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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Creative, time-intensive builds serve as Chilifest icons


Amid the scattered beer cans and live music at Chilifest is an unofficial contest, one that rivals the event’s official chili contest.
The rows of themed structures, or builds, are constructed and erected at the festival by various Texas A&M fraternity chapters for use during the event.
From inspiration to creation, Joseph Birdsall, member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and sophomore computer engineering major, said the work that goes into a build is time intensive.
“These builds are the fraternities’ expression of the themes that are chosen for that year,” Birdsall said. “With most being done with wooden material, these are elaborately put together, painted and checked for sturdiness before being taken to Snook. Each build can vary greatly in style and brings its own character.”
There is no official award for the best build at Chilifest, but Tyler Vara, build chair for Kappa Alpha and sophomore recreation, park and tourism sciences major, said the crowd “just knows” who wins.
“It’s not really a legit competition, most people just kind of know who has the best build,” Vara said. “Each fraternity wants people to come to their Chilifest, so they want to have a good build.”
Birdsall said one of the best parts of Chilifest is the great reveal.
“Seeing the 40,000-plus people that see our build is something we take pride in,” Birdsall said. “It really gives us a chance to put our name out there, more than just a Greek life.”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s build will be designed as a pirate ship for this year’s Chilifest. Birdsall said in order to ensure many people “Set Sail with SAE,” they started on their build at the beginning of the semester.
“From the start of the semester we start planning it and acquiring supplies,” Birdsall said. “We have a build plan laid out and start working on it very far in advance. A big part of it is meeting the financial needs to put it all together and make it all work out for everyone.”
Vara said Kappa Alpha would try to incorporate its build’s entrance to illustrate its “Land Down Under” theme for this year.
“Well right now, we’re currently trying to make the opening like a crocodile’s mouth,” Vara said. “So it will seem like you are walking through the mouth of a crocodile when you walk in our build.”
Israel Michael, one of Kappa Sigma’s chief officers for Chilifest and senior mechanical engineering major, said although many fraternities decided on a foreign theme for this year, his fraternity decided to stay true to its roots.
“This year we thought, ‘What better way to do it than a Texas theme?’ I mean, Chilifest is all about the epitome of Texas – Texans and country music – so we wanted to keep it home, hit everyone where they really like it with a ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ theme,” Michael said. “We are going to have huge artwork and craftsmanship from every major city in the state and have one pin-pointed-out object from every city as well.”
The project is an intense time commitment, Michael said, with construction taking about 50 to 60 hours. Benton Mahaffey, president of Sigma Epsilon and senior chemistry major, said footing the bill for build is a serious commitment as well. The money needed to make their western-themed “Sig Ep Saloon” build is taken from their semester dues and is anything but cheap.
“A build usually ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 and that is just for the wood and paint we use,” Mahaffey said.
To combat the costs, Sigma Alpha Epsilon has found a solution to save money while constructing their builds.
“We actually do not spend that much money on our supplies because a lot of the material used for previous builds can be used for the next build,” Birdsall said. “It is more of just a time commitment to put the build together.”
While creating the build can present a challenge, Birdsall said that setting it up at Chilifest is the most difficult part.
“Getting the build out to Snook after it is completed is the hardest part,” Birdsall said. “The build starts out in one piece and we then have to take it apart piece by piece and rearrange it back together like a puzzle once we get to Snook.”
Vara said when it comes to supplies for the build, they receive donations for tools from familiar faces.
“Between everyone in our fraternity, we have guys whose parents are in construction, so they will donate supplies,” Vara said. “We pool all of our tools together and then head to Home Depot to buy all the lumber and stuff.”
Mahaffey said only those with experience handle the tools while working on the build to avoid any injuries.
“There is the usual hammer to finger, but we have never had anything serious happen, thankfully,” Bridsall said. “Usually because the older guys work with the power tools or teach the younger guys how to use them properly.”
With around 10,000 people attending Chilifest every year, Michael said the event is a great way to bring everyone together.
“It really doesn’t matter what fraternity, sorority, team or other organizations you are a part of,” Michael said. “Everyone is there for one purpose and that is to enjoy Texas and have fun.”

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