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Rising to the Challenge

“These beautiful skyscrapers. They’re kind of like an emblem for our city.”

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One of the Treasure Valley's highest profile construction projects means something a little different to everyone. For some, the forthcoming 18-story skyscraper at the corner of Boise's Eighth and Main streets is a sign the economy has pulled out of its slump. For others, it shows Boise's confirmation and future as a real city. No matter who you are, the project is hard to miss.

Circling the skies above downtown Boise, the operator of a massive blue tower crane spends his days lifting steel girders to frame the building--rising from the pit once known as the Boise Hole. Launched by the Gardner Company of Salt Lake City, with Zion's Bank's Idaho headquarters as the key tenant, the building's core stood eight stories by early January.

A year from its projected completion, the building-to-be has already inspired one Boisean, Stephen Gagnon. He's convinced that the tower will come to define where he lives.

"I think it really shows that our city is going through some economic growth," said Gagnon. "And that Boise itself is a great community."

Standing at the base of the construction project in a brown hard hat, wearing a bright orange vest and with only the beginnings of his first mustache, it's not hard to believe Gagnon is only 16 years old.

The Borah High School student was anxious to share details about his own construction project, albeit on a much smaller scale.

"I made a replica of the tower crane out of LEGOs," Gagnon said. "Though I think most 16-year-olds probably don't still play with LEGOs."

Gagnon dreams big: he's equally captivated with physics, singing in a barbershop quartet, playing classical piano and thinking about building the cities of tomorrow.

"It's the beauty of how many people can function together," Gagnon explained, "and the cool things mankind can do."

Most teenagers don't spend their days watching an online webcam aimed at the project to gauge its progress. But the Borah High School junior enjoys tracking the tower's rise above the city when he's not cramming for tests in his advanced chemistry and physics classes.

"When the weather was warmer, we would take random trips to Downtown Boise to see it ourselves, and look at it from the balcony across the street," said his mother, Mary Gagnon.

When Gagnon's parents asked what he would like for Christmas, the teenager wanted nothing more than a closer look at the construction of his Boise icon.

"I was actually trying to put a pin on this, about why I'm so interested in cities," said Gagnon. "I think it has to do with my older brother Kyle, who was always playing Sim City. I would watch him play it, I would watch him build--and I would hardly do any of the building when I was younger--and just see the skylines rise in his virtual cities, it was really fascinating to me."

For Gagnon, Sim City's virtual buildings became the foundation for his interest in city planning.

"I loved seeing how these huge structures would represent these societies that were building up around them," he said.

So to fulfill their son's Christmas wish, Gagnon's parents contacted Zion's Bank through an employee at a local branch. After making a few phone calls, the bank facilitated a tour with builders Engineered Structures, Inc.

Gagnon didn't find out until he looked under the tree Christmas morning.

"Zions put together a box of supplies to tour the building, including a vest and a hard hat, tape measure," said Mary. "We got it on camera as he opened the box."

Three weeks later, flanked by brother Kyle and sister-in-law Sam, Gagnon walked into ESI's Eighth and Main project office off Main Street Jan. 8 to meet project superintendent Jamal Nelson.

"Building is not just standing stuff up," Nelson told them. "It's communication. There are no robots out there putting stuff up. Each piece is a person."

For every ESI project, Nelson explained, he chooses a theme to motivate workers. He said the former Boise Hole was like a gladiator pit, and as such, the theme for the project would be gladiators. A metal helmet covered in spikes sat on the desk, to be awarded to an outstanding subcontractor when the project is finished, slated for January 2014.

"Does anyone get to wear that on site?" asked Gagnon.

"I tell my guys that if they see me come down to the site in the helmet, something's going to happen," replied Nelson.

After Nelson took the trio on a tour through the office, Gagnon donned the hard hat and vest to ascend into the building itself. Nelson took the teenager to the eighth story, and "showed him the building from top to bottom," according to his mother, before returning to the office wearing a wide grin.

"These beautiful skyscrapers," said Gagnon, still grinning. "They're kind of like an emblem for our city."

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