Making Their Mark: Ara Massey helps clients figure out building efficiency.
Ara Massey believes in challenging herself — in her work and the rest of her life.
After graduating from Colorado State University, with a bachelor’s degree in construction management, she went to work in the male-dominated construction industry. As head of sustainable design at SlaterPaull Architects Inc. in Denver, she has the complex job of helping clients figure out how efficient they want their buildings to be. For fun, she snowboards.
“In my job, you have to be flexible, nimble,” said Massey. “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m always operating outside my comfort zone, and I’ve grown for it.”
At SlaterPaull, Massey helps customers get healthy, environmentally friendly structures that conserve energy, use less water, have good air quality and save money. Fiscal sustainability — creating long-term capital asset plans for clients — has become a major component of overall sustainability. She works with her firm’s project managers and principals to achieve those ends over the long term.
“We’re seeing a move to verification and performance — that a client is really getting the efficiency they want,” Massey said. “We don’t just design a building and go away. … We have more of an ongoing relationship with the client.”
Massey also manages SlaterPaull’s process for getting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and Collaborative for High School Performance (CHPS) certifications for projects. Both certifications are national rating systems that designate healthy, environmentally friendly buildings.
The architectural firm specializes in K-12 and higher education projects as well as historic preservation and building renovation.
SlaterPaull’s own office, located in the converted Engine House No. 5 firehouse in downtown Denver, received the first LEED Platinum rating for an historic building in Colorado, and Massey is responsible for tracking her firm’s energy consumption and savings. Platinum is the highest LEED rating.
This year, Massey served as a job captain for her firm’s The Green Apple Day of Service, which helps communities make schools healthier learning environments through service projects.
Massey also helped with SlaterPaull’s 2014 Green Challenge annual event, which runs from St. Patrick’s Day to Earth Day and encourages employees, friends and family to minimize their impact on natural resources by changing at least one personal habit for five weeks — riding a bicycle to work rather than driving a car, for example.
Massey’s work for the firm also played a role in SlaterPaull’s being named Green Business of the Year in 2013 by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
In the broader business community, Massey strives to make sustainability more widespread by working with the Denver 2030 District, a public/private partnership she helped create to make urban areas “greener” by assisting property owners/managers connect with local governments, businesses and others in the community. District goals range from reducing energy and water use to using transportation methods other than cars such as mass transit.
She also volunteers nationally with the Green Building Certification Institute, a nonprofit that administers LEED certifications and professional designations within the framework of the rating system’s creator, the U.S. Green Building Council, but is not part of the council.
Before going to SlaterPaull, Massey worked for nearly six years at Colorado Springs-based GE Johnson Construction Co. Inc., moving up from project engineer to estimator to sustainability engineer. One of the big challenges she faced in the construction field was gaining the trust and respect of mostly male colleagues.
Using resources such as the people and listening skills she acquired working as a bartender in college, she realized it was important to “align myself with excellence and to respect other people. … Being a hard worker is how you get accepted in the construction industry,” she said.
Role models who have taught her to overcome obstacles include her stepmother, who was vice president of an investment firm in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, and Shannon Rogers, a vice president at the Johnson firm and her former boss. Rogers showed Massey how to be a more effective listener and to get the best from others by treating them respectfully.
Jennifer Cordes, the SlaterPaull principal who works most closely with Massey, is one of her latest mentors. Massey said she respects Cordes for her ability to “stay focused on the prize” without letting ego get in the way and to “make everybody look good.”
Massey has become an influencer herself, passing along to others what she has gained from role models and her own challenges. “There’s another quality I’ve learned that’s aligned with success, and that’s grit, that willingness to go through something tough,” she said. “With people I mentor, I tell them they call it work because it is work.”
Title: Sustainable design manager
Company: SlaterPaull Architects Inc.
Industry: Architecture, specializing in development and construction of educational buildings and historic preservation
Education: Colorado State University
Favorite quote:“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” — English proverb