Karren Jamaca – Karren Jamaca Consulting
- Written by: Jennifer Shea
- Produced by: Victor Martins & Christopher Yates
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Karren Jamaca was working for the biotechnology company Fluidigm (now Standard BioTools) when an explosion on a neighboring floor rocked the company’s offices. Flames engulfed the upstairs tenant’s chemical hood, setting off overhead sprinklers, which sent sooty toxic chemicals raining down on Fluidigm’s server room and multiple laboratories with delicate biomedical equipment.
Contaminated water flooded Fluidigm’s floor, so Jamaca had to go in every day to manage the cleanup of its labs. At the time, she was the company’s director of facility operations, environmental health and safety and construction. She was also the incident commander in charge of the 15-person first responder team evacuating the building.
“I had a chemical reaction on my face from just being in the building,” Jamaca recalls. “I don’t know if I had an allergic reaction or what, but I have a picture of my face—it looked awful.”
The explosion happened five days before Fluidigm was to move to another location in South San Francisco. And no sooner did the company begin that move than the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It was one crisis after another for Jamaca, who had to watch as all the contractors building the new space put down their tools and walked off the job (due to COVID concerns and lockdowns) before construction was finished.
“COVID came on all of a sudden—we may have been aware of it, but nobody thought everything was going to be shut down,” Jamaca says. “Between the explosion and COVID, it was kind of a logistical nightmare for me.”
Jamaca had to finish the move within seven days before the lease on the old building ran out. It wasn’t the smoothest process she had ever managed—for months, employees worked on different floors than they were supposed to while waiting for the electrical to be completed and the furniture to be built—but she finished on time in March 2020.
Managing a $17 million project
Tasked with scouting locations, Jamaca had worked with a broker to help Fluidigm select its new building, an office tower which was half constructed, in 2019. She then oversaw the construction of 80,000 square feet of laboratory and office space on the top four floors of the 21-story building.
“I started that project before the exterior glass walls were even up,” Jamaca says. “It was all open. In fact, I have a picture of myself up on the 21st floor with no glass around me.”
As the sole construction manager for Fluidigm on the $17 million project, Jamaca oversaw the space plan, the furniture, the safety checks and the transport of chemicals and biohazardous materials, managing the entire relocation effort.
The move of multiple research labs required her to work with the county to obtain permits for hazardous waste and chemical management. As safety officer, she also arranged for the seismic bracing of gas cylinders and biosafety cabinets, and implemented COVID protocols when that became necessary.
Finding her calling
Born and raised in Chicago, Jamaca has developed a knack for making herself an indispensable employee wherever she goes. However, her early training was not in construction management; it was in military intelligence.
“When you complete your enlistment, you find there’s not a lot of call for military intelligence instructors outside the military,” Jamaca laughs. “Which is how I ended up going down a different path.”
Now certified in facility management and green building techniques by the IFMA, GBES and OSHA, among others, Jamaca started her civilian career as a medical assistant and EKG technician and ended up helping with autopsies at a major Chicago hospital.
The pivot toward what she currently does came in 1990, when she took an administrative assistant role at Stanford Medical Center and tackled the job of moving the pediatric cardiology department to the new children’s hospital.
“That was kind of my first role in a large relocation,” Jamaca says. “Before, I had been drawing blood, doing EKGs and autopsies, and suddenly I was moving a huge department into a new children’s hospital. So that’s kind of where my career switched.”
Spreading her wings
Jamaca’s career took off from there. She went from pediatric cardiology to adult cardiology at the Palo Alto VA Hospital where she managed the relocation to the new VA Hospital. After Stanford, she went to Kaiser Permanente, which put her in charge of space planning and relocations for three hospitals and nine clinic locations.
“At Kaiser, it was every department from operating rooms to clinics,” Jamaca says. “And every department had moves at some point. I did space plans to determine where departments should relocate to and set up the new environments and managed the moves.”
After Kaiser, she briefly returned to Stanford Medical School in 2005 to manage three large research buildings. In 2007, she took over as the lease, space and relocation manager for the University of California, Office of the President.
Jamaca then founded KJ & Associates before joining Fluidigm in 2014. By the time she launched her own consultancy, she had considerable experience and multiple professional certifications, which she uses to consult on facility management, interior construction, safety, space planning and relocations.
Now working as a facility consultant for another biotech company based in Menlo Park, Jamaca says she feels at home consulting.
“It’s taken me 35 years to get enough experience to be able to consult,” she says. “At UC, for instance, after I left, they replaced me with five people. It’s hard to find somebody who can do all those things. You don’t realize how much you’ve been doing until you leave.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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