Elaine McCluskey, project manager extraordinaire, retires

Elaine McCluskey. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Fermilab is losing a paragon of gracious and effective project management. After more than 26 years of leadership in the lab’s most significant engineering projects, Elaine McCluskey is retiring on Feb. 21.

Arriving at the lab in 1995, it wasn’t long before she took on the job of Lead Structural Engineer on the Wilson Hall Renovation project. Unlike its inspiration, the Beauvais Cathedral in France, Wilson Hall was in fact completed – in 1974. However, a dozen or so winter/summer cycles later, breaking concrete and water leaks began to require frequent repairs. The building required proper renovation.

“Floor by floor, the crumbling concrete joints will be rebuilt and the problem plumbing fixed,” wrote then-communications head, Judy Jackson. “The conductor for this complex performance in several acts is Fermilab engineer Elaine McCluskey.” Long-time residents will agree that the building is a much safer and more comfortable space since the renovation. No more indoor waterfalls!

In the early 2000s, after the excavation of the NuMI/MINOS access shafts, tunnels and underground halls, Elaine led the next phase of the project. Undaunted by flooded halls on her first day, she proceeded to coordinate the outfitting of the underground spaces and the construction of the service buildings. This project received the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the Illinois Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, given for “an engineering project that demonstrates the greatest engineering skills and represents the greatest contribution to civil engineering progress and mankind.” It should have also mentioned “dogged determination” – nothing escaped her attention, even when it required a bumpy ride down the MINOS shaft in an open-air inspection compartment located atop the rack-and-pinion elevator to complete a final construction inspection.

“Elaine has put her heart and soul into moving this project forward, overcoming countless challenges,” said Chris Mossey, project director of LBNF/DUNE-US. “LBNF/DUNE simply would not be where it is today without Elaine’s extraordinary dedication and leadership.” Photo: SURF

After she led and completed the restoration of the iconic but leaky Meson Lab, in 2009, the lab tapped Elaine for the Main Injector Neutrino Upgrade Project. In this role, she was instrumental in achieving the newly required certification for Fermilab in a new accounting process known as the Earned Value Management System to measure and forecast project performance. She then successfully implemented this process in the construction project for the NOvA neutrino experiment.

In January 2010, Elaine became project manager of what was then called the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment, reborn in 2015 as the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility. That year, Elaine was recognized for “her outstanding leadership through a transformation that … culminated in the major success of the CD-1 refresh process” for the project. This didn’t even take into account the effort involved in keeping unwelcome critters out of her office in the old CDF trailers before moving back to the highrise, where only the occasional turkey vulture would perch on the outside ledge.

Elaine McCluskey underground at the excavation site. Photo: SURF

“Elaine has put her heart and soul into moving this project forward, overcoming countless challenges,” said Chris Mossey, project director of LBNF/DUNE-US. “LBNF/DUNE simply would not be where it is today without Elaine’s extraordinary dedication and leadership. She has been the glue that kept the project team motivated and focused for 12 years, navigating countless reviews, as the project was restructured and last year started excavation of the gigantic caverns for the DUNE far detector in South Dakota. Elaine is the definition of a servant leader and has positively impacted all of us who’ve had the privilege to work with her.”