Senior Design Manager Janel LeGard represents Haskell during a career fair at Tuskegee University, her alma mater.

May 17, 2021

Architect Janel LeGard Designs Buildings and Builds Careers

Recently honored as one of the NABWIC’s Women in History, the longtime Haskell team member says she was “born to be an architect” and relishes the chance to mentor others.


Janel LeGard remembers her first taste of architecture. As a ninth-grader at Chicago Vocational High School, LeGard was naturally curious, building a childhood full of “Legos, drawing, coloring, just anything artistic” into a path where high school drafting classes were instrumental in finding a career path.

But the biggest influence was Leodies Arburtha, a long-serving vice-principal at Chicago Vocational and a graduate of Tuskegee (Alabama) University. He began the school day at the historic art deco and art moderne hybrid-designed Chicago South Side school with a booming public address announcement, “It is a beautiful day for teaching and learning.” Even when raining, he would exclaim, “There is nothing but liquid sunshine outside.”

Arburtha mentored LeGard and realized that his alma mater, a private Historically Black College and University, and its acclaimed Architecture program, would be a good fit. So, at age 17, LeGard left Chicago for the American South, and the world of architecture has been part of her life for the past three decades.

“Mr. Arburtha saw something in me and suggested that Tuskegee would be the right place for me,” she said. “In my life, many people have assisted me and reached out a hand to lead me forward. I knew I had to do the same thing.”

LeGard is the Senior Design Manager for Haskell's Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Facilities Group – ranked No. 1 globally by Engineering News-Record (ENR) in food and beverage construction – and a 23-year employee of the company. She started working at Haskell immediately out of college, first at Tuskegee, where she graduated with a bachelor’s in Architecture, and then at Auburn, where she earned a Master of Building Construction degree.

“Janel is an excellent communicator, and that’s vital in the role she holds,” said Peter Skirbst, Haskell’s Vice President and Group Operations Principal. “Leading a design team, interfacing with the construction team and also with the client requires an ability to transition from one situation to another very quickly.”

LeGard’s current responsibilities include start-to-finish oversight on the design of buildings in the food and beverage industry. A Frito-Lay building in Honolulu required vertical construction instead of horizontal work because of Hawaii guidelines, with parking on the roof, a covered patio and other green amenities. Another facility, for energy drink manufacturer VPX (Bang Energy) in Phoenix, included wastewater disbursement and retrofitting an existing facility with exacting equipment and piping. The Arizona facility normally would have been a 10-month project, but Haskell was able to complete it in six months, allowing VPX to accelerate five-fold its annual distribution capacity.

“I don’t know everything about electrical or wastewater, but, as usual, I learn something new every day,” she said. “I love learning about my craft. There’s no doubt I was born to be an architect.”

This natural attraction to learning was spotlighted in late March 2021 when LeGard was recognized as one of The National Association of Black Women in Construction’s (NABWIC) Women in History during their Northeast Florida Hard Hats and Heels Virtual Event. NABWIC is a Florida-based, non-profit organization formed in 1991 to address the unique challenges of Black women in the construction industry and to champion and empower Black women in construction and related industries to reach their full potential as industry leaders.

The honor wasn’t presented because of the construction of a building but rather because of LeGard’s decade-long mentorship of area youth as part of the ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor Program.

“I think some minority students who are interested in architecture would appreciate someone who looked like them sharing details of a profession that they find interesting,” she said. “Not all of the students are minorities, and I find joy in sharing my professional experiences. There’s always a need to continue to educate.”

“There aren’t a lot of women in my profession, and there are even fewer minorities,” she said. “I think a lot of students who are interested in architecture liked that they had someone interested who looked like me. Not all of the students are minorities, but there’s not a lot of exposure to our profession. There’s always a need to continue to educate.”

LeGard’s influence has been particularly impactful for a couple of people in the Jacksonville community with whom she first connected at A. Philip Randolph Career Academies, a career- and college-preparatory magnet school.

Ashantae Green serves as an elected Supervisor of the Duval Soil & Water Conservation District and owns two businesses in the green-design realm. She was motivated by meeting LeGard during her high school years.

“Janel was the first female architect I ever met who looked like me,” Green said. “It was amazing that she took the time to visit an inner-city school and cared about what my dreams were. That has always left a lasting impression on me and also inspired me to be an ACE mentor, where I serve as a board member now.”

Mercelin Etienne attended the University of North Florida, earning a degree in Construction Management. He worked for a couple of Jacksonville companies before joining Haskell.

“These new employees were being introduced, and I saw Mercelin and immediately said, ‘I know you,’” LeGard recalled. “And then the first project he works on he is working with me at the VPX facility in Arizona. That was so much fun.”

Skirbst took the connection with Etienne, an Assistant Project Manager at Haskell, to another level.

“That’s like a fairy tale,” he said. “Working with someone in the ACE program and then they come back to work with you? That’s such a neat feeling for Janel but also for all of us.”

Haskell delivers more than $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,300 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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