Chicago’s Infrastructure All-Stars

Ayse Kalaycioglu and Dan Burke keep the Second City on the up and up

The Arch. Courtesy of City of Chicago

Serving a metropolitan area of ten million, the infrastructure of the city of Chicago relies on far more than Big Shoulders to keep it afloat. Two of the city’s finest public executives couldn’t have less in common, at least on the surface. Ayse Kalaycioglu, deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management (heading Bureau of Architecture, Engineering & Construction) is a Turkish-born architect who fell in love with the Second City after relocating to the United States. Managing Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer at the Chicago Department of Transportation Dan Burke is a child of Chicago’s 36th ward and a lifelong resident whose passion for civil and structural engineering was fueled by one of the city’s own public initiatives to introduce high school students to municipal governance and public sector work. While their lives may not immediately intersect, both individuals help oversee departments that are responsible for buildings, roads, and programs made available to residents of Chicago each and every day.

Born to Build

“I have to tell you, the thing about Turks is that we have what people call ‘Mediterranean blood,’” Kalaycioglu says. “We have to love what we do; otherwise, we can’t do it.” Kalaycioglu is the youngest of ten, and building couldn’t be further ingrained in her DNA. Her brothers and late father were all engineers and contractors back in Turkey. The joke was if the family only had an architect, they could form a family business.

Ayse Kalaycioglu,
Deputy Commissioner,
Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management Photo by Patrick Pyszka

Inspired by both her family and the dynamic architecture of Istanbul, Kalaycioglu decided to take on the challenge. But as Kalaycioglu’s architectural interests continued to develop, her father encouraged her to take on a bigger challenge. “He told me to go somewhere where I couldn’t call him to come help and would have to be independent,” Kalaycioglu says. “That’s how I wound up in Illinois barely out of college.”

Kalaycioglu spent nearly twelve years at Chicago nonprofit IFF, eventually as director of owner’s representative services. IFF provides financial and real estate solutions to other nonprofits serving low-income and minority communities, which intensified Kalaycioglu’s affinity for public service and working on a larger scale. When Commissioner David Reynolds offered her that chance, Kalaycioglu’s career with the city began.

“I’m responsible for the department’s design and renovation services in over 350 facilities,” Kalaycioglu says, a stunningly large portfolio. “When I was hired, there was a staff of only two and many projects that needed to be initiated.” One of those projects was a grant for Harold Washington Library that was in danger of having to be repaid if work was not completed in time. The project was completed, and a transformation was underway.

Of all the projects Kalaycioglu has helped oversee, she’s particularly partial to the renovation of the Woodson Regional Public Library, which also houses the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, the largest collection of its kind in the Midwest. During a community Q&A, one skeptical audience member stood up and asked if the city was really going to be capable of delivering a space that would actually be beneficial to the community it serves. “To be able to see that same person at the reopening who comes up to you, gives you a hug, and tells you it’s beyond what they envisioned is the most rewarding experience I can ask for,” Kalaycioglu says.

Hometown Hero

Dan Burke has been working on behalf of the city of Chicago for 25 years. The projects he’s been a part of in that time read like a highlight reel of Chicago history. “I’ve been very fortunate to spend my career at all levels, from entry-level roles now up to chief engineer,” Burke says. “What’s so important to remember is how many people at all levels are making these projects happen.”

The managing deputy commissioner grew up in Chicago’s Riis Park neighborhood and while attending St. Patrick High School had the opportunity to participate in a city-sponsored program that selected one student from each high school and placed them in municipal internships based on their interests. Burke wound up in the Chicago Department of Public Works. “It exposed me to public sector engineering, design, and construction,” Burke says. “It ultimately sparked my interest to become a civil engineer.”

Dan Burke, Managing Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer,
Chicago Department of Transportation Photo by Walter S. Mitchell III

One of the more novel projects Burke helped undertake was the Albany Park Stormwater Diversion Tunnel, a solution to a problem Burke says was completely untenable for a Chicago neighborhood. Due to the paving of watershed land and increase of extreme rain events due to climate change, the neighborhood experienced flooding in 2008 and 2013 that left 300 homes underwater.

Spearheaded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, CDOT managed the design and construction of a 5,800-feet-long, 20-feet-in-diameter, 130-feet-deep tunnel that diverts upward of 15,000 gallons of water per second and stops the neighborhood from flooding. “In terms of a really unique solution that improves people’s quality of life, that project was really important to me,” Burke says.

Burke is also excited to be part of the city’s new Green Line station project, located at Damen and Lake St. “We’re able to rebuild that station [that was previously closed in 1948] and bring back a transit connection and all the transit-based development that comes with it,” Burke says. “It’s terrific for the city of Chicago.”

Both Kalaycioglu and Burke mention Emanuel when they talk about virtually any of the projects they have helped lead. “There are amazing programs and renovations that have been done in the eight years of his administration that I have to clearly say wouldn’t have been done without his leadership,” Kalaycioglu says. “Mayor Emanuel has been behind all of this,” Burke adds. “He’s pushed these projects from day one and  provided the platform for us to get them done.”

Granite would like to thank Ayse Kalaycioglu and the City of Chicago Department of Fleet and Facilities Management (2FM) for the opportunity to continuously improve our city’s most essential facilities. Our staff has enjoyed working with Ayse and we look forward to continuing our success together well into the future.