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Construction on Obama Presidential Center in Chicago takes a collaborative effort

Construction on Obama Presidential Center in Chicago takes a collaborative effort
Construction on Obama Presidential Center in Chicago takes a collaborative effort 02:46

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Drive by the site of the Obama Presidential Center and it's fair to say that it's not exactly looking presidential right now.

Crews are almost a year into construction but not much can be seen from the street.

That's because a lot of concrete work is happening underground first.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us behind the construction gates for a unique tale of teamwork.

"This is really an amazing job site," said Stephanie Hickman, walking with CBS 2 along the perimeter of what will become the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Hickman, CEO of Trice Construction, never imagined her concrete company would leave its mark here.

"There was a point that I said, 'Boy, if we could just get one square of sidewalk on this project, I could be able to say we were on it,'" she said. Her "wildest dream" came true with the opportunity to provide structural concrete on the build.

By the time the parking garage, museum, forum and library are done, an estimated 5,250 truckloads of cement will be have been poured.

"We knew this wasn't something we could do alone," said Hickman who joined forces with Bob McGee from II in One Contractors. They're usually competitors as two Black business owners in the concrete industry. Many times, bigger companies hire their crews as subcontractors to fulfill a minority-owned business requirement.

"Just deep in our spirit, we believe God made this for us to be a part of," said McGee who explained the project was heavenly sent because, even together, II in One and Trice wouldn't have gotten a crack at this concrete work. They needed to figure out how to get enough capital, equipment and resources.

"We had the skillset to participate but not bring the whole package. Not in terms of the number of people in our organization and the full expertise to execute this at the level of quality that this project demands," explained McGee.

Adding a third, bigger company W.E. O'Neil to the mix helped seal the bid. Their diverse and unusual trifecta is called Concrete Collective.

"I think each of the companies brings their own value to the equation and we're able to look at things from multiple perspectives," said John Russell, president of the Chicago office for W.E. O'Neil Construction.

Trice and II in One may be smaller players but they're not in the backseat as subcontractors this time. Everyone is a decision maker at Concrete Collective.

"They equally take part in profit and loss and overall management of the project," said Junisa Brima, a construction executive for Lakeside Alliance, builder of the Obama Presidential Center. Lakeside Alliance is another example of a joint venture on the project (between Turner, Brown & Momen, Powers & Sons Construction, Safeway Construction and UJAMAA Construction). The latter four are Black-owned construction firms.

"It's really a model whose time has come," said Hickman who is also proud of her impact as female leader in the construction world. With concrete work expected to last into 2024, Hickman says Trice will be looking for help and she hopes to bring more and more women onboard as partners.

So what else is going on with construction? Excavation finished in May. Walls are starting to be formed and during CBS 2's visit, elevator cores were being poured. 

We're told you can expect to see some Obama Center buildings peeking above ground before the end the year. You can track construction updates here:

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