Keith Restad joined the UI carpentry crew, a division of Facilities and Services, in 1989. In 1996 he was assigned to the Illini Union, where he is involved in everything from large projects to hanging the signs and art. UI’s 40 full-time carpenters, including members of the night crew, are charged with keeping campus buildings structurally sound and historically intact.
WHAT LED YOU TO A CARPENTRY CAREER?
I’ve been interested in carpentry since I was a kid. I took woodworking classes in high school and went through my apprenticeship with Carpenter’s Union Local #44. I’ve just always liked being able to work with my hands and building something. There’s a sense of accomplishment I get from it. Before UI, I pretty much did construction work on houses – siding, roofing, that kind of stuff.
HOW DID YOU END UP AT THE UI?
I started full-time (in the Union) in the fall of 1996. Before that I was part of a crew that was called out to different buildings on campus. Now I work exclusively at the Illini Union or at the Union Bookstore. In addition to maintenance and renovation work, I hang the pictures, signs and banners around the Union and am in charge of hanging the pieces in the art gallery. I’ve probably hung just about everything in here.
HOW DOES THIS JOB DIFFER FROM PRIVATE-SECTOR WORK?
A lot of it’s the same – I’ve got a boss now and I’ve always had a boss. I don’t want to use the word relaxed, but I think the competition on the outside is a lot more fierce. Everybody here has a job to do and the expectations are that the work will be done well and in a timely fashion.
CAN ANYONE LEARN TO BE A CARPENTER?
There are people who are more adapted to it, but I feel like it’s something you can learn. I feel like one of the traits I have that helps is patience. Things don’t always go the way you planned, but you have to have the patience to see it through. We run into stuff we haven’t run into before – I want to say daily – but at least on a weekly basis. Usually, if you’ve gained enough experience in certain things, you can work your way through any project. It’s a way of looking at things. Once you’ve acquired that knowledge, it’s a foundation you keep building on.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE UNION CONSTRUCTION PROJECT?
I guess I’m probably proudest of the (Wellness Center) relaxation room. Everything you see is on a curve. It turned out really nice, though I wish it was used more. It’s one of the most unique rooms around. We also did a lot of work on the bowling alley; we remodeled the whole thing.
WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES THE ILLINI UNION STAND OUT FROM OTHER CAMPUS BUILDINGS?
Man, I love this place. The architecture of the place is amazing. It’s the place all the students want to go and it’s the place all the alumni want to come back and see. This is the kind of job where I get the benefit of the cultural things that come to the university and the historical things that are part of the buildings here. It’s cool because you get to see different people and the way they look at things; that’s the most enjoyable part of my job.
HOW ARE RENOVATION PROJECTS IDENTIFIED?
A lot of times the painting crews find areas where there’s a problem. It might be identified through a leak, and then they’ll chase it down to find out where it started. There are people on staff who do the identification work. They’ll make a decision on priorities and what projects are needed. I’m usually called in when someone needs additional space or they’re moving to a new one.
YOUR JOB SEEMS MOSTLY AUTONOMOUS. DO YOU EVER HAVE TO DEPEND ON OTHER MEMBERS OF THE F&S TEAM TO COMPLETE A PROJECT?
All the time. We constantly go through situations where we need things from the machine shop or the mill or some other specialized piece or part. I’ll definitely put in a plug for the mill; they can use archives and duplicate just about anything. These types of issues come up all the time and we work together on lots of things. Without that support, my life would be miserable. We all have a lot of pride in what we do. I really enjoy having people be happy with the job when it’s done.