Electrical engineering consultant: LRT project helped me grow professionally
Until the Central Corridor LRT Project, electrical engineering consultant Beatriz Mendez-Lora was content to be a lone ranger.
The Northstar commuter rail project was the largest one that Mendez-Lora, who started M-P Consultants 15 years ago, had worked on solo (with one CAD technician) until CCLRT.
“Since the design of Central coincided with the construction of Northstar, it was not an easy task to continue the solo operation. It was the Central Corridor LRT Project that has helped us grow,” she said.
To keep pace with both projects, Mendez-Lora hired an electrical designer, a senior systems/communications engineer and another CAD technician.
“Instead of limiting the amount of work that one person can handle, I am now pursuing multiple projects in both the transit/transportation market and the environmental/ municipal market. We have also pursued more projects related to standalone radio communications and security systems. We have our eyes set on some larger projects here and other states outside of Minnesota,” said Mendez-Lora, who earned her electrical engineering degree from Boston University.
She has come a long way since getting her start in the field as an intern in the electrical department of a Florida architectural and engineering consulting firm, learning drafting and drawing production skills and calculations. She is among six women engineers currently working at the Central Corridor Project Office, which employs 120 people, 43 of them women.
On CCLRT, her company’s primary role has been to design the electrical and communications systems for the 18 LRT station platforms and the operations and maintenance facility. The work involves coordinating with Xcel Energy the electrical service to the stations and maintenance facility, designing the lighting, heating and power distribution to other systems, the platform passenger information system, security cameras, fare collection, fire alarm, paging and intrusion detection. Now that the project has shifted from engineering to construction, Mendez-Lora is among the engineers who are staying on board the project to assist the Metropolitan Council and the contractors with construction support and as other electrical issues come up.
She decided to become a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise after working for an environmental engineering company designing electrical systems for water and wastewater treatment facilities. Her employer used to subcontract out a percentage of the work to other women-owned and minority-owned businesses. “After several years with my employer, I saw a niche and opportunity to provide these services as there were not many electrical engineering consulting companies that were woman and minority owned, which I qualified for both,” Mendez-Lora said.
It was her DBE certifying agent who notified her 10 years ago about an opportunity to work on the Hiawatha LRT Project. Mendez-Lora soon found herself working on the design-build team, assisting with park-and-ride lighting design, compliance with safety certifications and other electrical design work. Her firm then worked on the stations and the vehicle maintenance facility for Northstar.
“I do believe my favorite project thus far has been Northstar. Perhaps Central will take its place once the project is completed and operational in 2014,” Mendez-Lora said.
Animator’s work includes buildings he designed on eastern University Avenue
As an architect and 3-D animator, Frank Duan has seen his work on the Central Corridor come full circle.
Duan started Duan Corp. in 2002 when he was hired to design the Mai Village Restaurant in St. Paul and several other senior housing projects. Mai Village is among several buildings his architectural design firm has designed along University Avenue.
“When we worked on the 3-D animation segment from Victoria Street to Capitol East Station, the experience felt quite personal to us. It put us in a whole new and exciting dimension to visualize how the LRT will connect those buildings that we have designed through the years and how it can help generate opportunities for growth in the area,” said Duan, whose firm has two other employees.
Duan’s Maple Grove company, which also offers urban design, interior design, laser scanning and 3-D visualization services, produced animations for the LRT route through downtown St. Paul and for the West Bank- East Bank-Stadium Village areas, too.
“Our proudest accomplishment is that our three high-quality animations are helping and will help the Met Council convey its vision of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project to the general public. This was precisely what we were hired to do, and we believe we hit it with a home run,” he said.
Duan, who earned his bachelor of architecture degree from Tsinghua University in Beijing, moved to the Twin Cities in 1993 after graduating from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in architecture. He found a job at BWBR Architects in St. Paul and later for the Cuningham Group, a mid-size architectural firm, for 10 years before starting his own business nine years ago.
Duan also has worked on other transit projects. As a subcontractor for Hay Dobbs Architects, his firm worked on the Southwest LRT Stations Area Plan. His firm is currently working on the Red Rock Corridor Commuter Rail Stations Area Plan, also for Hay Dobbs. The work involves planning and designing the commercial, residential and mixed-use developments within the quarter-mile radius areas around those future stations.
But Duan credits the Central Corridor project for helping his company grow.
“Through the process, we have made big improvements on our technical capabilities and also on our collaboration skills with the multi-discipline design team led by AECOM (the LRT project’s engineering consultant). The project also gave us more exposure to government agencies such as Metro Transit, major architectural/engineering firms in town and the general public. I believe those will help lead us to future bigger jobs.’’
About the project: The Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project will link downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis along Washington and University avenues via the state Capitol and the University of Minnesota. Construction began in 2010 on the planned 11-mile Central Corridor line, with service beginning in 2014. The line will connect with the Hiawatha LRT line at the Metrodome station in Minneapolis and the Northstar commuter rail line at the Target Field Station. The Metropolitan Council is the grantee of federal funds. The regional government agency is charged with building the line in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Central Corridor Management Committee, which includes commissioners from Ramsey and Hennepin counties, the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board, state of Minnesota, Ramsey and Hennepin counties’ regional railroad authorities, city of St. Paul, Metropolitan Council and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.
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