More Than Boots on the Ground

by Balfour Beatty

Virtual reality goggles, drones and laser scanners. All three might be found on the holiday wish list of your average middle schooler, but students may not realize that contractors use these same tools to build new futures in their communities every day.

On the Wilson Family YMCA project in Wilson, North Carolina, a joint venture partnership between Balfour Beatty and Holt Brothers Construction, our team leveraged OpenSpace technology to attract the next generation of construction industry talent and demonstrate just how exciting virtual design and construction (VDC) tools can be.

As the contractors building the new Wilson Middle School After School (MSAS) facility, we recognized the opportunity to make an even deeper and more personal investment in the program. By providing students with hands-on VDC experiences and jobsite visits, Balfour Beatty and Holt Brothers exemplified our commitment to the project, the Wilson County community and the future of our industry.

A Hands-On OpenSpace Experience

After introducing Wilson MSAS students to OpenSpace, Balfour Beatty and Holt Brothers planned a virtual scavenger hunt through real jobsite capture images. Students were able to search for interesting items on all three levels of the new building, and students who found the most items were eligible to win prizes. For bonus points, students could even identify a smiley face temporarily spraypainted on a second-floor dumpster.

The scavenger hunt was a tremendous success, due in large part to OpenSpace’s user-friendly interface. With just a simple hyperlink, students could access and explore the virtual environment with ease. OpenSpace’s security features also enabled the program’s success, allowing students to view jobsite images without accessing deeper layers of building infrastructure or sensitive information.

“Students may be under the impression that construction work is all ‘boots on the ground,’ but we were able to demonstrate how it can be so much more,” says Katherine Boumenot, senior technology specialist. “VDC tools like OpenSpace show students a flashy, exciting side of construction.”

Engaging Minds and Hands

Beyond the virtual scavenger hunts, Balfour Beatty and Holt Brothers held a series of monthly classes and activities that enhanced students’ knowledge of VDC terminology and potential construction careers. Students had the opportunity to visit the Wilson YMCA jobsite trailer, where they used OpenSpace to map the existing gymnasium, and even piloted toy drones.

These experiences allowed students to safely and remotely explore VDC tools. The classroom sessions concurrently guided their learning, so students finished the program with a greater understanding of how digital tools like OpenSpace are transforming the industry.

Building on Success

Following the success of the Wilson MSAS program, Balfour Beatty plans to explore similar opportunities on future projects. The first opportunity is E52, a new elementary school for Wake County Public School System slated to begin construction in 2023.

“Engagement programs on projects such as Wilson MSAS, E52 and more to come are an important part of our responsibility to our clients,” says Balfour Beatty Business Development Director Chad Humphrey. “Our projects are vital to the communities where we work, live and play, and as a contractor we want our education clients to know that we’re allies in their students’ long-term success.”

Students may never consider careers in construction without exposure to the many diverse roles and innovative tools like OpenSpace that make the industry so rewarding. Projects such as Wilson MSAS present a prime opportunity to spark students’ curiosity. Some sparks may light a lifelong passion.