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Leading the change in design and construction

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What happens when a leading Latino architect and a leading Latino contractor join forces? The sky’s the limit.

-By Arianna Hermosillo

At least two men are dedicated to changing the conversation on design and construction in the city of Chicago. Their goal? “It’s about [Latinos and African Americans] being able to work together…and go anywhere in the City of Chicago and design anything or build anything. We have the possibility to do all of that,” says Jose Maldonado, CEO of Old Veteran Construction.

As far as he and Juan Moreno, architect and owner of the firm JGMA, know, they are the first minority and Latino partnership — Juan as architect and Jose as general contractor — to endeavor on the type of large-scale project of reimagining a building for Richard J. Daley College on the city’s southwest side.

Details of the Project

According to Moreno, the Daley College building is part of the City of Chicago’s move to specialize city colleges programs under the “Colleges to Careers” initiative. So in the case of Daley College, says Moreno, it’s about combining high technology and careers in manufacturing in a way that brings education in this field into the digital age, and providing Chicago youth with the right tools. It’s the first permanent building on the campus in many, many years, he adds.  

The questions on Moreno’s mind, therefore, were, “How can you, with a new building, start to inspire these kids to want to go to school? Or when they go to school how are they going to stay?”

In Pursuit of the Project

Moreno and Maldonado weren’t necessarily the usually contenders for the bid, they say. And they were made aware of it by many, adds Moreno. According to him, the project was highly publicized, highly competitive and open to all the firms, but, “Jose and I made a very profound business decision in the pursuit of this project,” says Moreno. “It was a statement that we wanted to make to the community, that the days of us just being minority participants have to be re-thought.”

As part of this decision, Moreno says they probably invested over $100,000 just to be considered. He feels that because of their experiences, identity and talent that they are the most qualified for the project. Fortunately, their team was selected just a few months ago.

“I’ve always been partner with bigger firms and never had the opportunity — as a Latino — to do a job of this magnitude on our own as a general contractor along with the architect and the design team I want,” says Maldonado.

Impact on the Community

The Daley College project has broken ground and the team is working quickly through the design-build process that has them designing and constructing simultaneously. They are on a tight schedule and need to complete the roughly 70,000 square feet project by XX. It has a price tag of $42 million, but it’s an investment that Maldonado and Moreno feel very strongly about.

Maldonado notes that the demographics of Daley College sway largely Latino, “so it’s nice to know that a Latino group has come on board for the first time to building something and give back to the Latino community.”

“Not everybody in this city shares the same views about design and the importance of this building for that community that Jose and I share,” says Moreno. For him, it’s a community that is underestimated. “There are going to be those that say, ‘This is for me. Do I deserve this? Am I really at a city college? Am I at a university?’ And the answers are, “Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.’”

Not only can students expect a new building, there will also be new equipment and state-of-the-art technology. “So we have a very strong conviction about the bar [that] also has to be raised in the way we think about what we’re providing for our youth. That architecture, construction has this very unique opportunity to inspire these kids,” says Moreno.

Impact on the City and Industry

Both Maldonado and Moreno see Chicago as a land of opportunity with room to grow those opportunities for individuals like them.

“Part of what we’re doing is to inspire other people to do the same thing because I’m not the only talented Latino architect in the city. I’m one of many,” says Moreno.

Additionally, Maldonado shares that they have a strategy of working with all-minority teams and partnerships for future bids and projects. It’s something that both he and Moreno are committed to. “We don’t know if we’re going to win, but you know what, the conversation’s there. We’re taking a leadership role in bringing that conversation to this city, because it is a city of immigrants, and trying to open eyes about the possibilities for everyone,” says Moreno.

Maldonado shares that commitment: “We took what we did in Daley and we said, ‘We’re going to do that throughout the City of Chicago, to continue to open the doors for minority contractors — Latinos and African Americans —to work together to unite together, to be able to show that we can do projects within the City of Chicago.’”

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