Dennis Ferrera ’72 is one of the stars of the 2012 Olympic Games. He spent two years in London getting ready, and he beat his expected times. His achievements: leading a team that prepared a 600-acre site for construction of the facilities where most of the athletic contests took place, safely excavating unexploded World War II ordnance, and inculcating a culture of safety among a diverse group of contractors.
“In 90 million person hours, we didn’t have a single fatality,” Ferrera says. “This is high-risk construction work, and people were killed during the building of the five prior Olympic sites.”
It was an unusual assignment for Ferrera, who is the chief operating officer of the nuclear business unit at global engineering giant CH2M Hill, based in Englewood, Colo. Most of his career has been focused on Rocky Flats, where he began working in 1975. The London Olympics was his first major non-nuclear-related geotechnical project.
His company, however, is no stranger to the Olympics. CH2M Hill has been involved in the last five Olympic Games, starting with Atlanta in 1996, and is already signed up for Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The London project began in 2006 with the selection of CLM, a consortium of CH2M Hill and British firms Laing O’Rourke and Mace, to oversee construction.
Shortly after the deal was closed, Ferrera was asked to be the project manager (‘programme manager’ in British parlance) for the site preparation portion of CLM’s overall contract, and shortly thereafter he moved with his wife and four-year-old daughter to London, remaining there from May 2007 until August 2009. “We really enjoyed it,” says Ferrera. “My daughter, who was six when we returned to Colorado, even developed a bit of an English accent.”
Given a budget of almost $1 billion (10 percent of CLM’s overall construction budget) and some challenging completion dates, work commenced and was well under way by midsummer 2007. “In all, we demolished 215 buildings,” he says, “and completed 2.2 million cubic meters of earth work, both cut and fill. The area had been an industrial site since Victorian times, and there was a range of soil contaminants such as organics, arsenic, cyanides, sulphates and heavy metals. We removed material and cleaned it up using soil washing, stabilization, bio-remediation and in situ groundwater treatment.
One of their most unusual challenges was unearthing unexploded Nazi bombs found in the rubble that had been dumped there following World War II. “We used ground-penetrating radar and did sampling,” says Ferrera. “Whenever we found one, we would notify the London police, who would then call in military ordnance experts to examine it. Fortunately, we never had any explode.”
By the time site prep wrapped up in 2009, his team had set the stage for construction of some of the buildings most familiar to viewers of the games, the Olympic Stadium, Velodrome and Aquatics Centre, and many more. “At the stadium, we removed half a million cubic meters of earth and put back about 250,000 meters of crushed concrete,” Ferrera says.
He didn’t return to London in August for the games, but enjoyed watching them from his home in Louisville, Colo. “I was proud to be one of the people who built the site,” he says.
And rightly so: In addition to scoring well for safety, he excelled in two other key categories. “We came in ahead of schedule and under budget,” he says.
All in all, a gold medal performance