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James "Jake" McKenna

Owner of Parsons-McKenna Construction Co.
Posted October 2008

James "Jake" McKenna

"I always felt that I got an incredible education at ESF," said James "Jake" McKenna, construction management '77 BS, '79 MS. "I always felt very positive about my education. It has been a very important factor in my success."

McKenna is owner of Parsons-McKenna Construction Co., a general contracting company based in Liverpool, N.Y., that concentrates on the design/build method of project delivery. Parsons-McKenna is a mid-sized general contracting business that partners with clients and architects to produce high quality projects.

He not only built a successful business, but also played a key role in revitalizing the Village of Baldwinsville in the northern part of Onondaga County.

Baldwinsville's Red Mill was the first gristmill in the village built in 1830 and the last one standing in Baldwinsville. It operated as a flour and grain mill until 2002. Having bought grain for his horses at the mill, McKenna was familiar with the structure. When another developer's renovation project fell through, McKenna and his business partner, Jay Bernhardt, purchased the property in 2005.

"The history of the mill hooked me," McKenna said. "As a timber engineer looking at a deteriorated timber-frame building, there was the challenge of redoing it as a real test of my ability."

"We bought the mill and decided the village could use some hospitality," he said. "We felt an inn would enhance the village businesses with an influx of fresh visitor dollars."

McKenna and Bernhardt strived to stay historically faithful to the building's original footprint. The three-story building was jacked up and a new foundation installed. The Seneca River, which once powered the mill's power systems, had to be redirected. The building was totally renovated with mission style decor.

Today, the Red Mill Inn is a lodging and meeting facility with 32 overnight guestrooms along with meeting and banquet facilities.

"The reaction from the people in the village was very positive. It meant a lot to people that the structure had been saved. There was so much excitement because we preserved a piece of the Village's history," he said. "I never anticipated people would care one way or another."

The Red Mill Inn renovation jumpstarted the rejuvenation of Baldwinsville. Many shop owners redid their storefronts and kept them historically accurate, which helped transform the image of the village.

McKenna's community involvement isn't limited to Baldwinsville. He is also the president of the ESF College Foundation, Inc.

McKenna is using his knowledge of construction to provide the Foundation Board with an added perspective as they work on the student residence hall project and other future construction projects on campus.

"To be able to come back and assist in the College's pursuit of its interests and vision means a lot to me," he said.

This isn't the first time McKenna's come back to ESF. After getting his bachelor's and master's degrees in construction management from ESF, he came back to the College for three years in the '80s as an assistant professor to teach classes in the construction management department. He now sits on the Industry Advisory Board for the wood products engineering program to review the curriculum and advise the faculty as to what the construction industry is looking for in a college graduates.

ESF Alumni Have an Impact