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Hammering Down The Barriers On International Women’s Day

Breaking through glass ceilings isn’t so much the challenge for women working in Marlborough’s construction industry - try concrete floors and steel beams instead.

As New Zealand’s celebrates International Women’s Day, this year focussed on ‘recognising women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, it’s timely to acknowledge some Marlborough women leading the way in construction, regarded once upon a time as a male domain.

The largest construction project underway in the region is the Marlborough District Library and Art Gallery build, currently rising from the ground on a corner site on High Street in Blenheim, overlooking the Taylor River. The project has been supported by the Government through the ‘shovel ready’ funding administered by the Provincial Development Unit.

There are a number of women involved in its construction, ranging from on-site roles, administration, design, and consenting through to project management, environmental engineering and governance.

Councillor Cynthia Brooks has been involved with the project from the beginning. She has long been one of its champions, remaining committed to the cause despite it being stalled for a number of years due to other more pressing Council infrastructure obligations, namely the Renwick and Seddon water schemes. “Because I’m a writer and a book person I’ve always been keen to see a library building that is fit for purpose,” she said.

Clr Brooks is a member of the Project Control Group. “Our role has been to guide the project - from the site purchases and concept design development through to the final design and tendering, culminating in a construction contract – all the machinations required to see it come to life,” she said.

Katherine Skipper, architect and Wellington Studio Principal for Warren and Mahoney, co-led the early design development for the library and art gallery. “Working with the Council to unlock the potential of this project to truly reflect the amazing Marlborough community and landscape has been a real joy, and we can’t wait to see the building take shape,” she said.

Conversely, Council Project and Contracts Manager Maighan Watson has come from the “ground up” to oversee the administration of the project.

She joined the Council 18 months ago, with a business degree from Victoria University and a stint in property management behind her. While Maighan is quick to point out she is relatively new to this level of project management, she is taking it all in her stride and laying the foundations for an exciting career. That includes studying towards a qualification in construction management with strands in quantity surveying.

“I really enjoy the complexity of projects like this – I like being challenged. No day is ever predictable and it’s rare if I haven’t learnt something new before 9am,” Maighan said.

On site at the library and art gallery construction area is Jodie Brick, Construction Administrator for Robinson Construction Ltd.

Originally from Blenheim, Jodie worked in construction in Auckland for five years. “This is what I really wanted to do when I returned home and then this position came up. I wanted to be more on site and get involved in the complexities of running projects like this,” she said.

“You have to have an interest in the construction industry. I personally enjoy working with the different cultures on a construction site,” said Jodie. “On a project like this, we are all on the same page – we are all working for one thing – to get this building up and running.”

A typical day for APL Project Manager Mandy Clark is often spent at the ‘”grass roots” on site – the rest of the time she is working on administration and budgeting. The library and art gallery is one of the larger projects she has been involved with. “No two days are the same,” she said. “I always have my gumboots and high vis jacket in the boot of the car,” she said.

Mandy is another returnee to Marlborough. She grew up in Picton, attended Queen Charlotte College and then spent many years overseas and in Auckland. In the 1980s (as a woman) working in construction and heading to site visits, she said she was often the only female on a site. “It was easy for my name to be remembered. Now women are in every aspect of the construction industry.”

And the list of women involved in the project does not end there.

Environmental Engineer for WSP Sofia Gorosito is the site representative charged with performing the inspections and necessary tests to verify the bearing capacity of the foundation soil.

The civil engineer graduate, originally from Argentina, said she had a strong interest in geotech. “At the same time I am also looking to be able to see the whole picture of the projects and to be involved in all the engineering areas,” she said.

Robinson Construction’s Janet Ashcroft is also involved, managing the various documentation including consent requirements, which are a huge part of such a project.

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