Note: This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Saint Paul Magazine. The original article was written by Dana Bedingfield and you can find the article online here at saintpaulmag.com. Reprinted with permission from Saint Paul Magazine and Tiger Oak Media.
We are happy to share this article on Honorary Board Member, Jim McDonald with our supporters. Jim is a former member of Common Hope’s Executive Board, serving as Board Chair from 2003 to 2007. He has been a regular Common Hope volunteer in both the St. Paul office and in Guatemala. He has hosted a Discovery Team and been part of Vision Teams in 2000 and 2001
Jim McDonald of McDonald Remodeling Transforms Homes in Minnesota and Lives in Guatemala
By: Dana Bedingfield
It feels like walking into the middle of modern dance performance. People move briskly in every direction. They all seem to know exactly where they are going. They crisscross in the hallway and side-step each other on the stairs. In the middle of this swirl of energy is Jim McDonald, who answers questions, checks schedules and makes a phone call. He never seems annoyed or hurried, even though these are the last few days of an extensive year-long renovation project in Saint Paul. Everyone working in this house answers up the chain of command to him. That probably explains why no one seems frazzled. The choreographer of this dance knows just where the next steps need to land.
Jim McDonald is CEO of McDonald Remodeling, which is based in Inver Grove Heights but works on projects all over the Twin Cities, including Saint Paul. He doesn’t usually take on the role of project manager—he has three full-time project managers on his staff of 18 people—but this project needed a little extra help getting over the finish line, so he’s handling a few last-minute details. Stepping in to get things done is something he’s happy to do—even when it isn’t for his own company.
Two to four times year, McDonald travels to Guatemala, where he works with Grace Centre and Common Hope, two Saint Paul-based nonprofits that serve impoverished communities in the Central American country (he also works with a health care project in Central America run by a St. Louis nun). McDonald has aided in the design and construction of health clinics. He also helped with the construction of a village built by Common Hope to provide homes for those displaced by a hurricane. He gives both his time and talents to the long-term commitments the nonprofit organizations have made in Guatemala and speaks with deep feeling about the struggles faced by the people he has met working there.
“If they are lucky, they may have a job harvesting cardamom and make about $1,000 a year,” says McDonald. “Milk costs just as much as it does here—the cost of living is the same, they just do without many necessities. Then the price of cardamom falls, and they are out of work altogether.” Seeing people lining up at daybreak to get basic medical care in a clinic he built makes him feel he’s done something positive. “But it’s just what we should all be doing,” McDonald says.
There are things that “just should be done” that shape how McDonald does business, too. Many Saint Paul neighborhoods have older homes that have been remodeled to greater and lesser degrees over the years. Many people know firsthand that renovation projects can be disruptive and stressful. “Because most renovations are done with the homeowner living in the house, we are always mindful of the fact that we are a guest in your home,” says McDonald. He makes sure that his employees and subcontractors do everything they can to contain the mess, noise and disruption that accompanies any renovation.
“There are two C’s in success,” McDonald likes to say: “Cleanliness and communication.”
Communication starts at the beginning of the process, which McDonald says is an opportunity to help homeowners understand what’s possible. McDonald says budget is always a consideration: Not just how much you can spend, but where you should spend it. “I always work to find a balance between the homeowner’s dreams and what is realistic,” says McDonald.
McDonald says he loves the challenge of giving an older home “contemporary room relationship” while preserving the character that makes each home unique. According to McDonald, the way we live changes over time; he has a passion for giving houses another century or two of useful life by reshaping them just enough to make the houses comfortable for modern life without losing their sense of history.