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Transforming Auto Factories into Classrooms and Athletic Facilities into Field Hospitals: A CNAD Alum Shares Her Story

“A big industry, but a small community.” That’s how Maria Bootsma ('21SPS, Construction Administration) describes her experience in New York City’s booming construction industry.

In a recent chat with SPS, the Construction Administration alum and senior project manager at Columbia University Facilities and Operations shared what initially attracted her to the M.S. in Construction Administration program, which project has been especially meaningful to her, and the surprising history of one of her Columbia Manhattanville campus projects.

What initially attracted you to the M.S. in Construction Administration program at Columbia?

I decided to pursue the Construction Administration graduate program because I needed to elevate myself to pursue a senior level project management role—I really needed that push. Columbia is an Ivy League school, and the Construction Administration graduate program has a stellar reputation, so after establishing myself as a project manager, I figured that this was the next logical step. Of course, being in New York City also has its spark, and I appreciated that the program offers training, expertise, and professors who are the movers and shakers of the New York City construction industry. It was perfect.

What is your current role?

I’m a senior project manager at Columbia University Facilities and Operations, where I plan capital projects on various campuses including Morningside, Manhattanville, and the Baker Athletics Complex. My role as senior PM is to manage the renovations of existing buildings and the construction of new ones. My work ranges from small cosmetic upgrades to constructing state-of-the-art buildings, athletic facilities, and research laboratories. I get involved with the project at the earliest stages, overseeing it through inception, design, construction, and turnover. I deal with all facets of project management including code and permitting strategies, and supervise the project's overall budget and schedule.

How has your experience in the Construction Administration program prepared you for your current role?

The level of confidence that you gain from the Construction Administration program is tremendous, and there are plenty of electives that you can take on topics such as sustainability, people management, and communication. Studying at Columbia opens up a wellspring of industry professionals. You meet many industry leaders and professionals in your fields of interest, so it's a great resume builder that provides a competitive advantage to your career.

Is there a construction project you’ve worked on that has been particularly meaningful to you?

Columbia is one of only four Ivy League athletics programs to establish a seasonal air-supported structure within its athletics facility footprint. Located at the Baker Athletics Complex at 218th Street and Broadway, the Bubble at Baker is a heated, air-inflated dome that sits on top of the soccer field. It's approximately 92,000 square feet and gets inflated just before Thanksgiving in November, before it gets really cold, to provide Columbia Athletics with a temperature-controlled practice facility during wintertime, and typically gets taken down around March or April.

In the spring of 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I aided in converting the Bubble into a field hospital treating COVID patients, with the capacity of 250-plus patients at a time. Columbia is a proud partner of New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, and the CU Facilities Operations dutifully worked alongside state health officials on this very important and life-saving effort.

In order to transform it into a field hospital, the team needed to make modifications to achieve medical grade specs of patient rooms. Having just completed the renovation, Facilities brought me in as an expert on the space. My intimate knowledge of heating, ventilation, and electrical and architectural planning advised their strategy in the transformation. The project was meaningful to me, not only for the challenge, but also because it felt good in my heart—like I was part of something bigger than myself.

Is there anything that students or visitors to Columbia would find surprising about your work on the University's campuses?

What I love about construction and renovation projects at Columbia is that they allow me to learn a lot about the history of older buildings. I enjoy discovering more about a site’s past throughout the inception, design, and construction phases, getting to dissect the building's history as I help to plan for its future.

I worked on the Nash Building on Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, which is just across the street from the Studebaker Building. As their names suggest, both buildings were formerly motor vehicle manufacturing facilities. The Nash Building already had a robust structure, since that's where Nash Motors’ automobiles were physically manufactured back in the day. However, the building lacked necessary modern amenities like an elevator as well as sufficient mechanical and electrical infrastructure, so we had to upgrade it to bring the building up to current times.

Now the Nash Building houses a diverse group of tenants that includes the Columbia School of the Arts. So as far as what's surprising, we took a historic automotive factory building and converted it to an educational facility!

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing their master's degrees in Construction Administration at Columbia?

The Construction Administration master’s program prepares students to be able to tackle, lead, and shape any construction environment. The classes are tailored so students can learn from professionals who have common struggles within the construction management industry, especially in New York City. This allows students to develop high-level skill sets and—perhaps most vitally—to strengthen their love for building and construction.

About the Program

Columbia’s Master of Science in Construction Administration program prepares graduates for a variety of careers at the forefront of construction and project leadership. Graduates develop rewarding careers with some of the world's most respected architecture, engineering, and construction firms, entrusted with delivering some of the most impactful projects of our time.

Fall 2024 application deadlines for the M.S. in Construction Administration program are June 1 for the final deadline. Learn more here.