Job: Hired by the UI as a cement finisher in May 1993, Eric Knisley has been foreman of the crew since April 1999. He holds an associate’s degree in business from Parkland College, and apprenticed as a cement finisher with the Cement Masons Local 143 in Champaign.
What is a typical day like working on the concrete crew?
Generally, we pour in the mornings and set forms in the afternoon. We do the prep work in the afternoon getting read to pour the next morning. That way by quitting time the concrete’s ready to be sawed and is ready for pedestrian traffic. Our biggest customer in the summertime is the grounds department. We renovate a lot of sidewalks and bike paths and do some street work for them.
What attracted you to working with concrete?
Probably the money as much as anything, I guess. I had a couple of friends who did it and they talked me into it.
How many yards of concrete do you typically pour in a week or a month?
In a year, it’s probably close to 3,000. Some jobs that don’t take a lot of yardage, such as the plaza on the south side of the Chemistry Annex, are still intensive laborwise because there are decorative borders to be formed. Yesterday [July 26] we poured a street on Peabody by the north side of the Law Building and it took 172 yards.
How many people do you typically have on your crew?
Five cement finishers and two to three laborers.
What do you guys do during the wintertime?
Actually, there’s still a lot of stuff to be done outside. As long as the ground is not frozen we can pour concrete. If it’s 32 degrees and above, generally we can be pouring concrete.
What do you like best about your job?
Being outside. It’s really nice to be able to drive around or walk around campus and see projects that we have been part of. We do hardscape projects that are considered part of the landscape. It’s nice to improve campus to make places like that usable but also make it attractive. That’s pretty rewarding: to be able to sit back and say ‘we did this.’
Do you get comments from passers-by?
Most people are aggravated, and that’s understandable because it’s really awkward to try to coordinate all of our material deliveries, including concrete trucks. When all the students get back, you’ve got 30,000 kids to work around, and that makes it pretty hard to get everything in and out. It creates a little bit of friction, but we just try to work with it because that’s why we’re here.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Planning around the weather – the rain, the extreme heat like we had a few days ago really affects how much material we can place in a few hours and how many people we need on each particular job.
What do you do if it’s raining and you can’t work outside?
If it’s raining or something like that, which doesn’t seem to have been the case much this summer, generally we get a list of maintenance-type work inside the buildings that we fall back on from time to time. We do epoxy injections into structural concrete to repair cracks in buildings. We also do urethane injections.
Since you’re working outside with pedestrian traffic and squirrels running around, have you ever had any unusual incidents?
We’ve had bike riders go down the whole length of a wet sidewalk. Yesterday we had a guy walk right into where we were pouring. Usually we try to rinse their shoes off for them because we’ve got a hose handy.
Probably the funniest thing we ever had happen was when we were on South Lincoln Avenue pouring patches on the road, working toward the Vet Med building, and we had an elderly couple drive around the barricades. They were taking their sick dog to the vet and were real nervous. The man drove through the patches in the road and bottomed out, leaving his tire prints and impressions of the car’s gas tank where it had hit the fresh concrete. The only thing holding the car up was the reinforcing steel. He went through three of them before we got him stopped.