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30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years
30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years

On June 29, 1987 Primera Engineers opened its doors looking to establish itself as a premier minority-owned engineering firm, focused on putting its people first. 30 years later, Primera continues to build on that legacy to be a leader in the areas we serve – Buildings, Transportation, Utilities, and Business Consulting. We have grown into one of the largest woman-owned engineering design and consulting firms in the region while our commitment to our clients and staff remains the same.

As part of our anniversary celebration, we are offering you a glimpse into our history and highlighting a mix of 30 employees, clients, and projects that have helped shaped us into the powerhouse firm we are today. We will be updating this page regularly throughout our 30th year, which ends on June 29, 2018, so make sure to check back and read up on our featured stories.



16. Senior Vice President Welcomes Continuous Learning Opportunities

Lourdes Gonzalez has served Primera in various capacities, including heading up our Sustainability group, leading our Architecture team and now takes point on the firm’s Business Development efforts. The reason for this is that she believes the best leaders are constant learners, and Primera has allowed her to do just that. Lourdes recently closed out our BBVA Bancomer Torre and BBVA Bancomer Centro Operativo projects, both long-term endeavors where she served as a LEED consultant for the client who was based in Mexico. This project gave her a different perspective because she was able to represent BBVA Bancomer and had the opportunity to interview the big architecture firms who were bidding for it. It was one of Lourdes’ most fun assignments and also provided her with professional and personal growth.


15. Increasing our Performance Levels Across State Borders

As Primera has grown in recent years new relationships have blossomed, one of which includes the Indiana Department of Transportation. We value our partnership with INDOT, and other Northwest Indiana clients, so much that it led to the opening of an office in 2013 in Munster so that we can better serve them. Since then we have worked on several construction inspection, road and bridge rehabilitation, and other transportation-related projects for both INDOT and for other clients within the State of Indiana.


14. Engineering Director Enjoys the ‘little things’ about her Job

One of Rosa Lazebnik’s favorite projects has been when she worked on the old Marshall Field’s building (now Macy’s) on State street. She enjoyed this project so much because she had the master keys to the entire building and complete access to all rooms. She learned so much about this historic space while on the project that she never passed up the opportunity to use some fun facts to impress friends and family when they came to visit. For example, did you know that there’s a working marble fountain on the 7th floor that is open to the public?


13. Buildings Division Manager Provides Insight into Key Strategies

Senior Vice President and Buildings Division Manager, Ken Panucci, has high hopes for Primera’s future, but that’s because he knows that being in tune with both clients and employees is the right move. Listening to the needs of our most important assets and then offering them what they want is what has helped Primera grow exponentially these past 30 years. According to Ken, if we continue down this path, the firm will likely be twice our current size in less than a third of that time.


12. Helping Students Learn in a Fresh Environment

Primera has worked with Chicago Public Schools since the mid 1990’s when we served as the managing engineer for a capital expansion program that sought to resolve their overcrowding issue. At the time, Primera’s co-founder and owner was not only passionate about engineering, but also cared deeply about the well-being of the students. Apart from designing a functioning system, Primera also created a process that allowed the students to have the best possible learning environment. We developed a standard that implemented a new outside air system to get good indoor air quality for the students, versus using re-circulated air as in previous designs. This system became the new standard and prototype for over 50 schools in the CPS network, and solidified our long-term partnership with them.


11. Architecture Lead Applauds Employee Empowerment

Primera has always valued building meaningful connections with its employees. Jill Diechmann, our Architecture Lead, can attest to that. For over 20 years Jill has volunteered her time with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, an organization dedicated to providing repairs, modifications and improvements for homeowners in need. In 2012 she approached Primera’s leadership team and was instrumental in helping the firm become a program sponsor for National Rebuilding Day. She was surprised, impressed and grateful at the response she received, and the support for both her and the organization. Today, Primera continues to be a proud supporter of Rebuilding Together.


10. Engineering Director values Innovation in Sustainability and Energy

Josh Greenfield is our resident energy efficiency expert. For over 15 years he’s worked on several energy consulting and sustainable design projects for Primera. His favorite project has been the Goose Island Household Hazardous Waste building back in 2004 because it was the first LEED project he worked on and the first time he had to take environmental sustainability into account during design. Today, Josh has played a role in helping 104 projects earn LEED certification.


9. Project Manager Proud of our ISO Certification

Erin Lowery began her career at Primera providing mechanical engineering services, and for the last several years has worked as a Project Manager on projects utilizing multiple disciplines as a prime and subconsultant for MEP, FP, architectural, lighting and commissioning projects. She recalls when the company initially pursued its ISO certification and instantly saw an improvement in workflow through the use of the quality policy, quality objectives, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions, and management reviews. Recently, Primera reaffirmed its commitment to our customers and the environment by becoming certified to current ISO standards, read more about it here.


8. Connecting People with our Natural Environment.

Primera’s work with Lincoln Park Zoo dates back to 2001 when Primera designed the MEP systems for the Regenstein Center for African Apes. The innovative design incorporated several unique features for animal comfort as well as public interaction. One such feature included a fan coil unit that when activated by an animal push button would blow cool or hot air, as selected by the animal, to both the public and the other animals. Since then, Primera has worked on many other design projects throughout the zoo as we proudly continue to support their mission of connecting people with nature and advancing the highest quality of animal care, education, science and conservation.


7. Aviation and Sustainability Lead Grateful for High Profile Project Opportunities

John Antonoglu clearly remembers the day Primera was awarded the contract to work on the O’hare Modernization Program (OMP) as part of the Master Civil Engineer team, BPC Airport Partners. “Mike and Pedro (then owners) came into the office with a bottle of champagne because it was the firm’s largest awarded project to date. To me, it serves as one of Primera’s most noteworthy achievements in its 30-year history.” John has played a significant role with the OMP, helping navigate the variety and complexity of the airport’s infrastructure, since the project began in 2003.


6. Long-time CAD Administrator Keeps Primera Moving Forward with Technology

Manny Santana is one of Primera’s longest-tenured employees. For over 20 years, Manny has been the face of anything and everything CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) related. The industry has come a long way since the mid-90s when he first started and he couldn’t be happier that it has. He remembers the times when he had to wear a face mask when creating blueprint drawings because the machine used ammonia. Manny has been with Primera every step of the way helping the firm evolve with new technologies, allowing us to better service our clients. Today, he oversees most CAD/BIM procedures and processes, training, and manages the licensing and renewals for all CAD software.


5. Lead Civil Engineer Pragmatic about Primera’s Bright Future 

John Fehlberg had the pleasure of working with now President & CEO, Erin Inman, before she joined the Primera team in 2003. He got to know her well and witnessed first-hand her determination in consistently setting and accomplishing goals. Fast forward almost 15 years later, and John is just as confident in Erin’s abilities as ever. He is excited about the direction the company is headed and agrees that capitalizing on cross-divisional relationships will only help Primera grow.


4. Project Coordinator Applauds our Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts

Roseann Marra was hired at Primera as an Office Manager in 2005, however her passion for customer service and desire to work with clients inspired Buildings Division Manager, Ken Panucci to transition her to Project Coordinator shortly thereafter. Throughout her time at the firm, Roseann has always been impressed with Primera’s give-back efforts, stating that at any given time there is always something going on as it relates to improving our local communities – from highway clean-ups to mentoring to environmental stewardship.


3. Fueling the Chicago Region’s Economy 

Primera has been a partner of the Chicago Department of Aviation since the late 1990’s, however our relationship wasn’t solidified until 2002 when we were awarded the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) contract. As part of the Master Civil Engineer team, BPC Airport Partners, Primera has led this $6.6 billion program, at times putting all hands-on deck with as much as 75% of the company working on the project. The OMP was also a gamechanger for Primera as it was the biggest project win at the time and was the first significant joint-venture for the company. The project also allowed Primera to create a separate Transportation division and served as a stepping stone into the utility industry by producing our first blanket contract with a large local utility. However, we are most proud of helping the City of Chicago ensure that O’Hare remains one of the most important economic generators for the State, as well as become a national leader in sustainability through the creation of the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) .


2. Distribution Engineering Director Focuses on our Growth Strategy

Bryan Knowles joined Primera in 2006. Since then, he has moved up the ranks and is currently known as one of the firm’s leading substation and distribution experts. He recalls that around the time he was hired, Primera was slowly starting to shift from internally being organized by degree to being more organized by industry, similar to what the firm looks like today. He credits this as being a big driver in Primera’s ability to grow and focus on what sets Primera apart from other firms.


1. Our Lighting Studio Expert Highlights Career Growth and a Commitment to Quality

Deborah Steimel-Clair has been with Primera since January 2004. As a recent college graduate with a Master’s of Science in Architectural Engineering from Kansas State University, Deb was brought on to Primera’s Buildings team as an Electrical Engineer. She has gradually progressed in her career and today serves as the firm’s leading lighting design expert. Deb’s favorite projects include 31st Street Harbor and Maggie Daley Park, both of which have been recognized with industry awards.


Check back regularly as we’ll be updating this story throughout our 30th year, ending June 29, 2018.

30 for 30: Engineering Our First Thirty Years

In honor of our anniversary celebration, we are featuring a mix of 30 employees, clients, and projects that have helped shape us into the premier engineering/architecture firm we are today.