Uni’s builders lay solid foundations for future
THERE they stood, two carpenters, on the edge of a grassy 100-hectare site marked out for Australia’s newest university. It was a hot summer’s day in the Christmas holidays of 1994-95 on the Sunshine Coast, but Pat Evans and Trevor Harch were sweating for a different reason. “It was a swamp!” they recalled two decades later of the low-lying, former sugar cane land at Sippy Downs then known by even these two locals as the middle of nowhere. Mr Evans and Mr Harch were family men and hard workers. “What a combination we were, a born-and-raised Irish Catholic and a Lutheran with German ancestry,” smiled Mr Harch (the Lutheran). But they could not control the weather.
The owners of Evans Harch building company, founded on the Coast in 1977, had a lot at stake. The $10 million first stage of the planned university was then one of the biggest tenders they’d won, about equal in value to their construction of The Wharf Mooloolaba, a retail and tourism precinct.
“We were over the moon to have another job of that size,” said Mr Harch. “It was for two buildings (for administration and academic studies) plus two lecture theatres. Before Christmas we’d been invited to the Maroochydore office for the opening of the tenders – that kind of thing doesn’t happen these days, everything’s secretive and the red tape is worse – and I didn’t know Paul Thomas very well. (Professor Thomas was the planning president who became founding Vice-Chancellor.) But Paul looked at the results, walked across the room and said, ‘Trevor, congratulations, you’ve won the job.’”
The successful contractors were elated and determined. “It was a prestigious job, a university, and everyone around town was saying, ‘Is this thing really going to work? Will it fire up?’”
Within weeks, drenching rains put the pair in the hot seat. “I worked on pricing and Pat worked on building and he’s a guy who’s very much subject to detail,” said Mr Harch. So when the rain fell on their respective homes in the neighbouring suburbs of Buderim and Tanawha, the men went to check out the uni site. “Pat was down here in a flash, taking photos to show everyone who was on holidays,” Mr Harch laughed. “We’d never seen so much water. And we had to build a building there!” (December 1994 still has one of the highest recorded rainfall days of any December since on the Sunshine Coast, according to the Bureau of Meteorology).
But they were on board with some of the best in the business; the resulting combination of local knowledge and global experience provided not only strong foundations for Australia’s first greenfield university in more than 20 years, but also the flexibility to make changes according to growth, funding and other circumstances.
USC’s 20-year celebration book, ‘Visions’, is a coffee table book featuring hundreds of people connected to the University over two decades.