Honorable Mention: Groton, Conn.
Services: Administration, engineering, facility management, roads and streets, solid waste, water pollution control, and fleet
Fun fact: Known as the “submarine capital of the world,” named when the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics delivered 74 diesel submarines to the Navy in World War II.
Groton's greatness grows: Small town America is personified in this quaint shoreline community, thanks to a talented and dedicated public works team.
Mobile. Fast. Dynamic. Team-oriented. Those are just a few words to describe the Town of Groton, Conn., Public Works Department. While these words could certainly describe any team or department in the nation, they are personified by the 79 people who work there.
“There's no one thing that really makes us stand out,” says Gary Schneider, director of public works. “It is many things that work together to make the whole department a stellar environment.” His goal is to use employees' talents to bring this dedicated team to a whole new level.
Take, for example, the town's new school building project. The $91.9 million project will add two new elementary schools, along with an addition and renovations to the existing high school. In Phase I right now, construction started in July. In a unique scenario, the entire construction project is being bid as 83 separate trade contracts, rather than each being bid as general contracts. The town contracted a construction management firm to oversee the project, and created a full-time position within public works to support the effort.
Schneider emphasizes that this project, which will continue through 2008, started with a good plan. “Identify up front what you will need to make the project a success,” he says. “Present the facts to the policy makers, but don't lose the big picture by providing too many details.”
Details, though, are what helped the town become fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. All public buildings, toilets, and curb cuts are compliant; a fully accessible playground that will break the mold for inclusive play is in the works.
The town offers several options to keep residents mobile, some funded through the capital improvement program, others through grants. This effort is one of the reasons competition judges ranked the department so highly.
“There are opportunities for people to be mobile—the attention to public transportation available to residents, a dedication to a concentration of sidewalks, and the fact that many employers actually offer transportation for their employees showcases this,” says Susan Vance, a Department of the Year judge. “I can feel a real sense of ‘small town America' in Groton, and see that the fundamentals that support that culture are valued by the city leaders.”
— Amara Rozgus