Design and Construction Sub-Committee

From the beginning until the dedication, Jennifer Aviles headed the Design and Construction Sub-Committee; its charge was to make sure that the goals and mission of the Plaza, as defined by the Executive Committee, were implemented in all stages of the design and construction process. 

The original committee consisted of: Kathleen Escalada, a community volunteer; Pat Hnilo of Women’s Studies; Ed Galda of Facilities Design and Construction, Tom Ellis from Facilities Management, Assistant Director of Operations Services; and Cathy Mendelsohn of WOSAC, and was also soon to be joined by Ed Brown of UA Presents. Their first step was to understand the scope of the assignment by meeting with people who had experience with construction on the University campus. The repeated voiced comment was that coordination of a construction project was very demanding and it was recommended that coordination should be handled by a paid staff member. Such a paid position was not possible; the Plaza was a WOSAC project that relied primarily on volunteer labor. Instead, Aviles’s exceptional self-initiative, persistence, and ability to multi-task in response to multiple demands and timetables allowed her to rise to the occasion and provide the oversight of the Plaza. 

During the first stage of enumerating the design concept, Aviles and her committee met regularly with the landscape architects to maintain open communication between them and the Executive Committee. She also was in regular communication with Facilities Design and Construction to insure that the process was meeting university rules and regulations. During this stage the biggest concerns were overall cost, number of donor opportunities, and getting to know the potentials and limitations of the site. 

By the end of 2001 the project moved in to the second stage—design development—which focused on developing working plans from the design concept. This stage involved the university selecting a landscape architect through a formally established application process. To accomplish this and to continue to move the project forward, Facilities Design and Construction became actively involved and appointed Rodney Mackey as project manager for planning. Libba Wheat, from the landscape architect team, who had an open ended contract with the UA, was eligible for consideration and was selected at the end of November 2001. As noted in official documents, prior to gaining this contract the landscape architect team had donated 450 hours of volunteer labor.

The planning stage lasted for more than a year, with Libba Wheat submitting the detailed design document in spring 2003. Once the design was accepted another year of work was required to develop an even more detailed plan for construction bids. Understanding the work ahead, Aviles expanded her committee throughout 2002 to include new members whose knowledge and experience would enhance the committee’s work. Rodney Mackey joined as Project Manager; Norma Maynard from Anthropology, Libby Davison from the College of Agriculture and Arboretum Project, and Sharon Kha, from the Office of Communications also joined the committee. During this period Facilities Design and Construction, the landscape architects, and the Executive Committee had to come to agreement about the details of the design by finalizing the design elements, such as plant selections, lighting and power, sculpture, bricks, and benches. The number of decisions for this process was reflected in Aviles’s bi-weekly reports during 2003, which often covered as many as seventeen items. 

To facilitate decision making, Aviles and her committee met and followed up regularly with the landscape architects and with representatives of Facilities Design and Construction to keep the channels of communication open and to report progress back to the Executive Committee. By keeping the Executive Committee informed Aviles made it possible for them to give input in all levels of decisions. Once the Executive Committee made a decision Aviles communicated it to the landscape architects and to Rodney MacKay, and later his replacement, Colleen Morgan, and then brought their responses back to the project leadership. This often required a great deal of sensitivity and tact, particularly when the Executive Committee wanted changes in plans. Also, Aviles and her committee had to be proactive by not just communicating the Executive Committee’s requests, but also conducting research to show that alternatives were indeed feasible. Thus Aviles actively sought out manufacturers for the benches and engaged other Executive Committee members in the process. 

The beautiful accent features of the Plaza, such as the tile work or the open design metal work, were the result of careful consideration. Under the leadership of Aviles and her committee, many talented people considered the possibilities and identified what they thought was best suited for the site. Aviles and her committee also alerted the Executive Committee to more philosophical issues, such as the question of whether the Plaza could use artwork by male artists. The Executive Committee was able to answer this question “yes”; however other questions, such as how the Plaza can best include the diversity of women artists and how to open the process by which artists are considered while still giving the designers final say were on-going considerations. 

Love and care for the university and the desire to improve women’s lives pervaded the building of the Plaza. This is exemplified in Aviles memories of one of the highlights of her work. She recalled “persuading—I think it was in either 2002 or 2003—about 20 people to get together, including Laurel Wilkening and the head of the Department of Astronomy, to talk about the lighting of the Plaza and to reach an agreement that indeed we could have upward shining lighting. The conclusion also served as an important building block for other similar campus projects needing lighting on campus.” This gave more attention to women while not interfering with the work of astronomers. 

In early 2004 Facilities Design and Construction appointed Colleen Morgan as the Project Manager, in preparation for the upcoming third stage of bid for construction and actual construction. Morgan was immediately enthusiastic about the Plaza, doing everything she could to move it forward and maintain quality while keeping costs down. The bidding process started in spring 2004; by summer 2004 Sletten Construction had been chosen as the contractor. The Plaza was a complex project requiring many different skills; all parties concerned decided it would be better to involve a few small contractors in addition to Sletten for elements like the tile work and engraving. Thus, starting with summer 2004 Aviles and her committee had to interface both with Sletten and the small independent contractors.

(Please click here to see all the independent contractors involved.) As construction approached, the Design and Construction Sub-Committee’s work kept expanding to meet the exigencies of construction, the limitations of budget, the practicalities of fundraising and the demands for high quality.