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Groundbreaker Profile

From MEP to WIC, Mortenson's Sarah Narjes is Leading the Way.

Sarah Narjes standing on the construction of the stadium

Sarah Narjes spent three years in a football stadium surrounded by women. Her focus? MEP and DEI.

Sarah Narjes is a Project Executive with Mortenson. She’s been with the storied company for some 14 years and is more than familiar with the builder’s longtime reputation as a willing, strategic adopter of new construction technologies. Still. At the precise moment the Oakland Raiders organization got their first inkling they might want to move to Las Vegas, Narjes was surely on a Mortenson jobsite somewhere. She would have had no inkling of her own what technologically jaw-dropping mega-project lay in her immediate future.

We spent a few minutes with Narjes to discuss finishing ahead of schedule (and under budget), how to hide the mechanical system on a gigantic flying saucer, and Mortenson’s natural inclination toward diversity, equity, and inclusion.

From the Mortenson perspective, I've always had lots of females around me. At Allegiant especially, some of the most incredible people on the project were women making huge contributions. And I know they changed paradigms and a lot of minds on that job—showing that it is a good thing to have women on the site, to have that different approach.

Sarah Narjes

Project Executive

Sarah Narjes walking on the construction site

What was it like being a Project Executive on a build like this?

There were actually quite a few of me, right? So I was the project executive focused on MEP, which would be mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, low voltage elevators, digital integration—that world. And then it was a design-build project, so I was really coordinating closely with the design team. We had a lot of design criteria to meet and a unique mission on the project. It was a really massive undertaking.

What role did collaboration play on the Allegiant build?

So when the need is really, really high, it's like all barriers that normally exist sort of fall away. Everybody just knows if you don't work together, you're not going to make it. So we became an awesome, high-performing, really collaborative team. We had to. Because of this technologically collaborative team we built, it was almost like time zones, countries, and barriers didn't exist. We would send a communication in the evening, have everybody working through the night in a distant continent, and then get the answers the next morning. The time, the distance—there was no barrier.

Sarah Narjes standing on a construction site

What is one amazing aspect of the Allegiant Stadium project that is just invisible to the public eye?

If you scan the skyline of Vegas—the Strip—you might notice a whole bunch of glass buildings. You might see Luxor or Mandalay Bay, and they have all these dramatic features. Our customer really didn't want to see that. The stadium’s smooth enclosure was near the top of (Raiders owner) Mr. Davis’ list of things that really mattered to him. Being focused on the mechanical system, we spent a lot of time coordinating. It’s a huge, huge building and it has lots of systems in it. So those beautiful ribbons, the lighting elements that are so striking at night; those housed a lot of the mechanical system, exhaust, and intakes. That's obviously not immediately apparent to many people. It’s a testament to Mr. Davis and how he was able to articulate what mattered to him so that we could work to make it happen.

There was a Nevada state senate bill that very specifically set a diversity goal for the project. How was that achieved?

Ultimately our numbers on Allegiant were much better than what the Senate bill asked. The interesting part about this bill was it defined criteria that hadn’t ever been defined before. So our team had to find the companies to understand which ones complied with Senate Bill One. It was an interesting challenge because we actually had to build the database, whereas maybe on some other projects, that database would already exist. The fact is, Mortenson has company diversity standards that we are required to maintain no matter what.

How did it feel having such a visible role in the project—one that other women on the jobsite could look to and see themselves achieving?

The coolest part about our industry for me is that the numbers of women working in construction are getting bigger every day. I’m continually very encouraged by the excitement women show at the craft level. On the engineering and management side, there are more women to be found in construction than ever before, and that's wonderful. But it’s at the craft level where you see people really get excited, saying things like, “I had no idea this was an opportunity for me, and now that I'm in it I love it, and it makes my life what I want it to be.”

All of us are waiting for the day that more and more people will make construction a focused professional goal, instead of a career one discovers by accident—later saying, "I love it now that I'm here, but I had no idea that it was even a possibility!"

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