Swift: Access at 'Extreme' construction site all about hat color

I should have brought a clipboard. When my editor suggested I try to go "behind the scenes" to capture the circus behind ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," I wasn't sure how to do that. Perhaps I could wrap myself as a roll of insulation and...

A customized helmet
Many "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew members have customized helmets in contrast to the white helmets used by volunteers. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

I should have brought a clipboard.

When my editor suggested I try to go "behind the scenes" to capture the circus behind ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," I wasn't sure how to do that.

Perhaps I could wrap myself as a roll of insulation and be trucked into the middle of the building site. Maybe I could pretend to be Mrs. Ty Pennington. (Upon hearing this one, my husband snorted and said: "You'd have better luck pretending to be his mother.")

Or perhaps I could follow that old bit of journalistic advice: Sport a clipboard and a little attitude, and you can get in anywhere.

Turns out I didn't need to do any of those things. At an "Extreme Makeover" building site, it's all about the hard hats.


There's a whole headgear caste system, which determines the amount of access you're allowed or denied. Volunteers wear white. Builders wear orange. Inspectors wear yellow. And members of the media wear blue.

In retrospect, it seems ridiculous that I had to wear any hard hat because it seemed like the type of pretend, plastic hat you'd give a 3-year-old when he visited a construction site.

Besides, members of the media are confined to one small pen that's across the street from the Bill and Adair Grommesh family's future home in Moorhead. I doubted if any walls or beams were going to fall on us over there. Maybe the head protection was meant to shield us from dangling participles.

But the media corral, shoehorned between the VIP pen and spectator section, offered a perfect view of the building site. Unfortunately, as of early Tuesday afternoon, there wasn't much for a spectator to watch. Sure, they're building a whole house in record time, but unless you knew a lot about the construction process, there wasn't much to see.

Those "in the know" assured us the pace would really pick up late Tuesday and today, when the foundation was complete. But until then, it was like - well - watching concrete dry.

I passed the time by trying to get into places I wasn't supposed to go. I bumped into a friend, who sported the all-important white hard hat, and asked if she would consider trading toppers. She spotted the desperation in my eyes and instantly knew I would not honor the White Hat Code of Conduct. I would probably disgrace the other real volunteers by secretly snipping a lock of hair from Paulie DiMeo's head.

She wisely said no.

I sauntered over to the area where therapists from the Enhanced Wellness Clinic offered free massages. Owner Rachel Alderson told me they'd worked on the sore, tired muscles of many volunteers. The majority of them complained that they were sore from standing so much. (We are, after all, a nation of desk jockeys.)


The massage tent had quite a few open tables, so - strictly out of sympathy for the white-hat society - I forced myself to hop aboard a table.

With magic fingers, Alderson proceeded to knead out all my knots and kinks. Apparently, eating doughnuts and lugging around a 6-ounce notebook is a lot harder on the musculoskeletal system than one might suspect.

I also decided to check out the VIP section, which was inhabited by people in company logowear. One VIP sheepishly explained that he worked for one of the show's national sponsors, before quickly adding that he did not consider himself to be especially VIP-esque. Only in Fargo-Moorhead are VIPS more like VUPs (Very Unassuming People).

The VIP tent did seem fairly swanky, though, with its artful, harvesty flower arrangements, real black tablecloths and fancy buffet.

I walked into the tent, fully expecting the food-manager dude to sniff out my lowly reporter status and give me the bum's rush. I really should have brought that clipboard.

Instead, he just smiled and invited me to help myself to a beverage. I wanted to hang out in there, lolling around on the sleek, black designer couches and watching the flat-screen TV.

But no one else was really staying inside the tent. They were all out in the viewing area, watching concrete dry. And so I decided to seek out a neighbor to interview.

I came across a very nice woman named Corla "Coco" Paulson, whose front yard had been overtaken by the volunteer lunch tent. And she couldn't have been happier about it.


Paulson said she'd volunteered her home for whatever was needed after the south Moorhead community learned one of its neighbors was on the short list for the show.

"They as a family give and give and give to so many," Paulson said of the Grommeshes.

She talked about how the Grommesh kids had come over and sat with her when her dog was killed, and how they mowed the lawn of another neighbor after he lost his wife.

"It's when everyone pulls together like this that we can make something wonderful happen," she said of the whole "Extreme Makeover" effort.

And with that, my cold, black, reporter's heart thawed just a tad.

So, despite the extreme hype all around me, my hat is off to you, Grommesh family.

It's a ridiculous blue, Bob the Builder hat, but it's off to you.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or

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