Larry Sack has been a construction engineer with the federal government since he graduated from the University of Nebraska– Lincoln in 1973. He has worked for five U.S. government agencies, which has led him to overseeing construction of embassies, consulates and hospitals in the United States, Asia and Africa.
Sack, a St. Paul native, described his career as serendipitous.
“I got a call from Puget Sound naval shipyard one day, interviewed, and accepted my first position with the federal government because the West Coast sounded like a neat place to live,” said Sack, who majored in mechanical engineering. “Then I got addicted to traveling and never considered another career.”
Last year Sack completed one of his most prestigious assignments, serving as project director for construction of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. About 1,000 people worked on the $70 million project, which began in 2002. The embassy complex covers seven acres and includes a three- story office building; entrances for service providers, consulates and utilities; and U.S. Marine Corps security guard quarters. Sack is currently overseeing construction of a $10 million building for the U.S. Agency for International Development, scheduled for completion this year.
Because of worldwide security concerns, the U.S. Department of State has an ambitious goal to replace up to 15 embassies and upgrade security features in others. Sack said the Cambodian embassy was the first in a series built according to Standard Embassy Design. SED has established criteria for utilities, security, and space allocation and is refined yearly to meet changing needs and security requirements.
“What differentiates U.S. Embassy work from other projects I’ve been involved in are the intense security requirements,” Sack said.
During the final construction phases, representatives from numerous federal agencies inspected the site to ensure the building met diplomatic security requirements. Security features include upgraded perimeter wall reinforcements, security cameras, and door and window construction that meet forcedentry and ballistic resistance criteria.
By then, Sack was accustomed to giving tours, especially to ambassadors who wanted to see what their new home looked like.
Sack admitted that during college, his main career goal was to “find a paying job to get out from under the mountain of debt I had accumulated.” Once in the working world, he gained a deeper appreciation of his UNL education. “I always remember my instructors being well prepared and never caught off guard,” Sack said. “They always had answers to students’ questions. How do they do that?” Sack’s adviser and mentor was Russell Nelson, deceased professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and associate dean of graduate studies. Nelson’s specialty was metallurgy, and he made Sack aware of career opportunities within that field.
“The ethics that were instilled in me had a lot to do with my ability to transition into the corporate world—you know, that down-home manner that only Midwesterners can convey,” Sack said.