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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
The Forde Files No 101 

A woman's place is... Building Tehachapi Hospital

The Forde Files No 101


Tina Fisher Cunningham

From left, Senior Project Engineer Ana Vlad of Palmdale, Project Engineer Stephanie Santos of Santa Clarita and Administrative Assistant Willie Lapham of Tehachapi, shown in front of the Tehachapi Replacement Critical Access Hospital Aug. 3, 2015. Under the umbrella of construction management joint venture company Bernards Colombo, they are members of the team that is building the new hospital.


As a female in the world of construction, Stacey Pray no longer is an anomaly.

"I've been in the business for 30 years and when I started I was always the only woman in the room," she told Forde Files.

Today, Pray, founder and president of SHP Project Development of South Pasadena, is one of six women at the top of the construction team that is building the Tehachapi Replacement Critical Access Hospital.

Working closely with the construction management services joint venture company Bernards Colombo, which supervises the contractors and overall construction, Pray keeps track of every penny of the construction budget, works out the long-term timeline, monitors contractor progress, interacts with government agencies and the architect and – occasionally -- serves up bad news to the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District board of directors, along with a proposed solution.

A registered architect, Pray earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and has extensive experience in master planning, design review and construction administration.

Her company is all women but for a recent male summer intern.

When she started in the industry in her early 20s, she said, "I never knew if they were giving me a hard time because of my age or my gender. Being a female was certainly an issue. In some cases it worked to my benefit, and in others not so much. Now that I have a few gray hairs and am one of the oldest in the room, my gender is very rarely a problem."

Pray, 53, has been married for 29 years and has a 24-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son.

She wanted to be an architect since she was 11 years old, she said.

"During my sixth grade art class the teacher had us study all of the professions that dealt in some way with art, and architecture just popped out at me."

That excitement has endured throughout her career as a project manager.

"I love the problem solving. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to solve a problem -- either by group effort or individually -- that keeps a project going."

The Tehachapi Hospital project has presented two major challenges, she said.

"Many projects have one general contractor with all the other contractors working under their agreement. The [healthcare] district chose to have multiple prime contracts. There are over 35 construction agreements on this project.

"Being a public hospital, my client is the entire [healthcare] district. Having so many bosses can sometimes be a challenge," Pray said.

Pray's construction reports at the board meetings are mercifully succinct and comprehensible.

"I always tell my staff to write and talk like they are explaining issues to their mothers," she told Forde Files. "This is a very technical field and most of the general public do not understand the process."

Pray advises young women who are interested in architecture, construction and project management to "Go for it!"

"I absolutely love my profession and have no regrets. Every day is different and exciting. You are constantly being intellectually challenged."


Pray's Senior Project Manager K. Lisa Polansky, 43, earned a degree in architecture at the University of Southern California in 1994 and has been a licensed California architect since 1999. She joined Pray's company in 2013 and started on the hospital project at the time of the groundbreaking that same year. She has been a project manager for medical lab and office renovations. Her specialty is in OSHPD buildings – the medical facilities under the highly regulated construction authority of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

"I understand their process," she said.

Hospitals, she said, "need to be careful with their construction dollars, [providing] as much as possible for patient services."

Polansky is eager to see the project fulfill its mission. "I can't wait for the community to have a new hospital," she said.


Senior Project Engineer Ana Vlad, 30, was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. In the European manner, she selected her major by age 17 and after finishing high school at 18, chose to attend the Technical University of Construction of Bucharest (Universitatea Tehnica de Constructii Bucuresti) instead of the Polytechnic University because it had a department that taught in French.

"I had the opportunity and I took that path," she said.

She studied building systems (mechanical engineering). In most of the school, the ratio of women to men was 20/80, but in her department, it was 50/50 "because more women are willing to study engineering in the French language," she said.

"We're breaking the rules now," Vlad said. "More and more women are going into engineering."

Vlad took her third year on a scholarship at the University of La Rochelle in France, returning to complete her degree in Romania.

She met her future husband, San Diego native Gabriel Ruiseco, in France. They kept in touch.

On graduating from the university in Bucharest, she applied to the masters program in construction management at California State University at Long Beach.

"I got in, packed my bags and flew here."

She graduated from Long Beach State in 2011 and in 2014 married Gabriel, who had earned a degree in healthcare administration at Long Beach State.

Vlad has been employed by San Fernando-based Bernards since 2013.

"Being a woman is a bit of an advantage," Vlad said. "In some cases we get underestimated. After that, you prove you can do the job and gain the respect of others."

Construction is a process that begins as a concept and ends with something tangible.

"That's what I like about construction," Vlad said. "You see it from paper plans and it becomes a whole building."

Her favorite part of construction, she said, "Is the stage we're in right now – the overhead HVAC, electrical, plumbing and interior framing. It shapes out on the inside."


Project Engineer Stephanie Santos, 48, of Santa Clarita, grew up in Taylor, Texas. She began working in construction in 1998, when her children were in school and she "fell into" part-time work at a company as a project administrator.

"I came to Bernards in 2007 working as a Contract Administrator," Santos said. "When the recession hit, I decided to go back to school and study construction management. This decision helped me to advance in my career as a Project Engineer."

Bernards encourages employees to advance their educations, she said, reimbursing them for college courses. Santos enrolled at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, working and going to school.

Santos and her husband Joseph have five children together – one in high school, two in college and one who has graduated college.

Major projects Santos has worked on include the Wallis Annenberg Hall at the University of Southern California School for Communications and Journalism and Temple Judea in Tarzana.

Santos has seen the impact a beautiful building can make on the public.

"My favorite part [of construction] is the end, when they open the doors and the public will come in. It is neat to watch their reactions, their excitement."


Administrative Assistant Willie Lapham of Tehachapi provides daily support for the superintendents and project engineers on the Tehachapi Replacement Critical Access Hospital construction.

Lapham, who has a bookkeeping business, came on board the hospital project unexpectedly.

"Over a year ago I got a phone call at home," she said. "They asked if I wanted a part time job. They said go to Colombo in Bakersfield. I went down there and was hired in five minutes. I started work the next day."

She and her husband Pete have three grown children. Pete Lapham teaches computer network engineering.


Inspector Hailey Hernandez, 27, of Anaheim has her own company, HNH Consultants, and is employed by Michael L. Davis & Associates, Inc., OSHPD Certified Hospital Inspectors and Consultants for the Tehachapi hospital project. She started with the Tehachapi project in August of 2014. Hernandez is a Class A OSHPD inspector, which means she, her colleague Eric Guerena of Ontario and a third inspector check and test all systems on three levels -- the California Building Code, the architect's project specifications and the manufacturer's product information. They study all the documents related to the products and procedures. If they don't have information, they know where to get it, Hernandez said.

Every system, she said, has its own set of rules.

"We are the eyes and ears of the state," Hernandez said. "We are employed by the hospital [builders] and we work under the direction of the architect. We have to play hot potato between three entities."

The tests of the concrete, rebar, soil, steel, mechanics, fire sprinklers, electrical, plumbing, flooring, medical gas, duct work and other systems are tough.

"We get 'em on the smallest things," Hernandez said.

"We are not allowed to direct or stop work," she said. "We observe and report."

The order stopping concrete work on the hospital in May came from the state, Hernandez said.

Female inspectors are rare in the construction industry. Hernandez, the daughter of Cuban immigrant Juan Hernandez, grew up working in welding, fabrication and quality control in her dad's shop in Anaheim, American Rebel Manufacturing.

"A friend's husband was an OSHPD inspector," Hernandez said. "I asked him how to do it. He said 'You need certifications and experience. Start with the fireproofing certificate. As soon as you get it, I'll hire you.'

"That was on a Thursday. I got the books and studied and scheduled the test for Saturday. On Monday I got my certificate."

That was the first of many certificates for Hernandez, including concrete inspector, concrete tech, steel welding, steel bolting, medical gas, commercial building, accessibility inspector and electrical.

At 24, she was the youngest person to earn her OSHPD Class A certificate ("Definitely the youngest female"),

"You get your foot in the door and it turns into a cascade," she said.

Hernandez said that on her mother's side, her ancestors arrived with the Mayflower. She has a brother and a sister. A graduate of Troy High School in Fullerton, she has expanded her knowledge by earning AA degrees from community colleges. Hernandez will live in Tehachapi until the conclusion of the job, at least another year.

Tina Fisher Cunningham

Hailey Hernandez, 27, OSHPD-certified hospital inspector, earned her first inspection certificate (fireproofing) at age 18. A native of Anaheim, she is the daughter of Cuban immigrant Juan Hernandez, who owns a manufacturing company. She is living in Tehachapi until the hospital is completed, at least another year.

Hernandez has been an inspector on the Goleta Cottage Replacement Hospital, the new Temecula Valley Hospital, an addition to the Children's Hospital of Orange County, the new Torrance Memorial Hospital – which included demolishing the old hospital –- the remodel of the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena and remodels and renovations for Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and Irvine.


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