Architect achieves four decades of “seeking higher” at Chicago-based design firm
In the early 1980s, Casey Frankiewicz, a new employee at Legat Architects, placed his foot on a ladder’s bottom rung and looked up with concern—he had to inspect the roof, but he was afraid of heights. Fortunately, one of Frankiewicz’s coworkers was already up there: Jeffrey Sronkoski. The encouragement that Sronkoski offered wasn’t coddling, nor was it unsympathetic. You could call it coaching. “Come on. You can do this.”
This scenario played out more than once, and every time, Frankiewicz made it up that ladder.
When it comes to the firm’s legacy, Jeffrey Sronkoski is as indelible as the “Legat orange” that represents the brand. Many prominent structures throughout the Chicago region and far beyond bear his mark. Many of Legat’s longest lasting clients started with him. And many of the firm’s most accomplished employees earned their stripes under Sronkoski’s tutelage.
After getting his master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1978, Sronkoski joined Legat’s one studio in Waukegan. There were five other employees, and though Legat was just starting to develop a reputation for its school design, the firm had no market segments. Sronkoski jumped right in.
One of the first things Frankiewicz noticed when he joined in 1981 was Sronkoski’s insistence on quality. That focus manifested in everything from the impeccable details Sronkoski drew to the letters he wrote and the clothes he wore.
In the formative years of Legat, the tools of the trade were quite different. No Internet. No cell phones. No computers. Not even fax machines. Employees built models not in Revit, but out of Strathmore and chipboard. Because there were no plotters to copy drawings, Sronkoski and his colleagues hand-fed Mylar tracings into a machine fueled by ammonia. Sronkoski also supported Legat’s early marketing efforts by serving as the in-house photographer and film processor. For that, he used the studio’s darkroom, which later became the firm’s first IT closet.
While at the Waukegan studio, Sronkoski got to indulge his love for sports—he played baseball, basketball, and football at Elk Grove High School—by playing softball in a local men’s league. His coworkers often came to the games to cheer him on.
Sronkoski has been a pioneer when it comes to bringing new project types to the firm. He led Legat’s first public works project, a new facility in Waukegan. He was also the force behind the development of Legat’s international portfolio in the 80s and 90s. The relationship that he built with Baxter took him all over the world, and led to more than 40 projects in 30 countries. Sronkoski also navigated the firm’s journey into the pharmaceutical industry.
Legat’s multi-studio structure owes much of its success to Sronkoski. He piloted the firm’s voyage beyond Lake County by serving as the first studio director of its Crystal Lake location (1989), Oak Brook studio (1992), and Chicago studio (1996). With each new expansion, Sronkoski relocated his residence to be amid the new studio’s community. Note: in 2016, Legat’s Crystal Lake and Waukegan studios merged in Gurnee.
In 2007, Sronkoski took over Legat’s higher education segment. Since then, not only has his team enhanced the firm’s reputation for community college planning and design, but it has also ventured into new territories including major universities in Illinois and Ohio, and specialty areas such as homeland security education and health careers.
The foundation behind many of these success stories was the strong bonds that Sronkoski developed with clients. Today, the animal lover and patron of arts and education continues to cultivate the decades-long client relationships that he formed.
A few years ago, Sronkoski devised a slogan for his higher education segment: “seeking higher.” Looking back over Sronkoski’s four decades at Legat, one can see how the phrase also applies to his contributions to the firm. Think of how many aspiring professionals have cautiously stepped onto that first rung, only to have Sronkoski encourage them to seek higher.
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