Women take the lead on YWCA housing project
February 1, 2011
By Lindsey Hall
Female builders leave a legacy in male-dominated industry
The YWCA’s Family Village construction site in the Issaquah Highlands is a sight to behold. From engineers to workers, managers to architects, a group of mostly women is spearheading the project that will bring low-income housing and community resources to Issaquah.
“It’s great,” said Elizabeth Rinehart, project manager for Walsh Construction. “And very different. On our side, there are not a lot of project managers who are women.”
Even after working on the project for nearly three years, Rinehart admits, “The feeling is hard to describe. It’s just a different tone, having a woman-dominated project and female management.”
Poppi Handy, associate principal at SMR Architects and lead architect of Family Village, agreed with Rinehart, noting the unique atmosphere the women bring to the project.
“We actually joke about it,” she said. “We notice that our team meetings are a little more spirited, and some of the things we talk about you just wouldn’t talk about at a table full of men.”
When asked about how the team works together on the project, she said she’s happy to say she’s had an exceptional experience.
“It’s been fun, which is the real take-away,” she said. “We all get along and it’s been a team effort.”
Though Family Village has faced many challenges, from fundraising to meet the $46 million price tag (not including the land or waived city fees) to complications incorporating eco-friendly materials, local YWCA Community Affairs Director Cathy MacCaul insists the campus will provide exactly what Issaquah currently lacks.
“There are so many people and families in need and there’s such a need for affordable housing on the Eastside,” she said. “I think that the most exciting part about the Family Village is that we’ve helped to build a place that 400 adults and children can call home.
“And the fact it was a team of mostly female designers just made the process even more special,” she added.
Hoping that residents will move in by July, MacCaul also highlighted benefits the group made certain to offer at Family Village.
“One of the things that makes it really unique are the community services and amenities available,” she said. “We’re working with Bright Horizons Family Solutions to have a childcare center on site. They’ll have space for approximately 160 children, 50 of which we’ll subsidize for lower-income families.”
The YWCA facility will also provide employment and mental health services, classes, activities and environmental programs to the highlands, in addition to 146 housing units.
Hoping to integrate smoothly into the Issaquah community, the women of the management team said they already feel welcomed by the public.
“I think the community has been fabulous,” Rinehart said. “It’s been surprising. I didn’t think that when we first started building there would be so much support.
“We had a booth at Issaquah’s Highland Days during the summer, and everyone seemed really curious, excited and complimentary. It is going to bring a lot of much-needed services,” she said.
Echoing the designers’ thoughts, Mayor Ava Frisinger said she understands how much the city could benefit from the new complex.
“It’s an absolutely outstanding project,” Frisinger said with pride. “It will help Issaquah achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”
Frisinger acknowledges the incredible achievement of the uncommon, female-led team.
“A lot of the women involved have been helped by the YWCA,” she said. “The project is such a good thing for empowering women everywhere.”
“It’s the project of a lifetime,” Handy said. “And we all have fun coming to our jobs.”
Lindsey Hall is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.