Focus Feature: Kirk McLawhorn

01 December 2021

Kirk McLawhorn has managed and delivered projects valued at over $484M across Illinois. With over 15 years in the industry, Kirk has experience with everything from major ground up residential and commercial towers to adaptive reuse and historic renovation projects. As part of our Focus Feature series, we sat down with Kirk to learn more about where he got his start and what he likes to do aside from managing major real estate construction projects. Read more below.

Your first job as a Senior Project Manager with Focus is to lead the construction efforts on the Lumen at Fox Valley redevelopment project. Talk about what excites you about the job? What do you think the biggest hurdles will be?

It is exciting to be involved in repurposing the mall, especially considering I went to high school in Aurora and worked at the Marshall Fields. This is my first wood framed building, so my biggest challenge is learn the nuances of that scope while the structure is already going up. Thankfully I have a strong team who started the job on the right foot.

Prior to joining Focus, you managed some of the highest profile jobs in the Chicago market like 800 West Fulton and 727 W. Madison. What was your favorite project to work on and why?

727 W. Madison was the first project I lead, so that will always hold a special place for me. But the thing I will remember the most is how well the internal and external teams worked together and communicated effectively. Lendlease’s project team, design team, ownership and the trade partners all had the project’s best interest in mind. It was a pleasure to work with Fifield, F&F Realty, Ares Development, Fitzgerald Associate Architects, WSP, Morgante Wilson, Pepper Construction, Siteline Interior Carpentry, Reflection Window and Wall, Heatmasters, Ewing Doherty, Hill Ahern Fire Protection, Bonus Electric, to name a few.

You also worked on the Historic Renovation of the Mies Van der Rohe Carr Chapel at the Illinois Institute of Technology. This type of construction can be particularly challenging. What did you learn from working this job?

Mies van der Rohe’s Carr Chapel was built in 1952 and was in need of masonry repairs, a new roof and storefront, and refurbishment of the terrazzo and millwork inside. Because Carr Chapel is the most photographed building at IIT, we knew how important it was to the university, Mies van der Rohe Society and all the architecture enthusiasts to keep the architectural integrity of the building intact. Fortunately, Harboe Architects, lead the team to make sure everything we replaced was functional but also replicated the materials used 60 years prior. For example, JSL Building Restoration tested over a dozen custom mortar mock ups to confirm the new work matched the mortar which had weathered for 60 years. Another example is the new roof coping which was designed to set back from the building edge so that it wouldn’t change the building's iconic slim profile. This project highlighted the challenge of finding the right balance between architectural significance, preservation and building performance.

You are an Associate Board Member for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, what is the goal of the organization and why are you passionate about it?

The Academy for Urban School Leadership is an equity-focused education non-profit that works to improve educational outcomes for underserved students. It manages 31 Chicago Public Schools, serving more than 16,000 students. Additionally, over 1,045 teachers have graduated from the AUSL Chicago Teacher Residency. Steady, positive improvements in academic achievement, student engagement, and parent satiSFaction are hallmarks of all AUSL-managed CPS schools and results in a 97% acceptance rate into college. AUSL’s mission to make top level education accessible to the most underserved students really resonated with me and was a calling to get involved.

Other than you time with AUSL, what do you like to do with your time outside of work?

Most of my time outside of work is spent being a dad to my two sons. I am a head coach of my son’s baseball team at Hamlin Park in Chicago and assistant leader of his cub scout pack. My wife and I really enjoy travel. I have been fortunate to visit 46 states and 17 countries. In the time that is left, I enjoy camping, bowling, Magic the Gathering, and board games.

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