We’re sweeping up the last of the literal and proverbial confetti following our extended 25th anniversary celebrations. (Technically, we opened our doors 27 years ago in 1996, but Covid interruptions got these festivities rolling a bit later than they otherwise would have. So our commemorations have been joyfully stretched out.)
What a delight it’s been to mark this milestone and use it as a jumping-off point for the future of VPCS. We have so much to be proud of and so much to look forward to. And we’re enormously grateful to our wonderful clients, who have entrusted us with such important work. We take the responsibility very seriously and remain keenly focused on our mission to provide quality facilities and grounds for all of California’s students.
What are you most proud of when you look back on how the firm has evolved in its first 25 years?
Mark: Mike and I have been willing to try new things over the years, which has played a major role in the firm’s success. Also, the remarkably talented people who have come to work for us have helped preserve the DNA of the firm, and that has always set us apart from our competitors. Plus, the core relationship that Mike and I have props everything up. That relationship helped carry VPCS through some tough economic times.
Mike: I think I’m most proud of the fact that we were able to start a new business from the ground up – just two brothers with an idea and a commitment – and watch it grow into a PM/CM firm that’s well known throughout the construction industry.
Kelli: I’m extremely proud of the team of incredible people we have. Everyone on our team works so hard and they are all equally committed to building fantastic relationships with our clients.
Eric: Definitely the relationships we have with our clients. Together, everyone at VPCS makes a great team and that means we make great additions to our clients’ teams.
What do you think helps VPCS stand apart from other PM/CM firms?
Mark: We’re not afraid to make strong recommendations. Our deep background and experience affords us the opportunity to guide clients through the toughest situations.
Mike: We’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to satisfy the needs of our clients and become extensions of their own teams. One notable example: making sure school operations continue seamlessly with the least amount of interruption during the construction process.
Kelli: First and foremost, our commitment to our clients sets us apart. Also, our mix of technical construction knowledge. Finally, it’s not an exaggeration to say that our highly detailed understanding of bond/school district finance is unmatched in this industry.
Eric: We bring a “whatever it takes” attitude to everything we do. Our clients understand that we will do anything (provided it’s legal, ethical and moral) to help make a project successful.
To what do you attribute the firm’s success?
Mark: Good old-fashioned hard work!
Mike: We work as a team; we make it clear to our employees that they always have the backing and support of everyone else at VPCS if a question ever arises on a project. So our clients essentially have access to the skills and talents of our full roster of professionals. When questions do come up, we take the time to weigh all the information before making critical decisions on behalf of clients.
Kelli: I think the fact that we’ve maintained a family atmosphere at the firm even as we’ve grown – and have included our clients in that family circle – has been key to our success. We also know how to have fun in an often-stressful industry.
Eric: Our success is tied directly to the quality of our staff. Our “boots on the ground” team is just really strong. They provide effective and efficient leadership so that our projects are well run.
Why and how is VPCS well-positioned to lead the industry in the next 25 years?
Mark: We’ll never waver from our policy of delivering the highest level of service to clients. Maintaining that commitment always paves the way for new clients, especially in the K-12 school realm, where people frequently move between districts.
Mike: We’ll continue to populate our employee roster with smart, talented and loyal professionals. And we’ll continue to treat them well, making sure they feel valued for all that they do to contribute to the firm’s success. Our people make us who we are.
Kelli: We are building our team for success. As we grow, we are strategic with regard to the staff and skill sets we bring on board. We also build healthy relationships with our industry partners. All of this demonstrates that we monitor the pulse of the industry, and our clients benefit from that.
At VPCS, we pride ourselves on the diversity of perspectives that we bring to everything we do. That includes a staff with a gender mix that more closely matches the actual population and is dramatically more balanced than the industry average. (Women account for 45% of VPCS’s employees, while the Bureau of Labor and Statistics report that women only represent approximately 10% of the overall construction industry workforce.)
“Construction has traditionally been a cis-male-dominated industry, but that’s changing. And we’re leading that change,” said VPCS Vice President Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson. “With women making up approximately half of our staff and occupying every level of our organization, we are helping disrupt the industry and change the conversation. Most importantly, it’s one more way for us to deliver comprehensive and well-rounded skillsets to our clients and the communities they serve.”
How has the role of women in the construction industry changed since you began your career?
Melanie: In my nearly five years in this industry, I’ve watched women’s roles get stronger but the change needs to happen faster. More women are entering the field of construction management, which has been amazing, but is it fast enough?
Cal: This is a relatively new industry for me, and I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at VPCS to discover so many women working here. It seems like more women are joining construction all the time.
Patti: I’ve worked in the construction industry for about 18 years, initially in an executive support role and then in a program management capacity once I started here at VPCS. I see more and more women running jobs in the field. However, I’m still seeing a lot of projects where you may only see just one female on the jobsite.
Why is it important to seek gender parity in construction industry leadership?
Jennifer: Gender parity in the construction industry is incredibly important, as is racial and socioeconomic diversity. Having a group of committed individuals who can provide different opinions, backgrounds and views on the work that we do can only help us do a better job. This is especially important in education and healthcare.
Jenny: I believe that it is important to seek equality in general, such as with opportunities and pay, especially for the same position.
Cal: Women bring inclusivity and communication methods that differ from men’s. Women love to collaborate and bring a fresh perspective when problem-solving.
What challenges are commonly faced by women in this industry, particularly those in leadership roles?
Jennifer: In construction, there’s an outdated assumption that you have to be “strong and tough” (in other words, cis-male) to know how to build a building. Every single day, I’m judged by my appearance and encounter people who assume that because I’m a woman I don’t know anything about what is needed.
Prachi: Women are sometimes deemed inferior to men in the trades and undermined in discussions. We also face sexual harassment.
Melanie: Women have to prove themselves more, while men’s skills are often accepted outright. Respect should be based on ability rather than gender, race or any other factor.
Patti: There are logistical, physical and other issues that have prohibited or limited the success of women (such as lifting requirements that may be limiting, irregular working hours that are difficult for women with children to accommodate and, unfortunately, sexual harassment or bias that can come in many forms).
What can construction companies do to help elevate women from administrative to leadership roles?
Jennifer: I believe everyone, no matter their gender, should start at the bottom and work their way up. Giving employees the opportunity to see their career path or potential areas of growth and then discussing those openly allows all genders to know that they are important to the company involvement and growth.
Mary: Support and educate!
Jenny: It’s important for employers to engage with employees on their goals and interests to help them reach their full potential. It can be difficult for women to be upfront about what we want.
Cal: Promoting from within and actively recruiting women from colleges (and even at the high school level) with internships.
Why should men also engage in the effort to expand women’s impact within the industry?
Melanie: Some men in this industry stand by and observe how others treat women and yet they don’t always speak up. That’s just never been a concern at VPCS. People are recognized for the skills we can contribute regardless of gender. My co-workers foster and encourage me.
Cal: Men engaging with women in a collaborative way promotes company camaraderie and future success.
Patti: Women have historically been considered disruptive to male-dominated workforce. Men need to engage so they’ll become part of the solution in educating and wholly supporting the inclusion of women in construction.
VPCS’s employee roster is approximately 45% female. How does that help the company better serve its clients? How does it set the company apart?
Prachi: We are better able to relate to issues faced by our female clients who are in leadership positions.
Mary: Everyone feels comfortable. Since we don’t have to worry about discrimination, we can focus on doing our jobs well.
Melanie: I am so proud that VPCS is such an amazingly diverse company. We are intelligent, capable and talented together and each individual brings something different that helps serve our clients.
Patti: VPCS serves as an example to our clients that we are serious about building programs that are inclusive.
Of all the sessions and conversations you participated in at the Phoenix conference, what takeaway stands out?
Jennifer: Connecting with fellow VPCS team members was my highlight of the conference.
Prachi: That women at every level, from the trades to corporate positions, face discrimination.
Mary: I kept hearing presenters talking about the importance of being well versed in the industry, which is something I take very seriously – always researching a topic before joining any meeting.
Cal: Three main takeaways: 1) Connect with a strong mentor. 2) Know your stuff. 3) Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.
Patti: Take your seat at the table. Be prepared and speak up in meetings. Own what you know. Be confident! Be someone others want to work with. Find a mentor AND be a mentor.
Why is it important for VPCS’s female leaders to attend gatherings such as this?
Prachi: These events offer opportunities for networking, as well as discussions about diverse approaches to the challenges we all face. It’s also a chance to show our support for the younger women joining the industry.
Melanie: It was eye-opening to be there with the women from VPCS; together, we gained insights, information and techniques that will only make us stronger as individuals and therefore stronger as a team so we can contribute to the greater VPCS partnerships.
Jenny: It helps create a safe space to connect and review methods on how we can grow together.
Any other insights you’d like to add?
Jennifer: We have a great team and many very talented women who work for our organization, and none of that would be possible without the wonderful leadership at VPCS.
Melanie: I appreciated learning about techniques to help each of us find our voice and speak up to advocate for ourselves.
Cal: The construction industry has many exciting opportunities for women and I am thrilled to be a part of it!
At VPCS, we have more than 25 years of experience supporting the K-12 sector, and we’re proud of the ever-growing roster of school districts around the state that have trusted us to oversee their facilities work.
While our larger district clients and their more sizeable bond-funded projects tend to get broader media attention, we are equally invested in – and more than honored to serve – many of our state’s modest-sized districts. In fact, approximately half of our active clients fit that description, with fewer enrolled students and/or fewer physical facilities than their larger metro counterparts.
Here are seven reasons “boutique” school districts continue to rely on VPCS for construction and/or program management:
1. A team of specialists. Our small district clients have access to our entire company’s expertise. When we service a small district, we bring in subject matter experts from our expansive team to address individual concerns as they arise rather than limiting our involvement to a smaller team responsible for handling everything related to the contract. Our regional teams work together to ensure that small districts get what they need when they need it, which allows for operational and financial efficiency.
2. Scalability. We know how to adapt our services to suit any size, scope and budget. Small districts receive the same level of attention and expertise, always aligned to fall within the parameters of any assignment. Our commitment to students remains constant, regardless of other changing factors.
3. An à la carte menu of services. We often work with small districts to determine which of our services would be most useful, and which responsibilities would make more sense for them to handle internally. We take the time to walk through each phase of their upcoming journey – from design management, bid support, CBOC engagement and more – to identify when and where we can help fill in the gaps. This helps stretch sometimes limited budgets, effectively utilizes district staff resources and allows us to step in at points when we can be most beneficial.
4. Main Street community insights. We understand how small districts operate; that people wear many hats; that administrators sometimes become substitute bus drivers and that it’s common to bump into school board members at the grocery store. When we serve these clients, we also make an effort to connect with the local communities because it’s just one more thing that will help us do our jobs even better.
5. A dedication to districts of all sizes. At VPCS, we believe in giving all of California’s school districts the attention they deserve. That’s one reason we actively support the Small School Districts’ Association (and were proud to sponsor and attend its state conference, held earlier this month).
6. An unwavering commitment to protecting our clients. Whether we’re overseeing a bond program valued at hundreds of millions of dollars or supporting a district only needing to modernize a single structure, VPCS will deliver the same level of quality, integrity and professionalism. Neither a client’s size nor the scope of its needs ever affects the way we approach our work because the same laws apply, regardless of a district’s size. Part of our job as construction and program managers is to minimize risk for our clients by ensuring that applicable state regulations have all been met.
7. A student-focused mission. Whatever the size of the districts we serve, our goal remains the same: VPCS is here to ensure that California’s students have access to safe, high-quality school facilities. Kids are kids, wherever they go to school. We are here for them.
Project Manager Jennifer Kerr, who joined the VPCS team in 2017, brings a lot to the table, whether that table is in a conference room, a kitchen, an art studio or a foreign country. Read on to learn more about just a few of Jennifer’s many skills and experiences.
Q: You hold an associate degree in architecture. Did you originally plan to pursue a career as an architectural designer?
JK: Not really. The subject has just always interested me. I took some drafting and engineering classes in high school – and also in middle school, actually – and I was good at them. So when I first enrolled in my college courses, I decided to explore architecture at that level to see if it was something I wanted to continue with. I’m glad I got that architectural education, but it wasn’t going to be the right full-time profession for me.
Q: How do you use your architectural training in your work now?
JK: It’s helpful to have that knowledge of what the architects on our projects have to do and some of the challenges they face so I know the right questions to ask. [Jennifer is currently part of the VPCS teams that work for the Napa Valley Unified, Calistoga Joint Unified and Berkeley Unified school districts.] My degree does seem like an advantage that I bring to the team so I’m never just stepping in blind to those technical conversations.
Q: VPCS is a family-run company. What’s your family connection here?
JK: Eric [Van Pelt] is my brother-in-law; his wife, Erin, is my sister. And my brother Benjamin is also a VPCS project manager.
Q: What tactics do you use to maintain a distinction between family and work relationships?
JK: I don’t think I have any tactics. I don’t need any, really, because it all comes very easily. It never feels like I’m treated any differently for being a family member. Kelli [Van Pelt Jurgenson] and I frequently work together, so family topics come up in conversation all the time, of course, but we’re able to separate all of it. It feels very natural; never messy. When we’re at work, that’s always the priority.
Q: What are some of your non-work priorities?
JK: I guess being committed to the environment is a pretty big thing in my life. I try to do my part wherever I can. You know – reducing waste, avoiding excessive buying, living a vegan lifestyle, just generally thinking about how I can reduce my impact on the planet.
Q: Is it challenging to maintain a vegan diet when you’re having meals at meetings or work events?
JK: Not really. I’ve learned how to work around it and I’d never make a big deal about it. There’s a stereotype of the annoying vegan and I really try not to be that person! So if there’s a work-related potluck, for example, I’ll always bring something that I can eat (and I expect other people would like too). Or if we’re ordering in for a lunch meeting, I’ll just ask the person who’s placing the order to see if there’s a vegan option. If not, I’ll adapt. I really try not to impose it on everybody around me.
Q: Shifting gears, where are you in this photo?
JK: That was taken at the Berlin Wall on a trip I took in 2018 with my brother Frankie. We went all over Germany for about a week. It was my first time traveling internationally and it was an amazing experience. Our mom lived in Germany for a while when she was younger and I took four years of German language classes in high school, so I’d always wanted to go.
Q: Did you use your language skills on that trip?
JK: Yes, some. My brother had also taken high school German classes. But most people in Germany also speak English, and they know almost immediately to shift from German to English when tourists start to talk and we were happy they did that with us! But we were able to read signs and generally make our way through the trip with our little bit of German. (My high school German teacher once told our class that we had enough language training under our belts to speak at about a kindergarten level, so I had realistic expectations by the time I went!)
Q: When you’re not working or traveling, what’s your favorite way to spend time?
JK: I love creating art and I’ve always been pretty crafty. I’ve played around with calligraphy and watercoloring for a few years. I like to make watercolor cards and paintings for people’s birthdays and other special occasions instead of buying something generic from the store. It feels more personal. I also recently decided I wanted to learn how to crochet, so I taught myself how to do that. I watched a few YouTube videos and got a book that showed the different stitches and I just kind of worked on figuring it out. When it comes to arts and crafts, I like to try a little bit of everything.
Q: That kind of versatility probably comes in handy at work too, yes?
JK: Absolutely. In this job, you have to know how to be good at a lot of different things!
The CASH conference is such a great opportunity to visit with our existing clients in a fun, casual setting. We also love getting to know new people and swapping stories and strategies about our shared commitment to California’s school facilities. Most importantly, this annual gathering gives attendees a three-day deep dive into best practices, legislative insights and the valuable sense of community that will help us better serve school districts in the coming year.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the ways VPCS will be supporting this year’s CASH conference:
PROUD SPONSORSHIP. Once again, VPCS will show its unwavering support of CASH and its valuable programs by serving as a top-level sponsor of the conference. We are one of only two “Exclusive Sponsors” of this year’s event.
PROGRAMMATIC OVERSIGHT. Members of our leadership team play key ongoing roles in helping shape the CASH conference curriculum. Jennifer Gibb, our director of business development, is co-chair of the planning committee’s fiscal management strand and also sits on other workshop committees, working all year to ensure an effective agenda that’s packed with noteworthy speakers. VP Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson also supports the construction and planning committees in their efforts to deliver a high quality, professionally beneficial program.
WORKSHOP LEADERSHIP. Two of our own will be on the conference agenda this year, both on Thursday, February 23. Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson will moderate a workshop entitled “School District Facilities Leadership for Those Without a Facilities Background.” Among the panelists will be Mike Pearson, assistant superintendent for the Napa Valley Unified School District, who made the transition from site principal to his current role. Later that morning, VPCS’s Jennifer Gibb will moderate a workshop entitled “What’s the Plan? Successful Partnering with State Agencies to Strategically Plan and Fund Facility Projects.” The workshop’s panel, which will include John Gordon from the California Department of Education, will address the benefits of working closely with key state agencies to streamline approval processes and maximize funding opportunities.
NEW ACADEMY ACTIVITY. We’re thrilled to be expanding our participation in the CASH School Facilities Leadership Academy as part of our goal to send each of our current and future leaders through this prestigious and rigorous year-long program. Project Manager Minh Dao is scheduled to graduate at the February conference with the 12th cohort, and Project Manager Mary Fitzpatrick will begin her studies as part of the new 13th cohort later this spring. Minh and Mary are the fourth and fifth VPCS employees to attend the CASH Academy (joining Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson, Jennifer Gibb and Brian Cameron, each of whom graduated from the program in recent years).
GOLF TOURNAMENT FUN. Once again, we’ll be sponsoring a hole at the conference golf tournament to be held on Wednesday, February 22 beginning first thing in the morning at the Teal Bend Golf Club in Sacramento. If you plan to play, swing by our tent for a quick hello and some refreshing treats.
AN OPENING NIGHT MIXER. Along with some of our industry partners, we’ll be co-hosting a mixer on Wednesday, February 22 beginning at 6:00 p.m. at Saigon Alley on L Street – just a few blocks from the Convention Center. This is always a wonderful chance to say hello to old friends and meet new ones at the start of the event. Don’t miss it!
A BUSY EXHIBIT BOOTH. Stop by to see us at the VPCS booth on the exhibit floor. We’ll be there throughout the conference in spot #230.
We hope to see you in Sacramento beginning February 22!