports-related, but it will bring its own challenges, and it will have its own complexities,” he said.

This will be the second facility at Towson on which Sarver has worked – the first was a performing arts center. Sarver has returned to the center to see it in operation and said, “It’s always very powerful to return to a job site and see all the hard work that we put into it and see it being used and enjoyed by many people.”

All of this notable construction feels like a far cry from the day in 1993 when Sarver set off for Penn College – a few hours after gutting his mother’s kitchen in their Somerset family home.

“The day he went to college, he ripped out the kitchen before he left and took off for school,” laughed his mother, Darlene Sarver. “It became a weekend project until he got home for Christmas break and finished it.”

In younger days, the Sarver brothers build, appropriately enough, a sand castle during a family vacation. From left: Matt, Jamie and Corey. Photo courtesy of Sarver family. Besides leaving his mother behind to, as she says, “do dishes in the tub for three months,” he left behind two highly impressed younger brothers – Jamie and Matt – who eventually enrolled in Penn College construction programming and who also now work at Gilbane, a national construction-management firm headquartered in Providence, R.I.

“Corey has inspired Matt and me to do just about everything we’ve done,” said Jamie. “We’ve always followed in his footsteps.”

Matt added, “I thought I was on the right path to begin with (pursuing a career in construction), but I was able to see the end result in Corey.”

Jamie arrived at Penn College in Spring 2001 and graduated with an associate degree in building construction technology two years later. Matt started in Fall 2001 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in construction management in 2004.

Both have fond memories of their Penn College years. For Jamie, now-retired faculty member James A. Potter stands out in his mind as “a guy who propelled me to do better every day.” Jamie added, “He helped me believe I had the potential to be what I wanted to be in the construction field.”

Jamie also holds Robert P. Gresko, instructor of building construction technology, in high regard and recalled “his willingness to mentor you one-on-one.”Jamie Sarver, 01, focuses on safety as part of his duties as a superintendent with Gilbane Building Co. Hes working on renovations to the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md. Photo courtesy of Gilbane Building Co.

“He took the time to teach you, not instruct you,” he said. “He spent time with you after class to make sure you understood the material.”

Matt recalls his first tough class – taught by Wayne R. Sheppard, assistant professor of construction management: “It was a four-hour lab, twice-a-week. It was one of my most intriguing classes, and I was not good at it. Mr. Sheppard had this red pen, and when I would get my papers back, there would be nothing but red marks all over them,” Matt laughed. “It required a lot of time, and I had to work hard. But, despite all those red-pen marks, I was confident that, if I put my time in, I’d get an ‘A,’ and I did.”

After graduating from Penn College, Jamie worked for five years in the residential-construction field before electing to focus on commercial construction with Gilbane. A superintendent with Gilbane, he is currently working on renovations to the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md. His duties focus on safety checks, scheduling and daily reports. He said he opted for the associate degree because he prefers “being more hands-on in the field.” He added, “I like being out with what I like to call the ‘roughnecks’ – the guys who actually do the physical work.”

Matt, a senior project engineer, has spent the past year and a half in Hagerstown, Md., working on the construction site of the new Washington County Hospital, a project that will take him another year and a half to complete. The new regional health care center will comprise 550,000 square feet.

“We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve made great progress. I’m ecstatic,” Matt said, noting that he’s unsure what his next assignment will be. “That’s the great thing about what we do – we never know what’s next.”

The Sarver brothers are impressed with the family focus that is a strong component of their company’s culture. Founded in 1873, Gilbane Inc. is one of few family-owned, privately held, large construction companies in the nation.Senior project engineer Matt Sarver, 01, stands at the construction site of the Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Md.

“We’re encouraged to have a life-work balance, not a work-life balance,” explained Matt. “Being family-oriented bleeds down through the entire structure of the company and into the lives of even those who aren’t brothers and sisters. We’re all very close. We’re one big family.”

Jamie added: “Every day, it’s ‘How’s your family, your wife, your kids?’ Our supervisors get to know us on a level that’s personal. It’s not about profit; it’s about you, your family, your career and what path you want to take. And, the sky’s the limit for where you want to go and how far you want to take it.”

Corey concurred, “It’s definitely all about family. Gilbane realizes what makes the company successful and that is the people who work for them. I certainly didn’t realize this when I interviewed for an entry-level position some 12 years ago, but I quickly realized that Gilbane fosters the same values that our parents ingrained in us throughout our childhood.”

The Sarver brothers return regularly to that childhood home – the family farm where they enjoy hanging out and hunting with their father and grandfather. They continue to build bonds in the same woods where they played as boys, building treestands and treehouses.

“They were always building something,” said Darlene. “I think half of my husband’s tools are still out there in the woods!”

When they return home, they still resort to construction of some sort, like continuing to renovate their parents’ home. On Labor Day weekend, the brothers tended to siding and drainage issues.

“Working on projects like that together really brings us close,” Jamie offered. “It’s a real bond for us – just like enjoying the outdoors brings us together. It’s the time we get to spend together that’s important.”

In addition to focusing on present projects, there is also a focus on past projects, especially that notorious kitchen overhaul 16 years ago.

“The kitchen was the fun one,” Jamie admitted. “I can still remember Corey getting up in the morning and saying, ‘Let’s tear out Mom’s kitchen.’ Mom was gone and I told him, ‘Mom’s gonna kill you,’ but Corey turned to Matt and me and said, ‘Here are two sledge hammers.’”

Another family-home-renovation project that stands out for the brothers is finishing their parents’ basement. “Mom and Dad had wanted that done for years,” Jamie said, “so, to actually see it completed and know that’s what they always wanted, it really struck home for all of us.”

Whether they are constructing multimillion-dollar structures, or tending to home renovations, the Sarver brothers are all about building bonds. ■

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