Engineering the perfect tribute

Alumni use engineering skills to memorialize young woman

Concrete skate park features being formed and poured.

“I love being a part of a project like this and giving back, paying it forward.”
James Panepinto, president and CEO
Pinto Construction Services

by Rebecca Rudell

When Alix Rice, an avid longboarder from Amherst, N.Y., was killed by a drunk driver in the summer of 2011, her heartbroken friends and family wanted to celebrate her life.

They thought that the best way to do that was to build a skatepark in her honor. One that would provide others like her with a safe haven to enjoy the sport they love.

But they needed help. So a small group of UB civil engineering alumni, led by Steve Federico (MS ’03, construction management, MBA ’02, BS ’02, civil engineering) helped turn their vision into a reality.

It began back in 2013, when Federico heard the Alix Rice Foundation members talking about their “dream project” on the radio. He contacted them immediately –  as he knew his education and training in engineering and construction would be a boon to getting the skatepark built – and joined the foundation as their Director of Construction.

"The project was in its infancy,” says Federico, who serves as vice president of facilities and construction for Calspan’s new business, Calspan Development and Construction, which performs real estate development and construction services for external clients. “We didn’t have all the funding or even a location. My background is in construction/real estate, so I’m familiar with managing projects through design, as well as the municipal approval processes. I was able to help the foundation carry the project from ‘Hey, we want to do a skate park’ to having a 10,000 square foot facility.”

Federico explains that the foundation worked with a consulting firm from Seattle, called Grindline, who designs skateparks. But since there was also a significant amount of civil and structural design required, from sidewalk layouts to drainage solutions, he called on fellow alumni Jason Havens (BS ’05, civil engineering), a project manager at Clark Patterson Lee (CPL), and Francis Mahaney (BS ’12, civil engineering), previously a civil engineer with CPL, and now a civil engineer/project manager at WSP USA. James Panepinto (BS ’92, civil engineering), president/ CEO and third-generation owner of Pinto Construction Services, was also recruited to help with excavation and grading, and to place all the concrete features.

“You can’t find anything like this in the area. The closest one is probably in Pittsburgh or Toronto.”

-Steve Federico, Vice president, Calspan Development and Construction

"I love being a part of a project like this and giving back, paying it forward,” Panepinto says. “We’ve all had benefactors and people helping us out along the way, and when you see someone as passionate about something as Steve was about this… It’s tough to say no to someone like that. He’s not asking for something for himself, he wants to better the community.”

After years of funding, planning and coordinating, the Alix Rice Peace Park broke ground in July 2017. The finished skatepark, located at the Northtown Center (a multipurpose sports facility) across from UB’s North Campus, is a California-style park with two bowls, as well as stairs, ramps and rails. “You can’t find anything like this in the area. The closest one is probably in Pittsburgh or Toronto,” says Federico.

When asked what the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of the project were, Federico said: “I have the same answer for both. Networking and finding folks who were willing and able to help out. It’s not an easy task, but it was worth it.” He says they raised over $300,000 and in-kind donations of labor, material, equipment and services, but that getting all those volunteers and donors together for such a complex project was difficult at times.

Brick wall.

Forming and pouring the “peace park” symbol. The peace symbol meant a lot to Alix, which led to the official name of the park. Photos by Maximilian Kapitonoff.

“Coordination was the biggest challenge,” Havens explains.“We watched Steve struggle with getting certain aspects of the project finished because there was a lot of picking up and putting back down, and trying to get everyone on the same page. I tip my hat to what he was able to achieve.”

On August 4, 2018, the Alix Rice Peace Park was complete and more than 500 people – friends, family, and fellow skaters – attended the grand opening.

Mahaney describes how he felt that day: “Typically, for engineers, you can see the final product. People drive over your roads or use the sewer system you designed, but they never say, ‘This is really great!’ But being there and seeing and hearing everyone really appreciate the skatepark was amazing.”

 Jason Havens, Jim Panepinto and Steve Federico collaborated to help turn the vision of Alix Rice's family into reality. The trio spend countless hours volunteering their time, energy and talents to create the Alix Rice Peace Park, located in Amherst, N.Y.