Breaking News
More () »

Women leading the way in construction of Seattle's new arena

NHL Seattle is hosting a forum on the roof construction, as part of its 'Science of Sports and Entertainment' series at the Pacific Science Center.

SEATTLE — It's fair to say there has never quite been a construction project like this one.

Tess Massaroni hands over a pair of earplugs and warns “it's loud."

The noise is deafening, on par with any rock concert at the old barn here. That's because of the water jets which serve as a “hydro demo” of the building that was once KeyArena.

"This is just a completely different engineering feat," said Ella Pilgrim, who moved here from Minnesota to help transform the Seattle Center grounds.

For these two women, the ringing in the eardrums is the sweet sound of progress at the site. As the site is transformed, Massaroni and Pilgrim are also trying to transform their workforce.

The project’s goal is to have women represent 7% of the overall workforce, which is about double the national average.

Massaroni is a superintendent on the project, working for construction lead Mortenson. The Marquette University alum, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering, is leading the structural demolition of the existing arena, including the installation of a temporary roof system.

"We're building a new arena underneath a roof. So many challenges with that," she joked, saying it doesn't compare with her previous gig. She, somewhat ironically, worked on an arena that was built because of a threat from Seattle. Massaroni was responsible for planning, garage build out, site work and landscaping at the Fiserv Forum -- the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks.

"(That) arena in Milwaukee was a wide multiple block space, and tons of lay down area with nothing blocking our way."

That Bucks job gave her instant credibility with Mortenson, and with her peers. She stood alongside the Bucks CEO at multiple events through the course of construction. It takes less than five minutes around the temporary Seattle office to see Massaroni knows her stuff.

"One of the things I enjoy about my job is overcoming challenges on a daily basis," she said. "The mechanical electrical plumbing systems are complex, and the fire alarm, and life safety systems are super critical."

RELATED: The Port of Seattle Fire Department promotes first female Battalion Chief

Across the way, inside the office, sits Ella Pilgrim. This also isn't her first rodeo. Her go-to book is the 'Steel Construction Manual,' which sits next to her desk.

"It's kind of the end-all-be-all for checking steel construction drawings," said the field engineer, with a smile.

Pilgrim said she kind of fell into this work, graduating from Purdue University in building construction management.

"I don't have any family in construction," she said, but "I knew I liked math and science and I knew STEM was something I wanted to do.”

That led to a gig helping with the construction of Allianz Field -- the new home of the Minnesota United MLS team

"That one didn't have a roof, this one does," she said of the obvious difference.

She's helping build out the TRS, in coordination with Massaroni. Pilgrim has a diagram, on her desktop, which shows a dizzying amount of steel.

"4,000 tons of (it) going in now, and a year from now will be pulled out," she said.

The complex procedures will help to prop up the multi-million-pound historic roof, which dates back to the 1962 World's Fair and allow for the excavation below.

Right now, outside of the roof, there is nothing that could be recognized as an arena. The grounds are essentially a blank canvas. Gone is the skateboard park, team store, and other aging buildings on the old arena's south side. By 2021, it will be the new entrance for a new Arena.

Massaroni and Pilgrim realize there are trailblazers on a project like this.

"Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to prove that I know what's going on and know what I'm talking about," Massaroni acknowledged.

However, as Pilgrim said, "It doesn't matter if it's male or female you need to go out there do your job and prove yourself, no matter who you are. It's really all about doing your job and being competent."

At an NHL Seattle-sponsored forum at the Pacific Science Center on Tuesday night, Massaroni and Pilgrim were acknowledged for their work on the project.  

Brent Leiter, the Project Executive with Mortenson, announced that the roof was ‘fully braced and credited his company’s engineers with getting the work done after only 10 months of planning.  

Steve Hofmeister, the Managing Principal for Thorton Tomasetti, made the point that the roof was the weight of the entire population of the entire city of Tacoma.  

Leiter said crews will begin pouring the foundation for the ‘new’ arena by the end of this year.

RELATED: Western Washington program aims to add women in construction jobs

Before You Leave, Check This Out