Job Site Child Grows Up

August 19, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Combining a love of materials with a love of math, Connie O'Toole is one of the fortunate ones who gets to do what she loves for a living.

As president of O'Toole Design & Construction Inc., O'Toole wears all the hats in the company because not only is she the president, she is the designer, contractor, materials specialist and engineer as well.

After receiving her Metallurgical and Materials Engineering degree (MME) from the University of Pittsburgh, O'Toole landed a job in the materials division of General Electric in San Jose, Calif.

"I was working with designers who designed nuclear reactors to help find materials that were used in the systems, and then testing those materials," said O'Toole. "It taught me a lot of patience, a lot of life skills and even more about the materials world."

O'Toole's interest in learning began at a young age when she would follow her father, a mechanical and plumbing contractor, to job sites.

"I was a job site child," O'Toole said. "My father owns his own company, but being around all different sites I was really able to see what interested me and see what I wanted to do. I found it was materials and what happens to them over their life span."

O'Toole's husband, Mark, was frequently transferred during his career and, after having seven different homes in 14 years, the couple landed in Grand Rapids.

The benefit of the moves was that she was able to try different things in her seven different homes — seven different countertops, seven different types of flooring, etc.

"My friends started asking me what types of counters they should put in their homes and what types of cabinets and floors. And I could do it because I had been there and I had tried it out," said O'Toole.

When it came time to choose a job in Grand Rapids, O'Toole made the decision to do something that she loved and something about which she was passionate. She started the journey of discovering just what that was by working for a local remodeling firm for six years doing design work and site supervision.

In the meantime O'Toole moved her family to an apartment downtown while she remodeled an old East Grand Rapids home in which the family would eventually live. Both opportunities allowed her to establish her name, get to know the area, become an active member of the Greater Grand Rapids Home Builders Association (GGRHBA) and the National Home Builders Association (NHBA), take estimating classes and earn a Michigan builder's license.

Between remodeling her home and the homes of others, O'Toole decided she had found her passion, and a year and a half ago formed her own business. Since then she has incorporated the business and renamed it O'Toole Design & Construction.

O'Toole now dabbles in a bit of light commercial work in addition to her residential work.

"I love doing that," she said. "And it would be perfect to do half and half because I also love remodeling homes and doing additions on homes."

Besides having the passion for remodeling she also has the skill and enjoys working with a client from beginning to end. O'Toole won't build whole developments like a developer would, but assists during the building process with special design needs or material choices.

"I like to go shopping with my customers so I can see what appliances they are buying because I then have to design cabinetry around it," she said. "Being able to be there when the project is starting is also a huge advantage, because it is a benefit for me to be able to see what is happening from start to finish. It gives me a better idea of how to design and it is better for the client to deal with one person on everything so that there is one go-to person for trouble or good things, too."

O'Toole continues to stay up to date on all aspects of her profession, including knowing the best subcontractors and the best materials available. Being a member of the GGRHBA and the NHBA, as well as having a good base of people to work with and learn from, keeps her on her toes, she said.

"My favorite part is learning and meeting new people," said O'Toole. "I learn new things constantly and have the opportunity to work with all different kinds of people and take on all kinds of different projects, and that is what I love about my job."

O'Toole looks to grow her company to a point where she is able to bring on other designers and contractors. She enjoys cultural designing and noted she is always willing to try something new, after a little research.

"In this business trust is vital and is so inherently necessary," said O'Toole. "I feel I have attained that level and hope that with that and with the attitude of looking ahead and growing from here that I will be able to continue to do what I love for a very long time." 

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