Campus News Campus Spotlight

Director helps create spaces for students, faculty and staff

Melanie Ford is director of construction in UGA’s Office of University Architects. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Melanie Ford leads construction projects on campus

Melanie Ford thought she wanted to design buildings. Instead, she oversees the building of them.

“I read a lot of Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid, and there is a lot about construction management that is like being a detective,” she said. “You have this set of drawings and specifications, and you have to try to figure out all the different parts of it. You have to search through all of the drawings trying to find where the information is and how to put it all together.”

Ford, director of construction in UGA’s Office of University Architects, started out studying architecture at Auburn University but got her bachelor’s degree in building science, learning all about construction management. She then worked for a large general contractor in Atlanta who moved her temporarily to Athens to be project manager of the Classic Center.

She “fell in love with Athens” and decided to stay here and open a local branch for that contractor, which she ran for about five years. She then worked for a local construction firm for another eight years before she came across a job with the Office of University Architects.

Ford started as project manager for construction services in 2007, later moving to her current role. When she worked in private contracting, she worked with UGA on a few projects and enjoyed working in this environment. Another aspect that drew her to working at the university was the opportunity to continue her education. She’s completed her master’s degree in historic preservation and is working on a master’s degree in landscape architecture.

“I’m a lifelong learner,” she said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

It was those initial building science classes that drew Ford to construction.

“Math is one of my strong suits, and I liked that things were black and white. Things are either right or wrong, but design is very subjective,” she said.

In her role, Ford supervises UGA’s active construction projects and reviews pricing and estimates contractors put together before they start work. Once on-site work begins, she and her team do quality control and monitor the schedule. She works with the project managers and helps troubleshoot any issues. She spends most of her time out and about on job sites and trying to get through the most pressing items on her to-do list.

“It’s a lot of problem solving, and I think that’s what I really like about it,” she said.

For Ford, the most important aspect of what she does is making sure job sites are safe for the general public as well as for those working on it. It’s also important to her to be good stewards of the states’ funds for these construction projects. They try to build for at least a 50-year life cycle.

Ford works closely with Facilities Management Division to gauge maintenance costs and make sure they can care for the buildings. Upcoming projects include the Poultry Science Complex and the modernization of Science and Ag Hill, and OUA works with FMD to ensure that they are aware of what the design of the buildings will be and what materials will be used so that they are prepared to accept them.

Eventually, Ford thinks that she would like to teach construction management. She already gives back to other women in her traditionally male-dominated field. She participated in the first cohort of the Women’s Staff Leadership Institute and started Athens Area Women in Construction (AAWIC), a non-profit that brings women in construction together for professional development and to give back to the community. One of their activities includes participating with local schools during career days and similar events, and AAWIC launched their first summer camp last year for girls in 11th and 12th grades to get them hands-on experience in construction.

“I like sharing information and seeing people do well in their careers and in life,” she said.

Outside of work, Ford enjoys running and baking and works on renovating projects in her own house. She spends as much time as she can with her family and dog.

In all she does, her focus is on making sure those around her have what they need.

“I’m a very customer service-oriented person,” she said. “I want to make sure people are happy with what we leave them with.”