Women in Construction Week 2020 Profile: Rachel Belohlavek
Friday, March 6, 2020 - 4:27pm
City of Madison Engineering will be sharing one profile a day as it celebrates National Women in Construction Week, March 1-7, 2020.
Since Rachel Belohlavek was a high schooler, growing up in Chippewa Falls, Wis., she’s always been observant and detail-oriented, even on her way to her summer job as a lifeguard and swim teacher at the local YMCA.
“I would always ride my bike to work, past the [Leinenkugel’s] brewery smelling the brews hoppin’ and brewin’,” Belohlavek said. “First thing in the morning, at 6 o’ clock in the morning, as you’re going to go to the pool, you smell hops brewing.”
Noticing details like the smell of hops while riding under the sunrise may be rooted in her memory, but so is her quick journey to working for the City.
After high school, Belohlavek earned a degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin- Platteville and took an eight-month co-op, with the City of Madison Water Utility in 2015.
“During the co-op, I was able to design water plans in the winter months, and then during the summer, I was able to go inspect and see what I got done designing and put it in the field,” Belohlavek said.
The following year, Belohlavek got hired into a seasonal position with Water Utility, but soon a permanent construction inspector position opened in the City of Madison Engineering Division. It wasn’t long before she realized specific details would take over her everyday grind.
“There are so many sectors of the city. You don’t really realize it, until bam! This is what a City is,” Belohlavek said.
Belohlavek is a construction inspector, which means she goes out to construction sites, makes sure all the contractors and subcontractors are following the specifications (specs), or basically an extremely detailed rule book on City standards, on all the different details of the project. She also makes sure the utilities and other parts of the project, that fall in the public right of way, are being done according to the City’s standards.
“It’s [I inspect] basically anything in the right of way that connects to the building. We’ll help monitor and make sure they’re [the contractor] putting it in right,” Belohlavek said.
From how sanitary sewer and storm sewer are installed, to rain garden placement, driveways and sidewalks, she’s making sure everything built under and above ground is where it should be.
“We have to make sure everything is coordinating right,” Belohlavek said. “We have to make sure they’re [the contractor] following the specs so that things aren’t getting damaged sooner than they should be with time.”
But pointing out the rules and details that need correcting can be challenging, she said especially since women construction inspectors are few and far between. She recalled one example right away in her career where she had to prove herself to a contractor on site who challenged her knowledge.
“When I first started, the fact that I was a female and I was only 22, the older guys who had been doing it for the last 30 years, and retiring, were like ‘oh, you don’t know anything,’ and I would try to tell them what the spec is. Then, they’d be like, ‘That’s not the spec, go talk to your boss,’” Belohlavek said.
Instead, Belohlavek used the opportunity to share what she knew and prove she belonged in the field enforcing the City’s standards. Belohlavek pulled out her smartphone, looked up the spec and showed it to the contractor.
“I read it out loud to him and showed it to him, and said, ‘now do you want to follow the spec?’ He just clammed up and turned to the guys [on the job] and said, ‘guys go do this,’” Belohlavek said. “Then, after that … he respected me.”
Belohlavek also uses patience and education about what’s happening in the project when talking with residents impacted by the projects. Sometimes, residents ask Belohlavek questions about what’s going on with the project, something she looks forward to and is familiar with.
“I get a lot of joy out of teaching somebody something I love to do,” Belohlavek said. “I was a swim teacher, and it was the same thing. I loved seeing little kids faces light up when they learned how to do the front crawl right. And it’s the same way when people look at what’s going into the ground.”
No matter if it’s above ground, below ground or, from Belohlavek’s earlier days in Chippewa Falls, in the water, she loves paying attention to the details, loves sharing her passion with the community, and especially with young women aspiring to break into the construction industry, like she did.
“I love being able to do something, that I have that passion for. I love the science and math in school and being able to use that in everyday life,” Belohlavek said. “Just being able to use something that I enjoy, and being able to keep my mind sharp, and seeing how an entire city functions, and how my part helps it function, is really cool.”
- Hannah Mohelnitzky, Public Information Officer, City of Madison Engineering Division608-669-3560, firstname.lastname@example.org