From student to steward: Project lead builds on experiences and skills gained at LSC as undergrad

David Leopold

If you spend any time with construction manager David Leopold, you understand what drives his success.

Leopold, project lead for Haselden Construction on the Lory Student Center’s north end renovation, is a bona-fide relationship builder.

Leopold has made it his mission to get to know LSC staff and their teams, and to anticipate their specific needs. Emerging from morning meetings, he smiles and calls out, joking and laughing, as if he feels at home in this space.

As it turns out, he does.

A CSU alum with LSC ties

Leopold, 31, earned his bachelor’s degree from CSU in construction management in 2015, and spent undergraduate years involved in student leadership at the LSC. As a student, he worked alongside LSC Executive Director Mike Ellis and project manager Tracey Abel of Facilities Management, learning key project management and interpersonal skills.

“I’m intertwined with it all,” he said. “I was chair of the LSC Governing Board for six months and worked with Mike hand in hand a year before that as secretary. I also sat with Tracey Abel as an undergraduate on a selection committee for the construction team for the LSC’s Phase 2 Revitalization in 2015.”

Leopold started as construction manager with Haselden in February of last year, and before that, worked in Colorado for Hensel Phelps and Mortenson construction companies. In his current position with Haselden, he is responsible for managing financials and leading Haselden’s internal and external subcontracting teams. His biggest focus, however, is creating and managing client relationships. Leopold said he believes these relationships have a huge impact on the overall success of the project.

Rendering of north side of LSC

‘Blast from the past’

And for Leopold, working to improve the space he spent so much time in as an undergraduate has been a “blast from the past.” He said the level of trust and transparency on this project has exceeded his expectations, and working with the people who make things happen at the LSC – Ellis, Abel and the leadership team – has been insightful and humbling.

“I mean, how did we find ourselves here?” Leopold asks “Here I’m a young gun out of college, and I can give back in this way seven or eight years later, come back as a project manager for one of the most used buildings on campus. I feel honored to contribute to the revitalization of the student center.”

Leopold’s engaging approach, which includes several weekly check-ins and a few well-timed one-liners, makes it easy to share ideas and to solve problems, his LSC collaborators say.

“I think that my first interactions with Dave were at the all-LSC meetings with Haselden [Construction] and Tracey,” Director of LSC Dining Geoff Valdez said. “He was very concerned about our needs and understanding how some of the items they would be doing would impact our areas. He’s been great to work with, very responsive, and has a great sense of humor. He knows his stuff!”

David Leopold

Raising the roof

Leopold’s attention to the process and the people it involves goes a long way to keep the $30 million project on course. The LSC’s north end renovation, which includes the addition of a third floor to house expanded space for Adult Learner and Veteran Services (ALVS), a new HVAC system and a remodeled CSU Bookstore, will be substantially complete by May 4, Leopold said.

Still, daily expectations are high, and renovation work at the LSC hasn’t been without its challenges. The project originally was slated to begin in 2019, but COVID-19 concerns and material supply shortages delayed its start. Adjustments to budgets and scope also had an impact, as did an unusually wet summer when the project first started. And sometimes, challenges hidden in the walls (or in this case, on the roof) try to trip you up, Leopold said.

“Generally, in the construction industry, new builds are seen as less cumbersome,” he explained. “Renovations such as the improvements being made at the LSC pose their own unique set of challenges. It’s the uncertainty of what you might find behind a ceiling or a wall that was last touched in the 1960s.

“Drawings might be inaccurate, or existing materials might need to be replaced,” he continued. “An unexpected challenge here was the lack of existing steel connections that were to be in place for us to build directly onto when building the third floor. They were shown in the existing drawing set, but apparently were never implemented, and we had to design them with our structural engineer on the fly to raise the roof!”

Rendering of Bookstore

Managing many changes

Abel, who oversees the project through the CSU Facilities Management office, said she appreciates Leopold’s direct and comprehensive approach.

“He has kept abreast of the schedule and its effects day to day, quickly reacts to unforeseen conditions, helps monitor changes to the scope of the project and how it is affected as we make changes and additions,” she said. “In the current market, we have to monitor escalation and labor shortages on top of it all. It takes an individual like Dave with the aptitude to be able to manage both the relationships and the risks in a genuine way.”

For Valdez, it’s all about expertise.

“I tried to stick with my strengths in the design phase for the Aspen Grille,” he said. “I’m not the guy you want picking floor patterns.

“Walking the spaces with him was helpful; some of the unscaled 2D prints are challenging to work with,” Valdez said. “It was nice to have just the right number of cooks in the kitchen making some of these decisions. Dave was very prepared for meetings and knowledgeable when we had questions. Some of his answers were portrayed in the software they use and presented with, which he knew quite well.”

As work on the project continues, Leopold said he takes each day as it comes.

“My main responsibility in this role is to be the best steward I can be with the LSC’s funding, ALVS’s funding and student fees funding,” he said. “Maximizing the use of every dollar so it benefits the end users for years to come is a mutual goal for Tracey and me.”

Rendering of north side of LSC

Diving right in

Even away from work, Leopold is busy managing projects, that is, when he’s not off diving somewhere.

“I have advanced diver’s certification,” he said, “and I live in a land-locked state, so it doesn’t see much use. When my wife and I get to travel, it’s something I really enjoy doing.”

He’s also getting a kick out of designing and building furniture and installing landscaping in his backyard at his home in Johnstown.

“We had a new fence installed last summer,” he said. “There’s lots of fence line with seven neighbors and their yards backing to ours. I’m thinking it would take multiple weekends to stain this thing with just brushes and paint rollers.

“So, I got this airless paint sprayer, and I’m like a kid on Christmas day with a brand-new toy,” Leopold adds. “Then my wife takes the sprayer after it’s all set up and says if I want her to help, then she’s not using the paint roller. Slightly defeated, I reach for the roller.”

Leopold is also looking ahead to his next project, which will take him to the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where he and his team will add an additional tower and do some more renovation work.

Yet he’ll miss being on campus and at the LSC again, Leopold said.

“It’s been fun,” Leopold said, with a smile. “A lot has changed, but that feeling of being on campus is comforting, just like being at home.”