"Thank you for building this beautiful theater."
Those words from a student were music to Tracy Nishihira's ears. Although she didn't personally build it or design it, she was instrumental in both the planning and construction of the unique black box theater and the rest of the newly rebuilt Renaissance High School for the Arts in downtown Long Beach.
As a facilities planning manager, she is responsible for assembling the project team, negotiating contracts, managing costs and coordinating project requirements and approvals with government agencies.
She is also tasked with ensuring that these projects are built within budget and schedule, and most importantly, providing high-quality facilities that meet the needs of staff and students for an enhanced learning environment.
"When the student came up and thanked me, it made all the hard work worthwhile," said Nishihira, who has served as a planning manager for more than 30 LBUSD school bond projects during the past nine years.
"I feel fortunate to have been involved in projects as interesting and challenging as Wilson High, Poly High and of course, Renaissance High," she said. "Because of their complexity, these projects were several years in planning and construction, so I lived with the process for a long time."
A native of San Pedro, Nishihira is one of five siblings who all graduated from San Pedro High. Her paternal grandmother, a daughter of Mexican migrant farmworkers, instilled in her the importance of family and education—values she has tried to pass along to her own sons, nieces and nephews.
As the first in her family to earn a college degree, she graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, fulfilling her dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture. While she was still in the five-year program, she got married and gave birth to her first child, Luis, who is now 21 and a recent graduate of his mother’s alma mater.
After college, Nishihira worked for seven years at HMC Architects, a firm known for its school and community college projects. She brought her experience dealing with the Division of State Architects to her next job, at the Los Angeles Unified School District, where for four years, she managed construction projects for new buildings and school renovations.
Then came a surprise: a second pregnancy nearly 10 years after her first. By the time her second son, Andrew, was three years old, Nishihira had moved on to Capital Program Management, a consulting firm that originally managed LBUSD's Measure K bond program when it was approved by voters in 2008.
As one of the bond program's first managers, she helped lay the foundation for the next several years, overseeing planning of some of its high-profile building projects such as Jordan High, the largest renovation school project in the district's history.
"At Jordan, we are not only rebuilding the entire school, but we are doing it with students in place," said Nishihira. "The movement of students to temporary bungalows during construction is then followed by their return to the newly-renovated spaces and another round of moves begins again. There’s constant juggling of schedules and moves, which are a real challenge."
"I learned so much because we had many unexpected challenges due to the age of the buildings and the need to retain their historic features without compromising new earthquake and accessibility standards," she said.
For Nishihira, the challenges keep coming, and she says she would not have it any other way.