Construction tests our grit

I’ve inhaled it, detected it in my meatloaf, have it in my hair, even in my dreams. Builder’s dust. I’ve learned to tune out the whine of the power tools and not to flinch at imperfections - like a door being a foot off, or sticker shock at a simple bay window costing as much as a down payment on a car.

I’m sure scores more Islanders like me are in the throes of remodeling or building chaos, and more contemplate it. Although there is no public access to the total permits issued, Mercer Island reports an average of more than 70 new homes a year (to Association of Washington Cities). Added to which are even more remodels, plumbing, roofing or other small projects.

“Don’t do it if you don’t have to,” cautioned Paul Booth, a local designer and remodeler when I expressed eagerness to update our town home. But instead, I went ahead with the home projects that create the most dust — new kitchen, wood floors, gas fireplace, doors and windows. I was motivated in part by the recent winter storm to convert our cooktop and fireplace to gas — my part of community preparedness week.

Family members went deep into hiding as we moved all our tchotchkes, furniture and cabinet contents to garages, spare rooms and random hidey-holes. Our daily life became reduced to searches for misplaced items, ordering new things and sweeping up demo of old things.

Needing time out from the chaos, my husband, Bob, and I went for lunch at the Islander. But construction followed us. Our table overlooked the $30 million building of the multi-story retirement home “Aljoya House,” at S.E. 24th Street at 76th Avenue S.E.

As many as 14 fluorescent chartreuse- and orange-vested workers milled around as the crane operator choreographed the scene, pouring cement, shifting forms and steel structures around the project. The rebar, concrete and steel workers’ pace depends on the loads and rhythms of the crane, which really performs 90 percent of the hard work. The beehive of activity paled our little two-month remodeling job, as construction of Aljoya House will take a full year, according to W.C. Clark Construction.

Last week, Jacob Edel reported a profusion of other commercial developments cropping up around the island. Our collective patience and flexibility will be tested as new roadwork, traffic lights, park and ride project and multiple-story dwellings hit delays or snags along the way. Inconvenience is a temporary partner of progress.

Still not wanting to return home after lunch, Bob and I wandered down to the Mercer Island Craft Guild, seeking solace at a vintage 1940s wood-workers cottage. On an earlier walk, he had peaked into the windows and lusted after their tools.

We knocked gingerly — then aggressively — on the orange door in the East Seattle neighborhood. It finally swung open and the operator of a screaming saw ran to shut it off. Dick Campbell, a retired mechanical engineer and 30-plus-year member of the club, invited us in for a tour.

And that’s when I lost Bob to an eternity of sawdust. Despite the 50-degree unheated interior, its lack of plumbing, the holes in the floor and roof, the clubhouse intoxicated my guy with the smell of fresh-cut fir and the promises of well-turned, joined, sawed, sanded and beveled hunks of wood.

The gift to spouses is that all the disruption is kept away from home.

This magic kingdom for woodworkers has withstood more than six decades of sawdust and messes. Isn’t that testimony enough that in the cooperative spirit, we can persevere the Island’s reshaping, with something good to come on the other end?

To contact Nancy Hilliard, email her at

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