Justin Bolten is doing the job he's dreamed of doing for a long time, and it's about much more than driving an all-terrain vehicle across what looks and feels like a bumpy moonscape on a brisk morning.
Bolten gives the ATV the gas it needs to traverse deep ruts of frozen mud strewn with the small remnants of a wood-chipped forest, then pushes the pedal down further to get the vehicle to summit what's for now a steep, high hill at the center of the site of Jefferson City's future second public high school.
"I've always liked being outside, working with my hands. In college, I started out doing graphic design, but realized I wasn't probably going to be making T-shirts for the rest of my life; so I moved over to construction management," he said.
Bolten, 33, is Nabholz Construction's superintendent of the Jefferson City Public Schools second high school site.
As superintendent, he's not quite head of the project. There's a senior superintendent who oversees both JCPS projects — construction of the new high school and renovation of the current Jefferson City High School. Ultimately there will be two superintendents at each site, including Bolten.
"I will essentially manage the day-to-day operations in the field, coordinate with subcontractors, help to manage the schedule, quality, and obviously our biggest thing nowadays is safety," he said.
The new high school project is much more to him than just another job in his roughly 10-year career.
Bolten was born and raised in Jefferson City. He attended St. Peter Interparish School, played soccer all four years at Helias High School and graduated from there in 2003.
He moved to Warrensburg for college at what was then Central Missouri State University, now University of Central Missouri. After he graduated in 2007, he and wife Leah (Drennan) moved to Kansas City for work; they stayed there for about nine years before moving back to Jefferson City around a year ago.
"Our families are both from here, still live here — all the grandparents, great-grandparents are here," he said. Already with daughter Harley, now 3 years old, and son Cain, now 1, little did they know they had one more child in tow.
"Shortly after we moved back is when we realized the third one — which was quite the surprise — was coming, too," Bolten said of daughter Haven, now 4 months old.
The family moved home in time to be part of the historic April 2017 vote to approve Jefferson City Public Schools' second high school.
"I voted yes, even though being a Catholic guy. I voted yes just for the hopes that it did pass and hopefully the opportunity to work on it. I knew at that time — I was working at JE Dunn — we would be going after it as well, so I was anxious and excited, hoping it would pass," he said.
Almost all of Bolten's career has been with Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction, where he started as a superintendent trainee before he moved on to foreman, then superintendent.
He said JE Dunn interviewed for the JCPS high school project but didn't get it.
"So I got in contact with Nabholz and told them I live just about 4 miles from here, so (I) jumped ship and joined them," he said of the career move he made just a couple of months ago.
"I've never had a job this close in my life, especially a nice long-term project," he added.
Leah is a 2003 Jefferson City High School graduate.
"Obviously our big debate is whether our kids will go to Catholic schools or public schools, and so it's going to be fun either way to tell our kids that I helped build the new high school," Justin said.
Whatever schools their children attend when they get older, "I had a hand in everything from tearing the trees down to helping put up probably the last light bulb," Bolten said.
He joked the new high school is "a superintendent's dream job — straight out of ground, massive job site, (dynamite) blasting and lots of dirt work."
In fact, blasting is the project phase he's anticipating most.
"I've never gotten to experience blasting like this, so it'll be fun to see that happen," he said. "We're going to go from a bunch of ravines and ridges to a big flat pad, so it'll be a large transformation here in the next several months."
Of advice for future construction managers inspired by the local high school projects, he said: "Be willing to get out and learn how to build stuff. One of the biggest things, especially when I was with JE Dunn, they had the impression that you can't run a project unless you know how to physically build it. We learn how to use tools first. Be able to be a hard worker. It definitely involves some long hours and weekends."