Shortly after 9:30 a.m., Rita Baron casually enters the office and calls for staff to be rounded up in the conference room of her architecture firm, Baron Design & Associates LLC.
Almost a dozen people pack into a room that’s designed for eight to fit comfortably around the table. Extra chairs are wheeled in. As principal of the firm, Baron checks in with her co-workers about status updates of ongoing projects – several of which are out of the area. Some of her inquiries revolve around the logistics of staff traveling to job sites. The firm offers architectural services in more than a dozen states, with a total of four architects on the 12-person staff.
“Cool, that sounds good,” she says of the project updates, including the start of construction of a new OakStar Bank in Joplin – one of 15 projects on the design docket.
The staff meeting, which typically is held twice a week, is laid back as Baron jokes with some of the staff about their upcoming vacation time. She’s known some of her co-workers all the way back to her years at Drury University, where she graduated in 1999.
“I am really blessed with the team here,” she says. “I don’t need to take them by the hand.”
While Baron’s day at the office started at 9:30, she was busy at home an hour before on a call to discuss her role in the June 18-21 Colorado Municipal League’s annual conference. She was on tap to speak about attracting developers to the community and needed updates from conference organizers. Baron didn’t have any qualms about speaking at the event but laments she was scheduled to talk first.
Following the staff meeting, Baron sits at her computer to tackle a task she admits to disliking: checking emails. She calls it the worst thing she has to deal with at the office, as she receives 300-350 emails a day.
“It stresses me out,” she says. “But this is how we do business now. That’s how we communicate.”
Baron’s workload isn’t limited to her time at the firm. She is also a partner with Four Corners Development LLC, which was formed in 2011 to develop affordable housing. In addition, she’s a commercial and residential real estate developer through Raga Properties LLC.
She originally thought her full plate of work this year meant she’d be sitting out a family vacation with her husband Keesag and daughters Zomor, 16, and Zabelle, 15. At the last minute, she’s going to join her family on a trip to Washington, D.C, and Chicago, after all.
Upon leaving the office, Baron meets with co-worker Tricia Berry for a 10:30 walk-through of OakStar Bank’s new operation center in Chesterfield Village. Her firm served as project architect. Baron is a founding investor in the bank and vice chair on its board of directors. Bank personnel in January moved into the former home of Summit Preparatory School.
“That looks really good,” she says, as she checks out the center’s layout for its employees, particularly noting the addition of natural light in the offices. “It was so dark.”
She makes a point to stop in several of the offices to interact with the adjustable standing desks. On a quick stop into the on-site gym, the high-heel shoes wearing Baron climbs aboard one of the treadmills before laughing and thinking better of it.
Following lunch and a 1 p.m. construction meeting, both at her office, Baron is on the go again – this time off to Forest Trails subdivision, located to the east of Hickory Hills Country Club. She’s there at 2 to meet Travis Longwell of Longwell Lawn Care LLC, who is overseeing residential construction on the approximately 27-acre site. Baron says she purchased land for the site more than a decade ago, originally just as a place to build a future family home.
“Then I got older and wiser,” she says, looking out on the development, which has about 15 lots sold. “I thought it would be crazy for me to just put up one house. So I looked into it and developed it and turned it into 63 lots.”
She and Longwell discuss streetlights that are going to have to be installed in the subdivision. That information was recent news to Baron, who originally wanted to have lighting with mailboxes outside the houses. However, the U.S. Postal Service notified her they won’t deliver beyond the subdivision gates, requiring extra lighting and a community mailbox area. She’s awaiting bids for the work. It’s an example of an unexpected expense that developers occasionally run into, she says.
At 3:30, she’s at Drury University to meet with President Tim Cloyd and his executive assistant, Bonnie Wilcox. It’s part of her duties as chairwoman of Drury’s Board of Trustees, a position she assumed in October 2018. She’s been a board member since 2007.
Recalling her graduation 20 years ago, Baron didn’t think she’d ever be back on campus. Now, she meets with Cloyd every two weeks, with this day covering committee meeting schedules, future board meetings and proposed agendas, and the university budget. The school’s 25-year campus master plan, which includes planned construction for the new home of Breech School of Business Administration, is also discussed.
“If you ask every alum, for some reason once you drink the water on Drury Lane, it becomes part of your DNA and you can’t leave,” she says. “You get so passionate about it and you want to give back.”
From Drury, Baron is back across town to wrap up her day at the office until around 6:30. After all, those emails aren’t going to read themselves.
Whataburger launched its second local store; Branson shop Revive Juice and Coffee Bar LLC moved; and a new Monett branch of the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library District opened.