Meet Alex Aalberg, Slate School’s Construction Site Superintendent
Alex Aalberg knows every nook and cranny of Slate School—as well as every rock, tree, deer, and turkey. It’s not surprising. He spent the better part of 2018 in a trailer at the foot of the school’s driveway. Alex, who works for Gilbane Building Company in Glastonbury, is the site superintendent for Slate School. For several months, he managed the construction site every day and supervised the dozens of tradespeople who worked tirelessly to make the school a reality.
This is Alex’s first job as lead superintendent—and he has relished every moment of the journey. “It’s definitely a special team,” says Alex. “It just happened organically. Everyone truly cares. It was a different job in a lot of ways. And everybody knew how different it was. So everybody went above and beyond.”
Alex loves a lot of things about Slate School, but he has a particularly soft spot for the turkeys. “I’ve been following the turkeys since the beginning,” he says. “I remember walking up the driveway one day, and in the tall grass, I saw a turkey. She was sitting on her babies. I walked closer, and she got up and walked away, and all her babies started following her, one by one. They’ve really grown up since then.”
Construction wrapped up in early September, but Alex stayed on campus for an extra month and a half, tackling his lengthy punch list and thoughtfully documenting the lessons he learned through the construction process. “Issues are always going to arise,” he says thoughtfully. “I’ve learned that you just have to control everything that’s within your control. You’re not going to fail if you do that. Because at the end of the day, you can say that you did everything you could. You prepared yourself for success.”
To the teachers of Slate School, Alex has become the ultimate go-to person—an invaluable resource and beloved colleague. To the children, he is Mr. Aalberg, the nice man who always has a smile and a friendly wave when he’s passing through the courtyard. Since the school opened, Alex has performed endless tasks far outside the limits of his job description—from taking photos for the school website to cleaning up turkey droppings on the sidewalk around the courtyard.
When he’s not at Slate School, Alex, who’s 36, says his favorite place to be is “sitting on my boat eating a sandwich.” He has a 24-foot sailboat named True Grit that he restored himself. “When you get out there and you kill the engine, all you can hear is the sound of the wind and the waves,” he says, leaning back with a sign. “There’s nothing better than that for me.”
Alex lives in Niantic and enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Dana, his two cats, Chow and Kathmandu, and Dana’s dachshund, Benny. He loves gardening and woodworking when he can find the time. He built cedar raised garden beds for Slate School, as well as a compost bin and beds for his own garden.
Caring for the earth is important to Alex. In fact, when it comes to sustainability and environmental issues, his personal values are very much aligned with the values of Slate School. “To be 100 percent truthful, there aren’t enough people who are focusing on the kind of environment we have here at Slate,” he says. “As a globe, it is in humans’ best interest to make these changes now. We need more people to be looking out for that. Hopefully these kids will grow up and make the changes that need to be made.”
Another passion for Alex is football. Growing up in Plainfield, Alex says, “football was my life as a kid.” He was a running back and linebacker all through high school. He played at Central Connecticut State University, until he tore his rotator cuff at the end of his freshman year. “I went back after the surgery, and then tore it again,” he says with a sigh. “So I had surgery the second time. And at that point, I figured I’m not going to make it in the NFL, so I’d better stop.”
Today, Alex feeds his love of football by working as a referee at high school and college football games. He sees many parallels between construction management and football officiating. The two jobs, he says, require the same skills: patience, leadership, and communication. “The foremen in construction are like the football coaches. The field players are like the carpenters, electricians, and everyone on site building the school,“ he explains. “On the football field, I have to make accurate calls and explain what I saw in any given play. In construction, there are situations in the field where I have to make accurate decisions and give the instructions on how to proceed. I think about those connections a lot.”
Alex never planned on a career in the construction business. “Construction just kind of found me,” he says. While he was in college, Alex did some construction work for his uncle, who was a real estate developer. He had just transferred from CCSU to the University of Delaware his junior year to study history, when a friend of his suggested they start their own construction business. So Alex commuted back to Connecticut from Delaware every weekend. “I structured my schedule those semesters to have Fridays off,” he explains. “I would take the train home from Delaware on Thursday night and we’d work all weekend. I did schoolwork on the train.”
The strong work ethic that pushed him to start a company while he was in college can be attributed to his family, according to Alex. “My mom worked at a commercial bank,” he says. “My dad was a state trooper. He worked really long hours. My grandparents were all hard workers too. My grandfather worked for American Standard. My other grandfather was a union carpenter. It was pretty evident to me as a little kid that this is just what we do.”
Alex’s eyes light up when he talks about his father’s father, who lost his family during the Soviet occupation of Estonia and needed to change his name in order to flee the country. “He came home and hid in the woods because he saw Russian soldiers leaving the house. His uncle got him papers with the name of a Swedish sailor. That’s where Aalberg comes from. And he never changed it back, even after living in the United States for decades. Now, Aalberg, it’s a part of who we are. It’s become us. That name made me who I am.”
The business Alex started in college, New England Companies, lasted for 13 years, up until he made the move to Gilbane in 2015. “It was a lot of work running a small business,” he says. “I was responsible for 10-12 employees. I wore every hat in the company. I was the estimator. I was the contract guy. I was Payroll. I was Human Resources. I did hiring and firing. Doing all that while swinging a hammer at the same time, it was wearing for me. I like what I’m doing now.”
Although he has now officially moved on to another project for Gilbane, Alex, like everyone who was involved in the design and building of Slate School and its grounds, continues to be a part of the team. He is proud to have played a role in the collaboration that created the school, and he is thrilled with the results. “That’s the biggest thing about construction,” Alex explains. “A lot of people sit in an office and they don’t have the luxury to know if they did something meaningful. I like to see what I’ve accomplished at the end of the day.”
Alex most definitely did something meaningful at Slate School. Years from now, when people ask how the little nature-based school in North Haven got its start, Alex Aalberg and his trailer and the baby turkeys will always be a part of the story.