FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Mark Daniels was surprised when his small Flagstaff contracting company, BEC Southwest, was asked to place a bid on building the Discovery Channel Telescope facility in Happy Jack.
The five-year long construction project launched a niche business for the company, and it now works on telescopes from New Mexico to Hawaii.
Daniels says building the behemoth telescope facility was the highlight of his career and turned him on to an industry he's now highly passionate about. He's proud to have had a role in creating a device that will be used to advance basic science for years.
"I'm enjoying the heck out of it," Daniels said "It's very exciting stuff, not your run of the mill project."
He says he enjoys the physical and technological challenges associated with building telescopes, and his crew, with their high-tech industrial experience, is well-suited to the projects.
But the project wasn't without its share of stresses, from exacting standards to helping move the DCT's massive 13-foot-diameter primary mirror. Daniels describes the rotating building as a giant machine requiring laser-trackers and high-tech measuring devices for everything to be just right.
"When they turned that thing on for the first time, it was quite a relief," he said. "It was just incredibly smooth and quiet."
The project wasn't only different from other projects because it was a research facility but also because it required stopping and starting construction. Because Lowell Observatory is a private nonprofit, BEC worked with them to develop a construction plan that included building when the funds were there and putting the brakes on at certain phases while fundraising continued.
"They've got to scrape and stretch every dollar," Daniels said. "I had to be a bit flexible with them on that, with starting and stopping between the phases. But it turned out really well, it's a great facility."
BEC hired locally as much as they could, employing about 30 local workers. When they needed expertise they couldn't find in northern Arizona, they tried to keep the companies in the state. As a small, local contractor, Daniels says he believes in working with other locals.
"I think all the contractors and subcontractors really enjoyed building this telescope," said Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall.
Since taking the DCT contract, Daniels has been contacted by organizations he'd never heard of before asking BEC to bid on or play a role in building their telescopes.
Whereas he had never been to Hawaii until a few years ago, now he and members of his Flagstaff crew make trips several times a year to that telescope hotbed.
The caliber of the people is one of the things he enjoys the most. When he sits down around a table to discuss a project, he's surrounded by intelligent and highly educated people who are passionate about their instruments.
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