Lekita Hargrave is responsible for keeping construction of the new home for the Darla Moore School of Business on time and under budget. (Photo/Colin Campbell)
By Colin Campbell
Published Feb. 4, 2013
It may only be February, but the end of this year is already looming for Lekita Hargrave.
December will be the month of reckoning for Hargrave, the project manager for the University of South Carolina’s $106.5 million Darla Moore School of Business building on Assembly Street. That’s when construction on what will be the most expensive building in the university’s history is slated for completion.
The 260,000-square-foot structure, on an accelerated construction schedule of 1.5 years, has sprung up in seemingly no time, but Hargrave is quick to testify to the amount of meticulous, behind-the-scenes labor that has gone into it.
“I get the team together, I monitor them; my job is to keep the train moving,” Hargrave said. That job, she said, often exceeds the 40-hour work week. “Depending on the week, it can be 60. Some weeks are better than others.”
Related coverageUniversity of South Carolina officials on Monday marked the pending completion of the steel structure of the new Darla Moore School of Business at Assembly and Greene streets.
As the university’s main liaison for the project, Hargrave is tasked with keeping the construction on track and on budget. She also keeps tabs on parking, hazmat and technology issues that might affect the surrounding community. Doing all that involves thorough planning, regular reports and, in her words, “lots of weekly meetings.”
It also means constant communication with both the contractors working on-site and USC officials eager to see the university’s newest building finished.
Hargrave, who hails from the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1992. She is married with three children. Before moving to South Carolina in 2007, she handled construction management at Eli Lilly and Co. in Indiana and managed information technology projects for K-12 facilities with Lucent Technologies in Atlanta.
One of USC’s several capital project managers, Hargrave has overseen other jobs on USC’s Columbia campus but none on nearly the same scale as the business school.
She recently managed a $1.1 million renovation of the Spigner House, which holds offices for Sodexo, the university’s food caterer, as well as mechanical renovations in Davis College, a classroom building near the Horseshoe.
Hargrave said she was likely chosen for the Moore School job based on her Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, since one of the goals for the building is a LEED Platinum grade, the organization’s highest rating.
She credits the work of the construction firms the university has partnered with — Gilbane, Cumming and Brownstone Construction — as being crucial to the project’s quick and efficient execution.
“It’s been a big joint venture working through all the construction management,” she said.
The most difficult part for Hargrave has been the building’s accelerated timeline, which complicates the decision-making process by forcing a balance between a desire to weigh all options and make the right call every time with a need for fast-paced execution.
“We don’t have several years to figure out how to do everything,” Hargrave said. “I think we had adequate planning time, but you want to make sure it’s done right.”
Standing in the building’s shadow in a hard hat and neon orange vest, Hargrave had her own moment to marvel at the result, albeit unfinished, of her many stressful hours spent planning and mapping out the project.
“Seeing it up close does make you step back from it,” she said, gazing into the vast dirt pit crawling with trucks and excavators beneath the building’s ground floor. It will eventually be a 300-seat performance hall, one of her favorite features of the building.
“Once they start putting the steel in place, it starts to give you an idea of how huge this project will be,” she said.
She said the biggest reward will come with “getting to see it all come together.”
Completing the building isn’t all that is on Hargrave’s mind, though. She is also working toward her master’s degree in mass communications at USC, and her classes in the Carolina Coliseum, which houses the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, will conclude roughly around the same time the Moore School opens up next door.
Asked which has a bigger chance of running behind, the building or the degree, Hargrave smiled and made her priority absolutely clear.
“The project will be finished in December,” she said.