Building on a foundation: Family, professional connections bring alum back to campus

Surrounded by steel beams and freshly poured concrete, Doug Johnson (’95), vice president for Adolfson & Peterson Construction, described the construction process for one of Colorado State University’s prominent building projects, the new CSU Health and Medical Center.

Johnson’s passion for the details are evident. While giving a tour, he pointed out important elements such as the placement of the mechanical systems, the thickness of the concrete and steel beams, and the pre-manufactured, soldered pipes. “Safety and quality are cornerstones of the company,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s Ram pride was also on display at the recent topping-off ceremony for the new building, where he spoke on behalf of Adolfson & Peterson. “This truly is a special moment for me to be back here on campus and have the privilege of building something like the CSU Health and Medical Center,” he said.

Doug Johnson, Vice President, Adolfson and Peterson Construction, delivers remarks at the Topping-Out Ceremony for Colorado State University’s Health and Medical Center. August 1, 2016
Johnson delivers remarks at the topping-out ceremony for the new Health and Medical Center. on Aug. 1

Owned and operated by CSU, the Health and Medical Center will be home to the CSU Health Network and unite all of CSU’s student health services under one roof, as well as provide a health clinic and services open to CSU faculty and staff and the general public. The project is funded largely by student health fees, and partners in the project include UCHealth, Associates in Family Medicine, and Columbine Health Systems.

Family ties to CSU

Johnson, an alumnus of the construction management program, has a strong connection to CSU and to Northern Colorado. His parents, aunts and uncles, and two sisters all graduated from CSU. Johnson also met his wife, Amy, when she was a dance major at CSU, and they have two children, Colter, 18, and a daughter Elise who is 16. And now, Colter is carrying on the family tradition. He started as a CSU freshman this fall.

Johnson’s parents, Joyce and Bud, also met while students at CSU. His uncle on his dad’s side, H. Gordon Johnson, a mechanical engineering major at CSU, developed the pivot sprinkler and is still living at age 96. His aunt and uncle on his mom’s side also went to CSU, and his uncle got a veterinary medicine degree, joined the Army, and worked as a pathologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Johnson grew up in Greeley and still makes his home there a few blocks away from his parents. His family were farmers and ranchers in Weld and Larimer Counties, and they still own the family farm in Fort Collins, 10 minutes away. Johnson’s grandfather, Harvey Johnson, was the mayor of Fort Collins from 1963 to 1967 and served as a member and president of the Water Supply and Storage Company Board for over 60 years. According to CSU’s Water Resources Archive, which holds some of Harvey Johnson’s papers in its collection, “Johnson was instrumental in preparing the city to store water for future growth.”

Johnson likes to note an interesting tidbit about Fort Collins history and his grandfather: Downtown on the southeast corner of College and Mountain Avenues is a plaque commemorating the visit of comedian Jack Benny to Fort Collins. If you look down at the base of the wall of First Bank, you will see three handprints in the concrete, one attributed to former CSU President William E. Morgan, one to Mayor Harvey Johnson, and one to Jack Benny. “I go by every once in a while and put my hand in it,” said Johnson, “and my son was over here and he ran by there and snapped a picture with his hand in my grandfather’s handprint.”

The handprints of Morgan, Johnson and Benny.

Student memories

During Johnson’s time as a student at CSU, he lived on Remington Street in a fraternity. “I used to walk by this building site on the way to class. I never thought I’d be back here on campus working on a project such as this,” he said.

Johnson credits CM Professor Emeritus Dick Dunn with inspiring him on the path to his construction management career. Born on a ranch, Johnson started off at CSU majoring in agriculture. But he talked his adviser into letting him take an elective drafting class. “I enjoyed Dr. Dunn and the class so much that I knew it was more than just a passing whim,” he said.

Johnson decided to concentrate on CM and changed his major that semester. “Dr. Dunn was a great professor and mentor and I still enjoy talking to him about the industry – he’s the reason I’m in CM.”

Johnson fondly recalls his time as a student, going to College Days, and eating at the Pickle Barrel with his fellow students and another CM professor, Steve Jouen, before class. “I remember the smell of ammonia up on the second floor in Guggenheim from the blueprint machine. The tools of the trade were a mechanical pencil and graph paper. We were taking notes and studying with buddies, trying to pass the engineering classes. It was a lot of fun. CSU was a great school.”

Johnson also recalls having the late CM Professor Jim Parnell in a structures class. To demonstrate the strength of an adhesive, Parnell would bond two bricks together and put them in a vise. “He climbed up to stand on top but while he was standing on it, something gave way and he ended up falling to the ground,” said Johnson. “The adhesive bond held, but the brick had broken. He was a great teacher and we learned a lot.”

‘Ram Built’

Many employees and partners on the building are CSU alumni, such as Zella Goettsch (construction management, ’05) who is on site as the project manager.

Johnson has an abundance of praise for the local subcontractors working on the project – and many also have ties to CSU, such as Front Range Roofing Vice President Kent Nelson (construction management, ’88), and Dave Marrou, owner of Top Gun Concrete (construction management, ’99).

“Northern Colorado is blessed with excellent subcontractors,” said Johnson. “We have really good partners. For all of us, it’s not just about a paycheck, it’s about doing something positive for CSU and the community. When a project is local, there is a lot of pride in ownership and quality of workmanship that becomes a part of it.”

After a couple different jobs after college, Johnson landed at Adolfson & Peterson, where he has worked for 15 years. He loves his job and has nothing but praise for the company. “A & P is one of the best companies you can work for. I am very fortunate to manage exciting projects.”

“I’ve gotten to build hospitals and schools and things that make a difference in the community, but I consider it the pinnacle of my career to come back to CSU and build something like the CSU Health and Medical Center. It’s pretty special,” he said. “And if what you do isn’t meaningful to you, it’s not worth doing.”

By Gretchen Gerding