It was lunchtime in the late ‘80s. Jennifer Patterson and her friends hurried from their high school to her house to watch a much-anticipated wedding episode of The Young and the Restless. Transfixed by the soap opera, her friends huddled on the floor in front of the TV. And Jennifer? She was off to the side, completely focused on power-drilling her chair.
“The chair was wobbly and it was bothering me,” laughs Jennifer, BCIT alumna. “My friends were howling.”
Rolling up her sleeves and making things better comes naturally to Jennifer. In fact, she’s built a successful career in the construction industry on this very trait. Today, she is the co-founder of Cityscape Management Ltd., which specializes in construction management, strata maintenance and repairs, commercial tenant improvements, and residential construction and renovations.
Most recently, Jennifer has become the BCIT Alumni Association’s newest vice president: “BCIT did so much for me, so I’m very excited to be able to give back and help support BCIT graduates as they grow in their careers.”
Working her way up
After high school graduation and a couple of years at a local college, Jennifer worked as a receptionist/secretary at a construction company. That’s when she started to seriously consider construction as a potential career for herself. She began studying in BCIT’s Building Technology program in the ‘90s.
After Jennifer completed her studies at BCIT, she returned to the construction company for which she’d formerly worked as a receptionist, hoping for a position that aligned better with her newly earned training. While she was disappointed to be offered only her previous secretary role, she was not deterred.
“It took them a while to see that I was capable of doing more than secretarial work,” says Jennifer, who emphasizes that she took the position with her former employer because she loved working there, determined to grow. “Eventually, I proved my abilities and was promoted to project co-ordinator after about four months.”
The power of transformation
“I love a project with tight parameters and being challenged to do something creative with it,” says Jennifer.
Her favourite project, which she worked on as project manager while working for a developer, is The Moda Hotel in downtown Vancouver. Built in 1908, the hotel underwent a transformative restoration that reflects the dynamism of the modern city and embraces the rich history behind it. Details including 200-year-old Douglas fir tree beams, 100-year-old exposed mosaic tile floors, and 80-year-old hardwood floors are some of the treasures Jennifer helped discover and renew.
“It was very cool to peel back all the layers and find marble floor under layers of linoleum or original tile under 100 years’ worth of wood panelling,” she says. “It was like an archeological dig, and I was tasked with taking it and making it better.”
Improving something that already exists (rather than building new) excites Jennifer. Now at Cityscape, which she runs with her husband Dave Patterson, she continues to do that.
“Many of our projects involve renovating co-op residences,” she explains. “In many cases, the buildings are really run down. By working with the tenants, homeowners, and property management, we can make things better for the residents—and that affects their pride in where they live, and that often spills into the surrounding community, especially in neighbourhoods that may have seen better days.”
Education as preparation
Running a busy construction management business isn’t easy. Jennifer credits BCIT for preparing her for the challenges of working in a fast-paced industry and being a business owner.
“The most valuable thing wasn’t what I learned in a classroom,” she says, reflecting on her own transformation as a BCIT student. “It’s what I learned in all those hours before and after class, working in groups, staying late doing assignments, discovering my own strengths and weaknesses. They told me the demands at BCIT would be the same as the demands of the workplace. It showed me that I could accomplish anything, that I could commit myself to something that was extraordinarily hard and come out ahead.”
Learn more about the BCIT Alumni Association, BCIT’s Architectural and Building Technology program and the School of Construction and the Environment.