Women will lead next stage of Kirby Drive construction

Eva Ruth Moravec
Staff Writer
Village News/Southwest News
Bellaire, Texas

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from the Village News/Southwest News (Bellaire, Tex.), July 24, 2007.

Three well-qualified, extremely experienced women will lead the next phase of the City of Houston's new storm sewer installation on Kirby Drive, most likely starting mid-January.

The current construction on Segment 2 of the project has been sluggish, falling as far as 126 days behind schedule, hindered by seemingly constant downpours. The third segment will take over at Swift and continue north to Robinhood, and will hopefully be more successful than the previous segment at staying on schedule.

To reach this goal, the third segment will be managed by Houston Public Works and Engineering, unlike Segment 2, managed by a private contractor.

"We're keeping the project managing in-house, where we are more familiar with the process and procedures," said JoAnne Kamman, managing engineer for Houston's Public Works and Engineering. "My job will be to keep the contractor moving and to ensure that the contractor is in compliance."

Kamman, 46, has more than 20 years of experience with private and public entities, including Harris County, the Texas Department of Transportation and METRO. She became a managing engineer three months ago, and has since put all of her effort into building support with her coworkers.

The Public Works and Engineering Department's various operations are divided into teams, which then focus on specific regions of Houston. Kamman's team presides over southwest Houston.

"It all depends on how you build your team," Kamman said. "We've gotten a lot of communication going, and a good team was already established before I came."

Second-in-command Jody Craze, project manager, attributes much more of the group's success to Kamman.

"The links now just all fit together," said the 46-year-old who came out of consulting to the City's department about one year ago. "We are all very comfortable and confident, and we all believe in living and learning."

One thing that Craze, Kamman and senior inspector Evelyn Kuykendall have done to prepare for their upcoming behemoth of a project is spend time on Segment 2.

Kuykendall, 45, also spent several years consulting before coming to the city three years ago. In March, she joined Kamman's team, and since then she has been senior inspector over as many as eight projects at one time. She believes her experience and diligence will help her avoid potential potholes.

"My job is communication," said Kuykendall. "I'll be keeping everyone abreast of what's happening, but I will also need to be available and have quick responses. The residents' concerns are our concerns."

Kamman, Craze and Kuykendall hope that their due diligence on the Kirby Drive project will help their segment smoothly sail towards completion. The $14.09 million Segment 3 contract stipulates that construction on that segment must be halted from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, 2008, so as not to disturb the Rice Village holiday shopping season.

With Segment 2 trailing far behind schedule, Houston Public Works and Engineering has determined that Segment 3 may start as soon as Segment 2 installs storm sewer boxes up to Swift Street.

Once the Segment 2 sewer is in place, Segment 3 will begin, continuing north to Robinhood Street, and Segment 2 will complete their project with overlay and pavement.

"It will be a challenge," Craze said, "but once a project is complete, it's awesome. You get total satisfaction from this profession."

These three women, each with a family of her own, honestly love the work that they do, a profession some still assume is best done by a male.

"A lot of people just don't know," said Craze, "but women are just as qualified. Our team was chosen based on our qualifications, and women are more common in construction than you think."

Kuykendall said she loves the sense of accomplishment she gets after a time-consuming, strenuous project is complete.

"You have to have the knack for it. It's awesome for me to see the final project," she said, "which is always something new. I can honestly tell you that every morning when I get up, I look forward to going to work."

Eva Ruth Moravec can be reached at (713) 668-9293 or MyNews@Village-Southwest-News.com.