It’s no secret now that Ty and the gang from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” have chosen the Oregon School for the Deaf as one of their project sites for this season. I first got wind of their presence in Salem in an email from my mom, alerting me that Linfield was looking for volunteers for a Salem-area EMHE. I mentioned this to one of the realtors at work (we’ll call him Jake), and a smile crept onto his face.
“Oh, I know all about that.”
“What? You do? How?”
It turns out Jake is friends with the owner of the construction company chosen to carry out the build, and he and the other realtors had been asked to volunteer. Nothing strenuous – just hanging sponsor banners – but it would allow us to take a look around the site, get juicy details on the project, and maybe scope for the celebrity hosts.
So on the day after Labor Day, I arrived at the school at 8 in the morning, got my men’s size large official shirt, and rendezvoused with the rest of my volunteer crew. We got some more juicy details from Jake, who’d also volunteered the day before: the students and their families were being flown to a state-of-the-art hearing institute in Minnesota; Monday’s volunteers actually filmed the arrival three times; and the project would include a new dorm and the annual haunted house. (It makes sense that Linfield is participating in this project – not only is it physically close, but Linfield’s ASL students get to attend the haunted house, and the professor taught there before coming to Linfield.)
The morning passed pretty slowly. We were along the road by the build site, hanging signs on the fence, so we didn’t get to see much activity. However, it’s safe to say I am now a zip-tie pro. I had to deal with a spider and a big scary beetle/cockroach thing, but otherwise there was no drama. Around 9:30, though, things started getting interesting.
“I’m hungry,” my boss said. “I hear there’s catered breakfast around here, let’s find that.”
Sure enough, volunteers were lined up dishing out French toast, eggs, sausage, cereal, bagels, coffee, and more to the hordes of construction workers. Someone even served bacon/maple bar donuts, a la Voodoo Donut. (No, sorry, I did not try one.)
After a while I got sent to the office to be productive – there are only so many people who can hang signs at a time. But my boss called me back out to have lunch with them, which was when the real fun began.
First, one of the designers appeared while I was in line for food. My boss and I hadn’t seen the show for a long time, but we recognized him, and our speculation caught the attention of a nearby construction worker. He was a big dude with a graying goatee and baggy overalls, and he knew all about the show. He confirmed that we’d seen Michael, who had been filming with Paige in the same room earlier that day.
And finally, after lunch, we spotted the man himself: Ty, on his way into the cafeteria. I was a little surprised to see him actually walking, and looking very focused – I honestly expected him to be bouncing everywhere, talking to everyone. Guess he has to conserve energy between takes.
I think the most impressive part of this project is how smoothly it seemed to go. Every detail seemed to have been caught: a squad of volunteers was responsible for stripping the labels off water bottles to avoid unintentional advertising; helpful security guards were posted at every intersection; and the cafeteria was even equipped with a pharmacy’s worth of hand sanitizer, Kleenex, and feminine supplies. They’re even offering massages for the construction workers (or anyone, really – Jake, having done nothing more strenuous than hang banners for a couple hours, got one and spent the rest of the day wild-eyed and walking with a bounce in his step. “That felt amazing! You have no idea how much better I feel! I gotta do that more often!”). Suffice to say the volunteers and crew were all very well taken care of. Apparently the coffee being served was actually good, too.
And the build is progressing at blinding speed. When you see it on TV, you don’t really think about all the manpower that goes into building such a huge structure in such a short amount of time. They throw in a few time lapses, focus on a few special projects, and just like that the family’s back, and the house is standing there all nice and shiny. But being on the scene and seeing how many people are involved and how much is going on at once really drives home how impressive this job is. On Tuesday, after beginning work at midnight, the foundation for the dorm was mostly complete. As of Thursday, walls were up and the eco-friendly roof (complete with a roof garden) was in place. They’ve been doing landscaping, and with the big reveal happening tomorrow, I would guess all that’s left is to move in furniture.
But the part that needles me is how grumpy a lot of people seemed to be. Right away, we encountered one of the project managers while a security guard tried to get a question answered for us. The manager didn’t even look around to see we weren’t the same group of people he’d talked to earlier (apparently a very ignorant group), and he was very snippy to the guard, who finally had to point at us and repeat the question to him. Next, while back at work, I read a couple Statesman Journal articles on the project. I made the mistake of reading the comments – always a bad decision, no matter what the subject, because at least 1/3 of the commenters will always be soulless haters with no internal censor. Doesn’t matter if your article is about a puppy saving an orphaned baby from a fire and then digging up a million dollars for its college fund – someone will pop up insisting that the baby is a dirty Communist and all puppies are the devil. So even though a crew of literally thousands of volunteers are donating over a week of their time to build a new dorm for deaf children, someone found the space in his teeny shriveled heart to complain about how his Twitter feed was overloaded by this project and he was tired of hearing about it.
Some of this is quite excusable. If I was responsible for a huge, expensive, and very public build, and had to answer repetitive questions from clueless volunteers, I’d be snippy too. And the Internet is full of morons. But I would have thought people would be the tiniest bit more excited that something beneficial (not to mention high-profile) is happening in their city.
But the site is open to spectators now, and the reveal will take place tomorrow in two shifts, one for the dorm and one for the haunted house. Seeing the progress and seeing the reactions of the students and teachers will hopefully lift everyone’s spirits and remind them how much the time and labor will pay off.
I mean, seriously, Rob Zombie is involved with the haunted house. It’s gonna be awesome.