The dynamic team of leaders behind the California Tower project at UC Davis Health recently reflected on launching one of the nation’s largest progressive design build projects in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. They presented on the project at the recent Healthcare Project Delivery Conference.
The California Tower team leaders include:
- Jana Aubert, program director of strategic programs with Cambridge CM, Inc.
- Heather Chung, vice president of SmithGroup
- Jill Tomczyk, executive director of strategic programs for UC Davis Health
- Naomi Whitesel, vice president of integrated design delivery at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc
During the panel, the team touched on how they were able to promote a collaborative environment, manage day-to-day project design and tackle challenges all within a virtual environment.
“It was challenging to on-board hundreds of team members and create a collaborative culture virtually,” Tomczyk said. “We had to be very intentional and come up with innovative ways to have people work together. This was something that had never been done before — so there was no roadmap for it.”
Early in the planning process, the team was confronted with multiple challenges, including design changes and budgetary adjustments. To handle these challenges, the team developed a process they called the SWARM — which provided the team with effective tools and parameters to collaboratively make decisions.
“We were able to successfully navigate the challenges we faced because of the support we provided each other,” Whitesel shared. “We know that we are going to have disagreements, but that conflict can be a healthy way to flesh out our ideas. No one here shies away from giving their opinion, but we also give the space to other people to have their opinions.”
Others on the team agreed that the open communication compelled everyone to work together.
"The team’s willingness to embrace a new paradigm and next generation thinking around how these projects can get done made all the difference for us," Chung added.
The California Tower team was the only all-female conference panel. The more than 250 members of the audience stood and applauded when the emcee recognized the fact.
“I have been in the industry for 25 years, mostly focusing on health care constructions projects, and this is the first job I have had with all women at the top,” Aubert said. “This project is being run and the big decisions are being made by women.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up just 10.9 percent of the entire United States construction workforce in 2022. Although still a minority in the industry, the share of construction workers who are women is at an all-time high and has steadily increased since 2016.
“It is moving for me to have all the young women on the team see us lead this project,” Whitesel said. “I get feedback from them about how exciting it is to see women in our positions, which sets an expectation and a standard that they can be in this position one day too.”
In addition to Aubert, Chung, Tomczyk and Whitesel, the lead architect and lead construction engineer for the California Tower project are also women.
“Our all-female panel was truly representative of the entire project,” Whitesel added.
It is moving for me to have all the young women on the team see us lead this project. I get feedback from them about how exciting it is to see women in our positions, which sets an expectation and a standard that they can be in this position one day too.”
About the California Tower
Approved by the UC Board of Regents in January 2022, the California Tower will be added to the eastern side of the existing UC Davis Medical Center. When completed in 2030, it will include a 14-story hospital tower and five-story pavilion, adding to a hospital complex which has served the neighborhoods at this location for 150 years.
Currently, crews are working on utility installation and coordination for the California Tower. The project has implemented valet parking for the Department of Emergency Medicine, while work is starting in the emergency department parking lot. Work is being done there on the connection from the new California Tower to the existing Surgery and Emergency Services Pavilion. The tower is on track for major construction activities in the Summer of 2024.