Young women engineering central Christchurch infrastructure rebuild

Mar 10, 2014

Visitors to the central city taking a look at the pipe work happening on Colombo St, near Ballantynes, might spot some young engineers hard at work, including three young women in their 20s.

Engineers Ingrid Cooper, Kimberly Jupp, Sarah Stevenson and Greg Valentine make up SCIRT’s McConnell Dowell city team, overseeing repairs to wastewater, stormwater, water supply and roading. This infrastructure is a pre-requisite for the construction of buildings in the central city and the anchor projects.

Kimberly says it is a unique situation to have so many women in an engineering team. About 13 percent of New Zealand's professional engineers and 16 percent of engineering technicians are women. McConnell Dowell construction manager Rick Grobecker, who set up the central-city team, said all three women were appointed for technical abilities as well as their broad-range of knowledge and communications skills.

"The central city is a much different environment to most big projects because it’s happening in the midst of a densely-populated area," he said. "It's not a case of liaising with other workers on some remote site but with designers, business owners and people who all have an investment of some kind in a future Christchurch and great hopes for the city. Female engineers are helping, I believe, in bringing a slightly different and more complete perspective to the rebuild."

Reversing the earthquakes' domino effect

Sarah Stevenson, senior site engineer, says one of the rewards of the job is helping phase in the whole central-city rebuild by "clearing the way," especially for anchor projects. "It has taken a lot of planning but we’re really committed to doing all we can to make the rebuild flow. Hopefully, as we gradually fix the infrastructure, central Christchurch will be like 'reverse dominos' and will pop up pretty quickly."

Ingrid Cooper, site engineer, seconded from design company Pattle Delamore Partners, says careful planning has been important. She had been identifying and mapping existing underground services in the central city from March 2013, many months before McConnell Dowell’s central city work started in October last year.

Given the complex site, with contradictory or incomplete records due to the age of the street, and many designers, business and property owners to deal with, it was impossible to plan for everything, she says. Problem solving was the main challenge and the highlight of the job.

"Our goal is to get answers quickly so workers aren't held up on site – it needs good clear communications with our subcontractors and many others."

Kimberly Jupp, stakeholder co-ordinator, sums things up: "We're constantly coming up against constraints and new information. We all know it’s a critical development for New Zealand and we want to do our best. It’s not an easy job, but I love it."

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Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT)

Annemarie Mora

New Zealand



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