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Transcript of interview with William G. Flangas by Dr. David Emerson, September 27, 2006






William Flangas was born in Ely, Nevada, in 1927. He attended grade school through high school in White Pine County. In his junior year, he left school to join the Navy. After the war, he enrolled at UNR on the G.I. Bill, and graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering. In 1951, Bill worked for Kennecott in a 'deep root' project, spent a summer in Chile working in a smelter, and then went back to work for Kennecott in underground operations. On the basis of this experience, he wrote a thesis and earned an EM degree (Engineer of Mines). Bill was approached in 1958 by Mr. Reynolds of the Reynolds Electric/Engineering Company with a request that he come help them out at the Nevada Test Site. He refused at first, but after a second call and a visit to the tunnel site, he accepted the job, pulled together a first-rate group of experienced miners, and stayed on to enjoy a 40 year career concurrent with the job at the test site, Bill was appointed to the State Planning Board, later renamed the State Public Works Board. The function of the board was to list public buildings in order of priority. In 1984, the College of Engineering at UNLV made the priority list. Bill helped set up three point contact among the university personnel, the architectural firm, and the Public Works Board. This was to ensure that the building met the needs of the engineers but did not go over budget.

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William G. Flangas oral history interview, 2006 September 27. OH-00584. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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An Interview with William G. Flangas An Oral History Conducted by Dr. David Emerson The UNLV @ Fifty Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas 2007 ©UNLV@ FIFTY Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Project Director: Claytee D. White Coordinator and Interviewer for Math and Sciences: Dr. David Emerson Project Editor: Gloria Homol Interviewers and Project Assistants: Suzanne Becker, Andres Moses, Laura Plowman, Emily Powers, Shirley Emerson, Mary K. Keiser Lisa Gioia-Acres ii Recorded interviews and transcripts composing the UNLV @ Fifty Oral History Project have been made possible through the generosity of CSUN (grant initiated, presented, and shepherded through the CSUN political process by Andres Moses) and the Libraries Advisory Board. Lied Library provided a wide variety of administrative services and the Special Collections Department, home of the Oral History Research Center, provided advice and archival expertise. The Oral History Research Center enabled students and staff to work together with campus community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The transcripts received minimal editing. These measures include the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the UNLV @ Fifty Oral History Project. Additional transcripts may be found under that series title. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University of Nevada Las Vegas iii Table of Contents Early schooling; US Navy experience; attending UNR on the GI Bill 1 Working for Kennecott; writing thesis for Engineer of Mines degree; invitation to work for REECO at Nevada Test Site; description of how miners were pulled from other sites to work at test site 2-3 Appointed to State Planning Board; discussion of function of SPB; listing and descriptions of all board members and their qualifications 3-5 Length of time on board and positions held; how the idea of a college of engineering at UNLV began to be considered; effect of the Cold War on this idea; importance of the Nevada Test Site in the Cold War 5-6 Discussion of input in developing the College of Engineering building; devising 3-point contact among university personnel, architects, and the Publics Works Board; description of process of selecting architects and designers; ethics of choosing in-state or out-of-state contractors 6-9 Description of how board works to choose architects and building inspectors; discussion of teamwork needed to choose architects based on correctly compiled data 10-11 iv Preface William Flangas was born in Ely, Nevada, in 1927. He attended grade school through high school in White Pine County. In his junior year, he left school to join the Navy. After the war, he enrolled at UNR on the G.I. Bill, and graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering. In 1951, Bill worked for Kennecott in a 'deep root' project, spent a summer in Chile working in a smelter, and then went back to work for Kennecott in underground operations. On the basis of this experience, he wrote a thesis and earned an EM degree (Engineer of Mines). Bill was approached in 1958 by Mr. Reynolds of the Reynolds Electric/Engineering Company with a request that he come help them out at the Nevada Test Site. He refused at first, but after a second call and a visit to the tunnel site, he accepted the job, pulled together a first-rate group of experienced miners, and stayed on to enjoy a 40 year career. Concurrent with the job at the test site, Bill was appointed to the State Planning Board, later renamed the State Public Works Board. The function of the board was to list public buildings in order of priority. In 1984, the College of Engineering at UNLV made the priority list. Bill helped set up three point contact among the university personnel, the architectural firm, and the Public Works Board. This was to ensure that the building met the needs of the engineers but did not go over budget. ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER AT UNLV Oral History Project @ UNLV Use Agreement Name of Narrator: ^ S Name of Interviewer: d u-L k ^ ^ c U We, the above named, give to the Oral History Research Center of UNLV, the recorded interview(s) initiated on /c?1 I 0 ^> as an unrestricted gift, to be used for such scholarly and educational uses as shall be determined, and transfer to the University of Nevada I,as Vegas, legal title and all l iterary property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude the right of the interviewer, as a representative of UNLV, to use the recordings and related materials for scholarly uses. There will be no compensation for any interviews. i j . A j7-1 I && Signature of Narrator ( Date Signature of Interviewer Date Library Special Collections 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-7070 (702) 895-2222 1 Today I (Dr. David Emerson) have the honor of interviewing William G. Flangas, who was chair of the Public Works Board at the time the engineering building at UNLV was initiated. So I'd like to start out, Bill, if I may, by asking you to tell us about yourself, where were you born, where you grew up, what your childhood was like and so forth? All right. Well, I was born in Ely, Nevada, on June 4, 1927. I was educated in the White Pine schools. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in my junior year of high school, and that was in 1945. So I was involved in the last year of World War II. I was assigned to the invasion fleet for Japan — or what would have been, but Harry Truman deprived me of my first invasion when he dropped that bomb. I was involved in the initial occupation there and spent about three months there demilitarizing some islands and so on. It was a great experience. After I got out of the Navy, I enrolled at the University of Nevada in Reno, and I went to school like a young, rich kid. I had the GI Bill. You know, it's amazing what that bill did. I got my books and supplies free. Of course, there was no tuition because I was a native, and I was getting $75 a month to go to school while I was going to school. I lived in the university dorm and ate at the university chow hall. They charged an outrageous price. It was $90 a semester. Wow. I was getting 75 bucks a month. So I started out as a metallurgical engineer, and I did get a degree as a metallurgical engineer. I worked at that for just a very few weeks and went underground. "Went underground," what does that mean? You became a spy or something? Not quite. No. At that time Kennecott was digging what they call a deep root project. So I got involved in that. I graduated from UNR in 1951. I worked for Kennecott except for a short burst where I spent a summer in Chile in a smelter. When I came back, I went to work in the underground operations and did that for about eight years. On the basis of that esperience, I wrote a thesis and got my EM degree, which is the Engineer of Mines degree. So basically, except for a few weeks -- well, maybe three months max --1 have been a mining engineer in reality. I see. About 1958 is when the decision was made to take the atmospheric testing underground because people were starting to get concerned with the pollution of the atmosphere. So I got a 2 call. Kennecott had four divisions at that time. One of them was in New Mexico. The prime contractor at Nevada Test Site was the Reynolds Electric/Engineering Company. Mr. Reynolds was hobnobbing with a bunch of Rotarians or Lions or one of those civic clubs down there. He approached one of the Kennecott people there and says, "Hey, I really need a mining engineer. Could you spare one?" So I got a call wanting to know if I would come down to Nevada Test Site. I said, "No, hell no." I had no desire. At that time I had been married less than two years. I had a five-, six-month-old baby. Getting involved in radiation was not ~ you know, I didn't want to do that. So at any rate, a couple of months later, I get a call. Mr. Reynolds said, "Have you changed your mind?" I said, "No." Finally, in May of '58,1 got a panic call and he says, "Hey, you know, we really need some help. I'm asking you to come down and just spend a very short time with us. You can tell us what we need and give us some direction and you're free to go." So under those circumstances, I saluted and obeyed. I went down to the test site, and here they were trying to dig a tunnel using construction personnel. Sometimes people look at miners and say, well, anybody can do that. Mining is highly skilled, highly professional, very dangerous, and a job that, you know, just can't stand too much amateurism. So at any rate, I walk in that tunnel. There were about 50 or 60 people in there where there should have been about 10 or 12 doing the digging. Most of them except for a couple — there were a couple of old gypsum miners that had kind of drifted over there from here and there—were amateurs. I looked at that and just shook my head. I just couldn't believe it. So the question was: What do you think? I said, "You need some miners." The next question was: Do you know where they're at? and I said, "I sure do." See, at that time Combined Metals was shutting down their lead-zinc operation in Pioche, and they had furloughed some 40 or 50 miners. There was also another operation called the Wah Chang group that had an operation in Nye County at Tern Piute, and I was aware that they were shutting down. I called the district attorney up there in Lincoln County and asked, "You got those miners hanging around there?" He says, "Yeah." And I say, "Are any of them working?" He said, "I wish they were." So I said, "Box them up and ship them down." So I picked up that bunch. 3 Then again, I called the district attorney in Nye County and told him to find out how many miners were available there and ship them down. Could I interrupt here a moment? Sure. Why did you call the district attorney? Were the miners getting into trouble? No, no. I called the D. A. because in a small county the district attorney knows if there's been a major layoff or any kind of a situation. He would be the most knowledgeable guy. I see. Right. Plus, I knew the district attorney in Nye County personally, so he was in a great position to round up these guys for me and say, "Hey, you've got a job waiting for you if you want it." So at any rate, I got them. Once I went down there, a bunch of the guys that were working for me followed me down. In very short order, we put together a crew. So although my original commitment was for two or three days, I kind of got interested in what I was doing and it turned into a 40-year career. That's the way things happen sometimes. That's the way things happen. I'm still a consultant to the test site to this very day. Right. Concurrent with my working there, I was appointed to the State Planning Board at that time, which later got renamed the State Public Works Board. Okay. What is the function of this board? What purpose does it serve in the Nevada scheme of things? Well, as you well know, our legislature meets every other year. They meet for a constitutional limit of — I think it's 120 days or some such number. In years past it was adequate to meet the state's needs, you know, when the state wasn't in any explosive growth pattern like it's in now. One of the functions of the board was in terms of capital construction, so the Planning Board was put together to evaluate and assess the capital needs. The auditors were able to say, okay, here's our projection for the available money that will probably be available for capital improvements. It was then the function of the board to prioritize the needed facilities and to ration the money out for what could reasonably be accomplished. 4 Now, in terms of what the state is responsible for building, what is that - I suppose the highways are different, I would guess. Yes. That's a completely separate function. Right. What did the state need to build in the way of facilities? You think of, oh, the state capitol and the office buildings for all the employees. All of the above. What else is the board responsible for? It's responsible for all the university construction, all of the public buildings, and the prisons. Of course, right. You know, prisons in recent years have become the biggest customer the board has. A number of other functions include inspections and so on. So the initial board that I served on was one of the better boards I've ever served on in my life. If you want, I'll just give you that membership. Yeah, it would be good for the record. When I joined that board, Jim Cashman from Las Vegas was a member. Now, he was a native son of Clark County, a second generation member of the Cadillac business, and a highly dedicated mover-and-shaker for Clark County. He recently passed away. Peter Echevarria was born and raised in Ely of Basque parents. He became an attorney, one of the dominant attorneys in the state. He also served as a state senator. Gene Impy, out of Lake Tahoe, was a developer up there with a keen interest in state projects. E.H. Fitz, or we used to call him "Bert" Fitz, was the president of the First National Bank, highly involved for years and years in all of the civic affairs of the state. Myself, you've heard from me. Fred Gibson, Sr., the owner/manager of what is now Pacific Engineering, a tremendous guy who came in wanting to meet the needs of the state. Bert Hanks was a county assessor. C.V. Izbill, who was the owner/manager of one of the largest construction companies in the state at that time. Finally, there was Professor I.J. Sandorf, who headed up the electrical engineering program at 5 UNR. In fact, he was one of my professors when I went through there. This board was highly qualified in making the assessments. They were totally apolitical. It was just a ruthlessly honest board that laid out the requests, picked the ones that were the most significant or the most serious, allocated the money down to the last dime, and made the case. The success of that board was meeting the mandate to get the list of projects and the priorities to both the legislature and the governor by the first week in December. Now, did the board set priorities? Yes. The legislature reserves the right to ~ To juggle it some. — to juggle them. The governor, of course, has got his input. But the significance of this board was that rarely did anybody argue or try to change any of the priorities. Yeah, occasionally, there would be a little tweaking here or a little tweaking there. You know, that was a credit to the integrity of the board. They were held in high esteem and they were highly believable. Now, you served as chair of this board on a couple of occasions, didn't you? Yes, I did. Let's see. I served from 1974 to 1978. I was the youngest member of the board. Mr. Gibson met with me one day and he says, "It's about time we got some new energy here. I'm going to nominate you to be the chairman." I said, "I haven't got time," and he replied, "Well, you'll make time." So I served as the chairman for four years. After that, "Bert" Fitz had more time than I had, so I talked him into being the chairman, and I became the vice chairman. In about 1984,1 became the chairman again for a couple of years. Right. Okay. Along about, oh, I guess it was early in 1984 -- well, actually, it was in December '83 that the regents of the University of Nevada system decided to go ahead with UNLV's aspirations to expand its engineering program. Of course, what they had in the way of buildings at that time was one house and one small laboratory building, so obviously an expansion of the facilities would be necessary. So you were on the board and I guess chair of the board or about to be at that stage. Yeah. So what came to the board after that meeting that the board had to consider? 6 Well, I think we're going to have to go back further than that. I th ink on or about 1980, '81, there was conversation that we had to start looking at establishing a college of engineering on the UNLV campus. See, in the 1980s the test site was at its prime. There was a fearful Cold War going on between us and the Soviets. At that time probably the greatest accumulation of Ph.D.'s in chemistry and physics and math and whatnot that was ever accumulated in a single location was at the Nevada Test Site. Is that right? I can see why. See, you had the Livermore Laboratory. You had the Los Alamos Laboratory. You had the Sandia Laboratory. You had the military with their various agencies. They were all involved in a fearful, fearful battle. You know, the Soviets — I've quoted this a number of times — they literally raped a couple of generations of their people seeking nuclear superiority. So that Cold War was fought and won at the Nevada Test Site. We eventually bankrupted them. Then, of course, a change of government took place, et cetera, et cetera, and you know the rest of that. But in the climate of the 1980s, the most high tech, most highly technical business going on in the country was at the Nevada Test Site. Some of these people were like me. By that time we were raising kids and we were interested in where they're going to go to school. Sure. So the momentum started early on that we needed an engineering college. It was talked up and then groups got together. It was just another one of those ideas that comes up, gets discussed and considered, then picks up momentum, loses momentum, picks up momentum. Finally, in about 1983, some real active efforts were put together. It wasn't a matter of selling something, you know, because it was nice to have. It was one of those things that we all recognized we've got to have. So that led to eventually ~ I guess it was about 1984 when the UNLV College of Engineering made the priority list. Later on ~ I guess it took about another year or so before it was funded and started. The rest of it is history. Yeah, the appropriation came through, as I recall, the second order of business in the 1985 legislature. The first was the appropriation for the legislative session and the second was 7 this. The governor signed it immediately after it was passed, and that made it possible to start the planning process. Now, I think you've mentioned that a different approach was taken from what might have happened m the past. An effort was made to make this facility something that the occupants of the building, the faculty members who would be in charge of the various programs, really felt was adequate to the task. I think you had something to do with devising that process. Could you describe that? Well, we're all creatures of our environment. I was an eyewitness. See, when we were developing nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site, developing and testing, people said, well, we were shooting bombs. In a manner of speaking, yeah, we were. What we really were doing was conducting massive, complicated physics experiments and all that goes with it. So I was exposed to that for a lot of years. When the reality of building an engineering college came up, I helped convince the board that it s a highly complicated business. The nuclear testing business encompasses every one of the scientific branches there is -- electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, electronics—you name it. By way of example, and I can tell you this, we did an experiment one time where we laid six million feet of diagnostic cable to get the data from a single shot. Now, you can imagine the number of outlets for sinking data that was involved and that sort of thing. Having been an eyewitness to that, when the business of a high-tech engineering college started to loom, I recognized immediately that this could not be a routine construction job. We weren't building a classroom. We weren't building an ordinary building. So I suggested at that time that the recipient of a building has a tendency—just like if you were moving to a new house with your wife and it's under construction — to drive the builders nuts, huh? Change this; change that. Right. Some of that is appropriate and some of that is good. But a lot of that disrupts the schedule, adds to the price, and sometimes is a mistake in the making. So I expected the faculty members- each with their own particular interest—would have a key input as to how they wanted a particular lab set up or whatnot. To ignore them would have been foolish. To allow them to get exactly what they wanted every time they wanted something, again, would be foolish. 8 Common sense has to prevail. When it's six of one or half a dozen of the other which would make the facility more useful and more economical and expedient to the user, we had an obligation to meet that. But that's where the rub comes in. You know, no job could stand 50 or 60 professors involved in the daily business of construction. Amen to that. So I suggested that we set up three point contacts: The university, the architect, and the Public Works Board. Each of them had their own little staff, and I suggested that they meet - first of all, we talked about meeting monthly and then that got to be overkill. So we said, well, it kind of looks like we should try to meet every other month. After that I suppose - by that time I was no longer on the board -- but I suppose if there really wasn't anything significant, you could skip a month or so. But the point was that the three entities would meet eyeball to eyeball in a timely fashion, consider reasonable requests and act on them, then say, okay, this makes sense; it does not impact the cost; do it. Or this does not make sense and go back to the petitioner and say, hey, we heard you; we don't think this is doable. So you may wind up with an unhappy professor. So be it, huh? Right. So I've heard that that turned out to be a proper and a good venue. You'll have to confirm that because ~ Oh, definitely. -- after I got permission from the three entities, I wasn't in a position to ordain it, but I convinced all three entities that this made sense and they all agreed. How is an architect selected for a large project like this? What role does the board play in that? Initially, you know, when the state was small and the building projects were smaller and more reasonable, they also weren't as highly technical as an engineering college. You know, one of the most highly technical buildings you ever build anymore is a prison. It isn't just a matter of getting four walls and putting some bars on them. You have to start looking for people with experience or the ability to gain the experience to design those kinds of projects. Of course, they're not open to competitive bid. That's been suggested. But I've been in the 9 business long enough that I folly understand that the low bid isn't always the best bid. The County Justice Center is a — In terms of selecting architects and designers, our staff interviews them, interviews their past record, investigates their financial capability, determines whether they can get the specialties that they need. You know, it*s up to them to convince the board that, hey, we don't have a person skilled in lockup for prisons, but we have somebody who has done that in several states and we intend to contract him if we get the bid. Now, is there or was there at that time a law that the contractor for a state building had to be a Nevada contractor, or could somebody from California or Utah or someplace come in and bid on it? I'm hesitant to answer that because it's been a lot of years. All I know is -- and I can say this without any holding back -- if there's a competent contractor in Las Vegas or Reno and somehow or other some contractor out of Sacramento or Salt Lake City got a contract and there wasn't a nickel s worth of difference between the two of them in terms of ability and integrity, that was absolutely the wrong thing to do. But giving a contract to somebody on the basis that he was a local -- (End tape 1, side A.) So to sum up, the answer to your question is that I believe that the board leaned towards local contractors if they were available and capable. If they were not, then we had to look at out-of-state sources. Right. Now, this was sort of a different way of doing business. I didn't count how many were on the board. Let's see. One, two, three, four, five, six -- Nine. There were nine members on the board. Was it very difficult to convince the other members of the board to take this new direction? Or did they say, well, yeah, it's obvious that's the way to do it? The board listened carefully to all the presentations and they made judgments based on those presentations. They had access to the financial integrity of the people involved, and they made judgments based on the facts. Now, is it foolproof? Probably not. 10 Now, in terms of your designating three point people to represent the entities involved in the projeet, was that a different way of doing things than had been done on previous buildings? Well, when the level of activity was a lot lower, we had a couple of inspectors. After a while it got to be that half a dozen inspectors on a single project were not enough. So, you know, that had to grow. We picked our inspectors with a great deal of care. We wanted them to make sure that the building went according to specs; no shortcuts were taken. We also didn't want inspectors suddenly crowning themselves Julius Caesar and tormenting the contractors. So, you know, there's balance there. I always had very high regard for our inspection team. Now, from my side of the fence, it was really quite interesting. My job was to keep prodding the faculty members. Really, guys, you can have much of what you want if you'll really sit down and pay attention to what you need and specify it in considerable detail. So I would keep on their backs about that a good bit. So anyway, it worked. The building has turned out extremely well. It's now not big enough anymore, of course. Another building almost twice the size is going up now that will be for both science and engineering. But we did fill a gap for a couple of decades. Oh, yes, very definitely. It's only in the last few years that the building began to get overtaxed. So the board actually picks the architects, then? Well, we had a full-time manager and a staff. Of course, they did all the legwork and they compiled all the data. Our staff and our manager were superb. So they had meetings, and some of those meetings lasted two days. There wasn't any quick, you know, "I make a motion and somebody seconds an aye". I mean, we deliberated in depth as required to get the best deal that we could. So when the staff looks at all the things that have to be examined, then they make a recommendation to the board and the board votes on it? Then the board votes on it. In this particular instance, were there any major questions that you recall that the board 11 had? You know, well, we don't like this or that. Or did they - Not that I re call. The architect was one of the more eminent architects in the state with a proven track record. Right. Then, of course, the bids were competitive. Do architects bid on jobs, or is there a standard fee for — Well, architects would occasionally - you know, our staff picked architects and then they were voted on by the board- show up and say, "Hey, I know we're building a building down here, and we'd like to be considered." Are they then required to present some sort of a concept? Well, it wasn't a bid. They had to present their credentials. Then presumably they presented a time line and so forth and how much -- That was then. I don't know what happens now. Yeah, right. Everything we're talking about here today you have to take into context that it was in the decade of 1965. There was some moderate growth through the decade into 1975. By 1985, you know, the baby gorilla was starting to be a juvenile, and by 1995 the gorilla weighed 900 pounds. That's certainly true. So the Public Works Board, the legislature, the governor, the presidents of the universities, the wardens of the prisons, they were all into that act. I mean they were all covered up. Yeah, it's one thing to plan for a reasonably static population. It's quite another thing when you're in a situation where there's rapid growth and you don't know where it's going or how fast. It's a moving target, in other words. It's very, very hard to plan for these things. Decisions of the board weren't always popular with some segments. No, I suppose not. Somebody has to get disappointed as the aspirations exceed the amount of resources. Um-h'm. Well, I really appreciate your going over this. This is a really important part of the engineering growth and expansion at UNLV and a genuine success story. I mean the facility 12 has just worked out very, very nicely. 1 appreciate your input on this, so thank you very much. You're entirely welcome. (End tape 1, side B.)