Kicking Back with Ray Green

Kicking Back with Ray Green

Senior Project Manager Ray Green has been part of the VPCS family for many years in several different capacities, currently focused on our work for the Napa Valley Unified School District. In this Q-and-A, Ray tells us a bit about the arc of his career, his history with the firm and a few thoughts on how he stays on top of his busy schedule (that is, when he doesn’t have his feet up at the water’s edge).

You and VPCS have a very rich history together. Tell us about that.

It’s a good story. Our first encounter was back when I worked for a general contractor on a VPCS project, so that’s when I first got to know Mark and Mike. A few years later, Mark called and offered me a short-term position as a VPCS construction manager which was followed by a longer assignment on one of their healthcare projects. Then I got hired directly by the healthcare client, which put me on the other side of the owner’s table. Eventually, I came back to VPCS and I’ve never looked back. So my interactions with this firm have been as a contractor, as an employee, as a client, and now as an employee again. Quite honestly, this is where I belong; I don’t believe I’ve ever been happier.

What’s different about working for VPCS?

After working around the industry for different employers and in different roles, it’s so refreshing to work for someone I admire; I never second guess them. The Van Pelts are so competent and have such integrity. I haven’t felt this way since working for my own family.

Did you always know you wanted to work in this industry?

All the way through high school, I actually thought I wanted to be a police officer. I even went through a training program and was about to enter the police academy. But before I did that, I went on a few ride-alongs. Those showed me that many of the interactions police officers have with other people are negative, and that’s not what I wanted out of my career. I’d already been working in construction to make money during school, so that just stuck.

These days, you oversee the construction on all the school sites that are part of the Napa Valley Unified School District $249 million Measure H bond program. Right?

That’s right.

What are the keys to being a good project manager?

Flexibility is definitely first on the list. In this job, you have to be the kind of person who can wake up, look at your calendar, plan your day, and then know that none of that will end up happening because someone will drop a grenade on your plan. But you still have to find a way to make all of your original stuff happen while dealing with all the other stuff that comes up. Patience is another virtue. And relationships are huge in this business. You have to develop the kind of rapport where you can have a heated conversation with a contractor and still have enough trust built up to turn around and ask them to do something and know that they‘ll do it. Finally, I would say it’s important not to get too worked up about things. I’ve been around long enough to expect things to turn upside down all the time. I’ve found that if I don’t get overly excited and I just keep my head, things will be okay. If you’re good in this business, it doesn’t mean things don’t go wrong; it just means you’re good at correcting things when they do.

What do you do to stay organized?

I’ve always had the type of mind that can do 50 things at once. It’s natural to me. In fact, it’s weird for me to do just one thing at a time. That being said, I do rely heavily on my calendar and on technology.

How do you keep project stakeholders in the loop?

I’m a big documentation guy and my primary mode of communication is email. Every time I have a phone call with an owner, I’ll back it up with a follow-up email. Still, you need to use different approaches with different people. As much as I rely on email, I also think it’s important to add a human touch; for people to see my face (even if it has a mask on!) so they know that I’m present on the project.

How would you expect a client to describe you?

Probably something like, “He’s a little high-strung but he really fights hard for the taxpayers and the district.”

When it comes to your work, what do you most look forward to about the post-COVID era?

In-person meetings! And interacting face-to-face with people; shaking hands. I really miss being able to shake hands when I meet new contractors or vendors.

Outside of work, what do you most look forward to about the post-COVID era?

Hawaii! My wife and I like to go to Maui a few times a year and we’ve really missed it. We’ve had to reschedule a few trips since the pandemic hit, but we’re on track to go again late this spring. We can’t wait.

What else would you like people to know about you?

That I just love this industry and the work we do here at VPCS. As a private citizen, you read in the news all the time about how taxpayer money is squandered. I really enjoy the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen on our watch. I’m so proud of the campuses we’re helping create for NVUSD; it’s fun knowing that when we’re done, those kids will be running around with smiles on their faces. I absolutely love this business.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

As we close out 2020, we reflect back on this unusual and challenging year. In spite of all the difficulties, we remain grateful for so much: our families, our friends, our community, and our work. At VPCS, we feel fortunate to have been able to operate without interruption on the majority of our projects through the ongoing months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We never take this privilege for granted and we are committed to paying it forward. We send our heartfelt wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season to our loved ones and to the world. Here’s to turning new corners in 2021.

Exploring Lean Design and Construction

Exploring Lean Design and Construction

New ideas don’t easily find their way into the world of construction. Whether it’s due to the age-old excuse of “We’ve been doing it this way for as long as we can remember” or just good-old fashioned resistance to change, the industry has not fundamentally altered its ways for many years.

As a result, our industry’s production stats have decreased in certain places while other industries have increased production exponentially.

Take the manufacturing realm, which has been steadily improving its production statistics for a while now. All because they’ve been open to being “lean” – a concept the construction industry has only very recently begun to adopt. But it’s an idea whose time has come, and one that can radically improve our processes as well as the buildings we construct.

To speak in very general terms, the lean concept focuses on optimizing workflows, removing waste, continually improving processes and making decisions that will add value to a project. If you think these sound like broad ideas, I agree with you. So I won’t attempt to explore here all the ways we can incorporate them into our construction practices. For the purposes of this post, we’ll touch on my favorite element: optimizing the team! (Watch this blog for more on other elements of the lean construction and design idea.)

Let me explain what “optimizing the team” means. If you think about it, you probably spend as much time during the week with your “construction family” as you do with your actual family. Strange but true, given the demanding hours in this business. So the bonds that tie together your team are extremely important and worth strengthening.

Why is that so important? Because a strong team is built on trust. When you know you can count on the people next to you to do their jobs, you won’t have to spend time double-checking their work or making multiple follow-ups to make sure they’re on task. You can rely on each individual’s commitment to achieve at the highest possible level so as not to let the team down. In other words, when a team is optimized, they are far more productive and less wasteful.

Everyone who works on a construction project is a member of the same team, even if we don’t work for the same company. We share the same goals of making a profit for all the companies working on the project (including our own) while delivering the best project with the highest value to the owner.

There are a couple of tools we use to do this. The first is co-location, which calls for all members of a construction team to work out of the same open office. Co-locating builds relationships across the entire team, streamlines the communication process, improves efficiencies, and simplifies the collaborative effort. My multiple experiences co-locating have all been met with great success.

There are different ways to achieve this at the company level. First, trust your employees and empower them to make strong, decisive decisions without having to check in with management at every turn. Second, make sure all companies that are part of a project team have the correct personnel on site who can make these decisions in the co-location space. Third, don’t work in silos and ask individuals to solve problems on their own. Instead, use your team and their strengths to resolve issues as they arise.

At VPCS, we’ve relied on these same tenets for our entire 20-year history. Now that these common-sense ideas are also recognized as the foundational ideas of lean design and construction, it’s easy for us to adapt. Building our business on these principles has allowed us to deliver higher-value projects — constructed by optimized teams — to our owner clients.

By Eric Van Pelt

Thoughts on a Foundational Relationship

Thoughts on a Foundational Relationship

This month, I will attend my fourth California State University Facilities Management Conference, which is held every two years. As we prepare VPCS’s exhibitor booth, choose fun giveaways and assemble information on the long list of CSU major capital projects with which we’ve been involved, I’ve been thinking about the important relationship between VPCS and the CSU System.

The CSU Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime) gave VPCS our first major project way back in 1997. George Owens, a well-known figure in the CSU Facilities Management community, chose to entrust an important assignment to two guys just starting out on their own. It was a good call and a great fit . . . a new CM for a new CSU campus. In the nearly 20 years since, VPCS has managed every major capital project at Cal Maritime, as well as numerous projects at CSU campuses throughout the state. This is a fact we are more than a little proud of. The best part of this story is that years after that fateful day in 1997, George Owens ended up coming out of retirement to work for our firm. A former client interested in working on our team – truly the highest compliment.

This give-and-take, this strong and lasting client relationship, all started at CSU Cal Maritime. Now, that foundational assignment represents our relationship with the CSU system itself – a system that has given our firm so much! Yes, it’s allowed us to work on exciting new projects. But more profoundly, it’s given us an opportunity to collaborate with true professionals and to work within an environment of diversity, forward-thinking and creativity. It’s no coincidence that those very characteristics embody the true spirit of the Facilities Management Conference.

I have never left this conference without having picked up a new concept, a new delivery method or a new approach to planning/design. CSU is always looking for ways to reinvent itself; always striving for more success in capital planning, design, construction and facilities management. This aligns with the larger goals of higher education and resonates with those who have worked within and for the CSU system.

Attending the conference also gives me the opportunity to connect with a community of people with whom I have worked over the years. Like the conference itself, these individuals and the projects we have in common have shaped the way I manage construction. They’ve given me a template for success, which I also apply to my work in the K-12 arena. I catch myself saying over and over again, “Do you not have a process for that? Well let me share my experience with how the CSU system handles this kind of thing.”

I’m excited to see what this year’s conference has to offer. If you’d like more info about the processes, procedures and staff that make the CSU Capital Planning, Design and Construction program tick, check out their site here. Also, look for more updates from the conference in this blog and via Facebook and Twitter as the VPCS team shares what we learn.

By Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson

Lots to Celebrate

Lots to Celebrate

Welcome to the new Van Pelt Construction Services blog. It’s one of the many exciting things we’re celebrating these days at VPCS.

First, we’re thrilled to unveil a brand new It offers a complete picture of our firm, our people and our work – all wrapped in a beautiful modern design and presented in a format that’s easy to navigate from any device. We’ve included overviews of our core service offerings, as well as a rich collection of project summaries (complete with accompanying photos) spanning all the market segments where we operate.

This blog is one of the site’s most noteworthy features. It will continue to build as we fill it with insights, observations and news from VPCS team members who devote their time and attention to our many projects around the region. Alongside this debut entry, you’ll find posts from our two regional vice presidents, Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson and Eric Van Pelt. Kelli writes about this month’s CSU Facilities Management Conference and reflects on the long and fruitful relationship shared by VPCS and the CSU system. Eric provides a glimpse into how and why lean design and construction is becoming the way of the future in the first of several posts in which he will delve more deeply into the elements of lean principles.

We created the new website and blog as part of a milestone event: our 20th anniversary. It’s sometimes hard to believe that my brother Mike and I established this business a full two decades ago. In the years since, we have had the great privilege of working for and alongside some of the finest professionals in the business. Respected educational institutions, school districts, healthcare systems and other organizations have entrusted us with their projects and their legacies. In turn, we have striven to provide a level of quality and service that demonstrate how seriously we appreciate the honor.

That original two-man operation that opened its doors in 1996 has grown steadily, carefully and strategically. Today, we are as proud of our expansive reach as we are of the fact that VPCS has never strayed from its day-one commitment to integrity. Whether you’ve been along for the ride with us since the beginning, or are a more recent addition to our “family,” we’re glad to have you. We are grateful, we are humbled, we are VPCS.

By Mark Van Pelt