Maurices executives decided long ago that when it came to construction of the company’s new headquarters in Duluth, there would be no stopping progress.

The decision to work through winter was a simple one, said Laura Sieger, the company’s director of communications, fueled by the companywide excitement to escape its cramped quarters on East Superior Street in favor of new offices by April 2016.

“It’s amazing coming here - thinking about what will be and how we’ll work differently,” Sieger said during a walk-through interview on Tuesday at the construction zone on the 400 block of West Superior Street.

Working through the winter presents challenges for McGough, the lead contractor on the 11-story building. None of the challenges are unfamiliar, though, to the construction giant that’s headquartered in St. Paul. Whether it’s keeping workers comfortable or keeping complex concrete pours from seizing up, the plan features numerous nods to the weather.

So far, so good, said one of the two project superintendents overseeing the on-schedule project.

“This is beautiful - 20 degrees and no wind,” Scott Nelson said on the day of the walk-through.  

The concessions to the working men and women on the job come mostly in the form of warm spaces. But Dave Klehr, also a project superintendent, explained that it starts with the heartiness of the workers.

“Working in the elements is all part of the job,” Klehr said. “It’s their livelihood. It’s how they pay the bills.”

The workers often arrive to the site as early as 6:30 a.m. and are greeted by the most bitter cold of the day. But they aren’t necessarily thinking about the weather the way sympathetic passers-by might when they see the exposed crew.

“If you work outside and you’re always outside, you get acclimated,” Nelson said. “You’ll work half a day before you even start to notice it.”

To aid the crew against the elements, the site features heated portable bathrooms and a heated lunchroom in the tunnel leading to the Radisson Duluth-Harborview that is available to the crew for morning and afternoon breaks and lunch.

The weather, even in the wake of last year’s record-breaking icebox conditions, wasn’t much of a deterrent in hiring the crew. Nelson said more than a few construction workers left their previous jobs to join a project that will provide up to two years of stability.

If the site’s human resources are best described as rugged, then it’s the equipment and concrete that exhibit more fickle traits in the face of a Northland winter. Klehr explained that each piece of equipment has its own standards for operation, with some requiring shutting down when the weather drops into severe temperatures. In fact, he said, it’s not the workers that would force a temporary shutdown, but the warranties on the equipment.   

The walk-through reveals an entire area on the bottom floor that is cordoned off with industrial plastic, or “poly,” as they say on the site. The enclosed area is heated and home to forklifts, booms and most anything else that operates using a battery.

Throughout the site there are heavy-duty, million-BTU heaters that operate on natural gas. The city, Nelson said, put in a temporary gas line to the site to aid efficiency.

The site has reached the fourth floor to date, much of it parking garage that requires elaborate concrete pours. On the floor below one future pour on the building’s east side, the entire area is once again enclosed in poly. The room is heated to 80 or 90 degrees, Nelson said - a detail designed to keep the concrete warm during the pour.

Heating the floor beneath a pour is just one of the ways concrete is handled in the cold. The site is outfitted with 250 insulated blankets that wrap newly poured columns or are laid onto freshly poured floors. The cement features additive mixtures, Klehr said, that accelerate the curing process during cold weather. On the day of a pour, Arrowhead Concrete Works even uses heated sand in its cement mixture.

Without these measures, the concrete “would lie dormant; it wouldn’t get hard,” Nelson said.

Additionally, several floors below any new pours are supported with temporary posts. Onlookers can see the numerous yellow posts that are helping to support the construction.

The site is equipped to battle heavy snow, too, as it features snow tarps that are used in conjunction with McGough’s tower crane.

“We lower it down and pick it right up with the tower crane,” Klehr said, explaining that the four corners of the tarp are rigged and the snow is whisked away in a wrapped bundle. “We can clean the deck in two hours instead of taking 10 guys a whole day.”

Once the ramps through the sixth floor are poured, the construction will move onto the upper office floors. That will be structural steel construction instead of concrete. The structural steel work probably will begin in February. By September, the exterior of the building should be completed.

Renderings of the finished building line the conference room walls of McGough’s temporary office on Fourth Avenue West. But it’s the reality outside that has Sieger and the rest of Maurices’ employees buzzing.  

“It’s amazing,” said Sieger, who attends regular meetings with the contractors. “Each time I come here, I see something new that’s gone up. Our associates couldn’t be more excited to get in here.”