Saginaw United High School construction site shows towering glimpse of the future
April 3, 2023


SAGINAW, MI — About 100 yards off the Saginaw River shoreline, Trace Hendrick watches history fuse with the future.

As vice president of Swan Creek Township-based R.C. Hendrick and Son, Inc., the Saginaw native oversees the 212,000-square-foot, five-story-tall, multimillion dollar Saginaw United High School building now under construction just west of the Genesee Avenue Bridge.

It’s a massive undertaking, with roots that literally reach deep into Saginaw’s past and heights that scrape the city’s skies. To support the 90-foot-tall structure, crews sunk foundational beams 95 feet into the riverside soil, pushing through buried timber likely dating back to the city’s 19th century lumber era boom. Its beams are tall enough that construction equipment topping off the big build flies a flag to warn low-flying aircraft.

Hendrick and his colleagues, though, see how the project stretches forward, into future generations. While his great-great grandfather founded the family business that built some of Saginaw’s earliest American structures, Hendrick said the building now under construction should stand well into the 22nd century. By then, perhaps his own great-great grand-descendants could receive educations in the hallways now taking form, Hendrick said.

“Getting this job was really important for us because we knew it was going to be so transformational for the city of Saginaw,” Hendrick said of the contract his company secured when it won the construction bid. “For us — being part of Saginaw for 146 years — it’s been special.”

Saginaw Public Schools leaders said the building will open its hallways in fall 2024. The first class of students will include freshmen and sophomores now attending Arthur Hill and Saginaw high schools, which officials will repurpose for other education needs.

Officials broke ground at the Saginaw United High School property last year and some site work began 12 months ago, but the goliath project really began catching eyes in recent months as its shape took form within viewing distance of busy downtown streets and expressway lanes.

It’s one of the largest buildings ever constructed in Saginaw, and certainly stands atop the city’s modern history of new building projects, Hendrick said.

Mike Hammis, project superintendent for R.C. Hendrick and Son, Inc., was involved 20 years ago in what — at that time — was considered a whopper of a construction project: The building of Willie Thompson Middle School, on Court and Congress in Saginaw.

That facility measures 150,000 square feet, or about 65,000 square feet less than the new high school, he said.

“I took some cool pictures this morning, with the sun coming up over this (project),” Hammis said of the Saginaw United site. “Man, it’s pretty cool stuff.”

Today, Hammis helps coordinate about 35 workers at the site, largely focusing at the moment on raising the foundational steelwork that will disappear from view once the structural skin is applied during the spring and summer. Work begins early on weekdays — as the sun rises — and onlookers can see white-hot sparks flying from 90 feet in the sky where welders mold this creation. Seemingly undeterred by the extreme height, contractors sometimes straddle the beams as they fit each piece into place. It looks scary to laymen, but safety protocols are strictly followed, Hammis said.

About half the workers now are Saginaw County residents, he estimated. That lot includes Israel Delgado, a 32-year-old contractor whose job involves making sure the steel is balanced and even. When the high school doesn’t topple over from mis-distributed weight, the Carrollton Township man can take some credit. It’s a good thing, too, because Delgado said his elementary school-aged children one day may attend classes there.

“It feels good to be part of this, in my community,” Delgado said. “When I drive by with my kids, they can say, ‘My dad worked on that.’”

As the construction progresses through different stages, Hammis estimates the job will involve up to 200 contractors from 35 companies at a time. When it’s finished, crews there will have welded together 1,200 tons of American steel and poured 11,000 tons of concrete while developing innards full of electrical wiring, plumbing, and technology fit for educational needs.

For now, the bones of Saginaw United High School are nearly complete. Its steel forms a five-story-tall metallic grid of infrastructure that towers over the surrounding riverside community. During the day, it is visible at the street level from at least a half-mile away in some directions. At night, hundreds of lights attached to the girders keep the riverside district aglow, with reflections of the white bulbs twinkling against the surface of the water.

Hammis said a ceremony planned later this month with Saginaw Public Schools leaders will end with crews lowering the final steel beam on the ceiling of the structure, placing it near the northeast corner of the building. As is tradition in such “topping-out” ceremonies in the construction industry, the beam will balance an evergreen tree while the steel locks into a position some say may hold strong for a century or more.

“This place is going to stand for a long time,” Hammis said. “A long, long time.”