Builders at our Core: Morgan Mead
Nashville has long worn the badge of “Music City, USA,” and more recently has become known as a “boomtown,” with a fast-growing economy and population. DPR’s Special Services Group (SSG) is currently working at the intersection of these two labels, building out a first-generation, 30,000-sq.-ft. tenant improvement project for Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG) in Nashville’s Hines T3 Wedgewood-Houston Mass Timber Building—one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable developments in the city.
In 2022, DPR performed about $700 million in SSG work, with an average SSG project size of approximately $3 million, often performing five- and six-figure projects in active environments. DPR’s SSG team members, skilled interior specialists, are being tasked to use their unique skills to build out CCMG’s space that includes recording studios, office space, a live performance area and outdoor rooftop patio designed by Hastings Architecture. Among these SSG experts is drywall foreman Morgan Mead, who leans heavily into his coordination and pre-task planning expertise to lead a crew in building out this unique, first-generation space.
Q: What is your role at DPR and what path did you take to get there?
Mead: I’m a drywall foreman for SPW in Nashville. I came here from a drywall contractor in Southern California, where I went from a stocker to a foreman over a 13-year period. I ran work for seven of those 13 years, but I hit a point where I wanted something different. I had heard good things about DPR from my coworker, I researched the company, and he referred me. During the interview process, we talked about my capabilities and goals, and I was asked, “Where do you want to go?” I decided on Tennessee and started with DPR about a year ago. I have never regretted it.
Q: What types of projects do you see most often as a part of SSG?
Mead: My entire career before joining DPR consisted of tenant improvement (TI) projects. The company I came from had a great reputation and was awarded a lot of high-quality projects, so when I came to DPR, I was asked to work on TIs to draw on my experience. SSG projects typically happen inside existing structures, changing or improving them. I started off doing single floors and then progressed to managing more. Now, I typically do three-to-four-month projects.
Q: In what ways does SSG try to minimize disruption in an occupied environment?
Mead: My projects so far have been a 50/50 split between occupied and unoccupied environments. I’ve worked on a few hospital projects that were occupied, and one challenge was start times. We would typically start earlier, around 4am, to keep the noise to a minimum during the busy times of their workday, and then change tasks at 8am when the tenant was coming in. We would handle the tasks that created the most noise first. We got ahead of framing walls by shooting the top and bottom tracks for the studs to attach to before the tenants came in, then finishing up the less noisy activities later.
Q: Tell me about your work on your current project. What challenges have you overcome?
Mead: CCMG is an example of an unoccupied SSG project in a brand-new building. We’re finishing out a first-generation office space and are the only ones in there right now, so we don’t have the challenges that exist in an occupied environment. My team is tasked with metal framing and drywall, and there is a lot of coordination with other trades. The project includes a lot of high-quality, natural finishes and open areas with exposed ceiling finishes. The decks are doweled 2’x6’ studs instead of concrete decking. It’s a very cool aesthetic—polished concrete instead of tile or carpet. Since we’re using exposed natural finishes, it’s important to make sure every detail lines up perfectly the first time because you can’t hide any minor imperfections later.
Q: What have you learned from your team members?
Mead: The environment at DPR is very supportive. I’ve seen other companies that were very dog eat dog, but here it’s different. If I’m not sure of something, I can lean on someone else for help; I don’t have to worry that I’ll be seen as incompetent. At DPR, you’re not left on your own to try to figure things out. It’s a much more comfortable environment.
The options available are pretty incredible for a company to think about its people and their abilities, offering training and unlocking doors—even down to offering English and Spanish classes to help employees communicate better. It’s tougher having that language barrier, but being able to take classes is really helpful. The more you use that muscle, the stronger it gets.
Q: What is one thing you think everyone can do to make the industry as a whole safer for everyone?
Mead: We work hard to follow best practices. Every morning, we discuss the pre-task planning we have outlined on a board and follow that. We talk about our tasks, the steps in each one, along with the potential hazards and ways to mitigate them. As a group, each of us is aware of what everyone is doing and has open eyes to different perspectives and what can cause an injury. Some companies care mainly about production and quality, putting safety last. At DPR, we think safety works along with those. Our goal is for everyone to go home the same way they came to work, if not better. As a foreman, that should be your goal for your crew.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Mead: Making sure we’re coordinating well with all the other trades and that we’re all stacked up the way we’re supposed to be to hit our marks. If we’re framing ceilings, it’s making sure everything is laid out so we only build it once with no rework. It’s coordinating the build itself, but also coordinating the materials to be on site when you need them. On our current project, we’re building out floor three of the seven. The base isn’t complete yet, so we load materials directly into the third floor via a window. If other crews are working in the area, we coordinate our work schedule with theirs so we can both get things done. It can be tough, but with experience you know what to look for. It’s about being able to adapt to your surroundings.
Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?
Mead: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and come into it with an open mind. If you put in the hard work, you’ll see the rewards. It’s a growing field and there aren’t enough people to do job. It’s a gratifying thing to put your hands to something and create, to be physically and mentally active. There’s so much opportunity for growth in construction.
Builders at our Core is a blog series dedicated to sharing stories of DPR’s self-perform work teams. With diverse career paths, we’ll hear from people who got to where they are in very different ways, but have a few key things in common: a passion for continuous learning, growth and building great things.
Posted on August 16, 2023
Last Updated August 11, 2023