When The Going Gets Hot, Construction Workers Get Nocturnal

Jun 29, 2016
Originally published on June 30, 2016 4:27 pm

A team of construction workers is pouring concrete onto the frame of a structure that will eventually become a wastewater treatment plant. It's 1 a.m. on a clear night in the suburbs of Phoenix.

The temperature is still in the high 80s. But that's way down from the area's recent record high temperatures, up to 118 degrees.

Around here, it never really gets cool in the summer. That's partly because Phoenix is such a big city that it traps the heat — a heat island.

But now in the middle of the night, it's finally cool enough to start work.

"We try to pour and place and finish concrete when it's below 90 degrees," says Daniel Ward, the construction company's project director.

From inside an air-conditioned trailer, he says there are things you can do to modify the concrete, like adding ice to cool it down. But it's just best to work when it's not as hot.

There are two reasons for working such strange hours. One is the concrete itself.

"It sets up too quick in the day with the sun on it," says general superintendent Mike Wigness. "Here it's a little bit slower and manageable."

The other reason is making sure the workers don't overheat.

"Everything out here is metal," Wigness says. "I mean, the rebar, a lot of the forms — it gets hot. I mean, it burns your hands."

But at this hour, he adds, laughing, "they're under the natural shade of the moon."

Remember, though, it's still in the high 80s.

"It's hot — that's it. You sweat, you work, you sweat," says Ray Anderson, who's on the crew for tonight's pour. "It's better than the daytime."

And it's all really loud. The city of Chandler, where this project is taking place, has regulations about what time construction work can be done if it's close to houses. This is not that close.

But Ward says they still try to think about the neighbors.

"We'll always pay attention to where the closest neighborhoods are, what time we're pouring — but making sure that we're getting the message out to them of what's going on," Ward says.

So the work goes on in the shade of the moonlight. Concrete mixers pull in and out of the site, guided by workers in reflective vests and glow sticks on the ground.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is the season when many Americans complain about the heat. But it's going to be harder to complain for those of us who do not live in Phoenix, Ariz. That city is so hot that it's hard to imagine taking a stroll outside. Even people who need to work outside cannot easily do that.

Sarah Ventre of member station KJZZ takes us to a construction site where the concrete has to be poured in the middle of the night.

SARAH VENTRE, BYLINE: It's in the high 80s at 1 a.m. on a clear night out in the suburbs of Phoenix. That's way down from recent record highs of up to 118. Around here, it never really gets cool in the summer. That's partly because Phoenix is such a big city that it's a heat island. The city traps the heat. But now in the middle of the night, it's finally cool enough to start work.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

VENTRE: A team of construction workers is pouring concrete onto the frame of a structure that will eventually become a wastewater treatment plant.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

DANIEL WARD: We try to pour and place and finish concrete when it's below 90 degrees.

VENTRE: Daniel Ward is the construction company's project director. From inside an air conditioned trailer, he says there are things you can do to modify the concrete, like adding ice to it to cool it down. But it's just best to work when it's not as hot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

VENTRE: There are two reasons for working such strange hours - one is the concrete itself.

MIKE WIGNESS: It sets up too quick in the day with the sun on it. Here, it's a little bit slower and manageable.

VENTRE: That's general superintendent Mike Wigness. The other reason is making sure the workers don't overheat.

WIGNESS: Everything out here is metal. I mean, the rebar, a lot of the forms - it gets hot. I mean, it burns your hands.

VENTRE: But at this hour...

WIGNESS: They're under the natural shade of the moon (laughter).

VENTRE: And remember, it's still in the high 80s. Ray Anderson is on the crew for tonight's pour.

RAY ANDERSON: Hot - that's it. You sweat, you work, you sweat. It's better than the daytime.

VENTRE: And it's all really loud.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

VENTRE: The city of Chandler, where this project is taking place, has regulations about what time construction work can be done if it's close to houses. This is not that close. But Daniel Ward says they still try to think about the neighbors.

WARD: We'll always pay attention to where the closest neighborhoods are, what time we're pouring - but making sure that we're getting the message out to them of what's going on.

VENTRE: So the work goes on in the shade of the moonlight, as the concrete mixers pull in and out of the site, guided by workers in reflective vests and glow sticks on the ground. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Ventre in Chandler, Ariz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.