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Discussion with Project Management Expert Scott Pellman

Discover how Scott Pellman uses his architectural expertise in the public K-12 educational space to project manage the creation of new and renovated educational facilities throughout Connecticut.

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Discussion with Project Management Expert Scott Pellman

After three decades as an architect specializing in public K-12 educational facilities, Scott Pellman is now using his talents on the project management side of school construction projects. His humility, personable demeanor, conscientious attention to his clients and team, and his remarkable knowledge and passion for project planning and oversight have made him an integral member of the Colliers Project Leaders organization.

What drew you to the field of architecture?

When I was young, I had a great aunt who was an artist and she instilled in me a love of drawing and art. But I'm more technical and like solving problems. I like spatial issues, so art wasn't necessarily the path I wanted to take. My high school had a great architecture course. I gave that a try and developed a love for architecture. There's always a different challenge. I've always been a very creative, artistic person and I think all of that just led me to architecture.

Tell me about your transition from architecture to project management.

When I was looking for a different opportunity, this still felt comfortable. I was moving to the owner’s side of the table. Everybody said, “It's going to take you a good year and a half until you learn Colliers Project Leaders’ processes,” and, damn, if they weren't right! There was a period of adjustment, but I think it's been a great marriage. I’ve used a lot of the tools that I developed over the first 30 years.

What led you to focus on school projects specifically?

It's something I fell into. I was lucky enough to start working on school projects early in my career.

How does construction of a school facility differ from that of other building types?

With big box stores for instance, you're not designing for a 50-year lifespan. They're designed and constructed to be versatile in their use and fairly easy to reconfigure for many uses when tenants change. Whereas a school needs to be robust and contain materials that stand the test of time. Schools have also evolved from a security standpoint. In addition to the educational functionality of the school, we are also required to incorporate recommended safety and security measures to keep the students and staff safe.

Tell me about one of the school projects you’re most proud of.

It would probably be a school in Hartford that I designed when I was still practicing architecture. It was the first LEED Platinum public school in New England and it was a renovation/addition. The design came to me very quickly while I was sketching at my kitchen table one night. As an Environmental Magnet School, it had a very strong science component including a koi and eco pond in the center, an interactive theater, an aquatics lab, and a butterfly vivarium. I designed it in a way that it could be cordoned off from the academic portion of the building. School groups could come in and treat it almost like a mini science center, even though it was the main entry and focal point of the school. The school’s focus and commitment to sustainability and the environment was a key factor that allowed the project to be pushed all the way to LEED Platinum status, which is no easy task.

What would you say is the largest or most complex school project you've ever worked on?

It was the Academy School in New Haven, which I completed about seven years ago as an architect. This was an urban school in a historic district with eight parking spaces onsite. It was an old Catholic school built with different materials stacked together that really shouldn't have been there. In hindsight, it would have been better for the city to say, “Let's tear the whole thing down and build new.” But we removed all the exterior walls. There were PCBs and environmental issues that had to be addressed. The building envelope had to be completely reconstructed and we brought in natural light. There was a basement area where we created a small outdoor sunken terrace off of their cafeteria. In the end, it turned out great.

Do you have any tips for people who want to enter the field of owner’s project management (OPM)?

You can work your way into this field a few different ways, including the construction or design sides, and both give you a strong foundation. You've got to be open to learning and embracing the required skill sets. Taking some construction management courses would be helpful. But we've got very successful OPMs who are engineers or architects that started in construction, so there isn't one path to becoming an OPM. It's about gaining that experience and an understanding of the design and construction process. Finding opportunities to be exposed to that is the key to being successful.

Do you have any mentors that have helped you along the way?

There are always individuals I look to from a leadership standpoint. The way they handle themselves in certain situations are things I've tried to emulate. At Colliers Project Leaders, one person I admire is Charles “Chuck” Warrington, Geographic Discipline Leader. I think the world of Chuck and the way he interacts with clients. He has a comfortable and reassuring manner and a very confident, honest approach. I've looked for those types of individuals throughout my career.

What is one thing that you'd like people to know about you?

A lot of people know I love the outdoors and that I have built a couple of wood kayaks. I spend every weekend, if the weather's nice, on a lake somewhere. For me, that time is almost spiritual. That's where I can turn it off and forget about work, the projects, and the problems. Life is short. I don't want to be sitting on the couch in front of the TV. I'd rather be in the mountains with a fishing pole in my hand sucking down an ice-cold beer in the middle of a gorgeous lake. That's my Zen. I get up at 6:30-7 AM in the morning on a calm lake and nobody's up. I've been out there and had eagles flying overhead. It's those mornings when it's just you, and you just feel like the world is yours.

What has been your proudest accomplishment at Colliers Project Leaders so far?

I probably take the most satisfaction in resolving an issue successfully or anticipating something and getting positive feedback from the team and the owner. They appreciate you saving them on some aspect of a project or being able to work through a challenge successfully. Those are the moments that, at the end of the day, you sit down and go, “Yeah, I made a difference today, that was good.”


Click here to learn more about how Scott and Colliers Project Leaders can help with your next education construction project in Connecticut.