Photo:Joe Florkowski
Women run a California library job.

Forget about men in yellow hardhats hollering at women passing by the jobsite at a $40-million library project in Fontana, California.

The three main principals on the project—the architect, construction manager and project manager for the general contractor—are women, and they say they appreciate their unique situation.

“It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Joanna Heinrich, senior project manager for San Diego-based Barnhart Inc., the general contractor.

A net Willingham, who is serving as construction manager for JCM/HEERY International, agreed: “I’ve never been involved in an all-female team.” Heinrich and Willingham will work with architect Kate Diamond, design principal with Los Angeles-based RNL, to oversee construction on the library.

Fontana, which bills itself as a “City of Innovation,” is east of Los Angeles in fast-growing San Bernardino County.

While it was coincidence that brought three women together for the library project, their backgrounds spurred their companies to select them for the job.

Photo:Joe Florkowski
Diamond, Willingham and Heinrich at the jobsite in Fontana, Calif.

Willingham, for instance, served as construction manager for 19 libraries in Florida before taking this assignment. And Heinrich has worked in the construction industry since 1983, starting as a secretary and making it all the way to project manager. But the climb was tough, she says. “It took me 15 years to get where some men it would take three or four years maximum,” Heinrich says.

Barnhart is a company that more easily recognizes the contributions of women and employs many female project engineers, she says. “There is a lot of opportunity at Barnhart, but not in this industry,” she adds.

The experience these women bring will be necessary on the Fontana library.
Meant to replace an existing, outdated library, the new structure is a 93,000-sq.-ft., two-story building with a garage. Begun in February with completion scheduled for spring, 2008, the building will feature a great hall, rotunda and a Spanish mission design.
The multiple stories and unusual spaces in a tight site are a challenge. Willingham says it’s not easy coordinating the electrical, mechanical and telecommunications systems, either, because the technology changed as the libraries were built. “We have to make modifications as we go,” says Willingham.

The library is being constructed with local materials and will use energy-efficient lighting and concrete walls to reduce heat gain, Diamond says. “I want this to be better than any of my memories of a library as a kid,” she adds.

Working with women may bring some advantages over working with male project managers, Willingham says. Female architects tend to be detail-oriented and “more organized, more fastidious," she says.

And the skills and sheer determination needed to get ahead in construction can help. When Heinrich was starting in the construction business, she combined her secretarial skills with construction know-how. She would take the construction spec book home with her at night and study it for some projects, she says.

And when it came time to communicate about the project or write a letter about its progress, Heinrich would volunteer for the job.

“I knew I wanted to move up,” she says.