Yancey keeps West Haymarket projects on time and on budget

2013-06-25T05:55:00Z 2014-04-13T17:47:11Z Yancey keeps West Haymarket projects on time and on budgetBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Growing up, Paula Yancey was a tomboy.

That meant always being outside, raising horses and goats and dogs for 4-H. 

It did not mean she dreamed about being an engineer, wearing a hard hat or building arenas. 

As a kid, her goals were far more traditional. Yancey thought she would be a teacher or work in an office. 

She would marry someone in the military, like her dad, and move around the country, putting his career first.

It never occurred to her that she would be overseeing construction of arenas across the country.

“I was living in Idaho, remember. Not a place with professional sports,” said Yancey, who has been project manager for the West Haymarket construction project for the past two years.

And she didn't play sports in high school. She says the bumper sticker "Picked Last in Gym" describes her.

But she was on the Mountain Home High School dance team, which is what girls did when they didn't make cheerleader, Yancey said. 

“It never crossed my mind. It's not a vocation that my guidance counselor suggested -- ‘You want to build stadiums for pro teams?’ 

"That was never on my agenda,” said Yancey, who has been helping build schools, hospitals and stadiums for 20 years, almost half her life. 

In Lincoln, her job includes environmental work, a new street system and depot and the nearly 16,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena that will be home to University of Nebraska-Lincoln basketball and the city's civic auditorium, replacing the 50-year-old Pershing Auditorium.

Yancey's company, PC Sports, has a $3.13 million contract to oversee and manage West Haymarket construction.

She and her staff of seven in Lincoln are in charge of details and coordination of the many companies involved, from architects to landscapers, from city staff to construction companies.

They monitor the billing and payments, and every invoice goes through her office.

“She is the budget hawk,” said Dan Marvin, who monitors West Haymarket development for the city.

Yancey also is the master coordinator. Her staff makes sure someone is thinking about where companies will park their construction equipment. She had to make sure the new train depot got done so the tracks could be removed from the arena site. 

One morning, Yancey will talk about pink color on a wall with an interior designer; that afternoon, she will be out in the mud talking water lines with a utility contractor.

“I have to know a little bit about everything,” she said.

And as head of the team, she has to know what everyone is doing.

"That's what PC in PC Sports stands for -- Project Control."

Yancey became a certified project manager through on-the-job training.

Initially, she married that guy in the military, took some college classes, followed him to Texas.

Then she got divorced.

She was doing marketing and contract administration for PC Sports when her boss suggested she work on the job site rather than at the main office.

Yancey loved the work and has been a nomad since. 

Her first arena job was for the San Antonio Spurs in 2000.

Since then, she has overseen $1.5 billion in arena construction, including the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky.; FedEx Forum in Memphis; Sprint Center in Kansas City; and Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena. Her company is starting on three others.

Yancey finished a bachelor's degree in business management through the University of Phoenix to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

She's president of PC Sports, which is part of the larger Project Control, recently purchased by Raba Kistner Inc. 

She's part of the modern tribe of construction project professionals who spend a couple of years on job sites, then move on.

"You can see us at the airport every Friday afternoon," Yancey said.

She has a home in Winterset, Iowa -- Bridges of Madison County fame -- where she relaxes every weekend. 

"It keeps me grounded."

Yancey was hired to look after Pinnacle Bank Arena construction in March 2011, but her job expanded to oversee the entire West Haymarket area after city leaders became disenchanted with the company originally hired for that job.

She's a quick-change artist, with five pairs of shoes, including construction boots, high heels and slip-ons, plus a business suit and several pairs of jeans in her office.

Like Clark Kent, she can switch roles in minutes. 

One minute, she's a businesswoman in jacket and heels and manicured toenails. The next, construction supervisor in white hard hat and jeans.

In the middle of this arena project, Yancey married Chris Portz, whom she met working a job at Sprint Center in Kansas City. He works for Architectural Wall Systems, which puts facades on buildings and had the contract for the nearly all-glass Sprint arena.

She yelled at him over a detail on the job site. He asked her out. They dated for six years.

Although her profession involves planning and coordination, Yancey was too busy minding the details in Lincoln to stew over the details of her wedding in April. She hired a wedding planner.

She did take a week off before the wedding -- a week when there was no meeting of the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency, the three-member group overseeing West Haymarket construction that hired Yancey.

The two were married on a Saturday and both went to work on Monday, she said.

The Pinnacle Bank Arena will be done by fall, but PC Sports will be in town for another year, monitoring work on two additional parking garages.

Yancey will close out the arena by the end of this year and come back periodically to monitor work on the garages, which are part of Phase 2 West Haymarket development.

Attitudes have changed since she first started working around construction sites 20 years ago, she said.

Younger men are more accepting of working with women, she said, less likely to be upset if there is a woman boss and less likely to assume she's the secretary.

Respect comes easier, based on her experience and reputation.  

But it is still an interesting dynamic, she said. 

She has been called a den mother, a description that blends that tough person in charge with a touch of nurturing.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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