Mandeville (La.) Public Works provided open house space for a local high school Robotics Team to debut their latest competition model. Director David DeGeneres (blue polo shirt) looks on. Photo: Alex Meyer
Mandeville (La.) Public Works provided open house space for a local high school Robotics Team to debut their latest competition model. Director David DeGeneres (blue polo shirt) looks on. Photo: Alex Meyer

About 12,000 people live in Mandeville, which bills itself as the oldest inhabited locality in St. Tammany Parish. Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the city was a popular destination for wealthy residents escaping New Orleans’ heat and humidity. More recently, the 7-square-mile community received Google’s eCity award recognizing technologically savvy businesses.

Public Works Director David DeGeneres is always looking for ways to expand his team, which oversees streets, buildings and grounds, drinking water, parks, and a harbor with boat launch. When the Mandeville High School Robotics Team needed help, he spotted an opportunity.

They’d outgrown their operations base: school sponsor and head mentor Jaclyn Duhé’s classroom.

“When the team came to city hall to demo their robot at a council meeting, they said they had an issue with space,” DeGeneres says. “Mayor Donald Villere and I agreed that we should help them if we could."

So when this year's competition season began, DeGeneres offered the use of a large gym inside the MPWD building.

“Having this space has helped the students immensely,” says Duhé. “They take on a different character when entering the shop compared to the work they’d done in my classroom. It’s wonderful to see how this relationship with public works has helped them grow as individuals and as leaders.”

That’s exactly the kind of growth that can pay off for the department down the road.

“The future for public works is engineers of tomorrow,” DeGeneres says. “If we can convince them to get into engineering, public works is just one field that they can go into.”

The department hasn’t had any issues or challenges with the arrangement and plans to donate the space as long as the team needs it.

In this way, the department has embodied its mission statement to “provide progressive, community-oriented, and professional services while preserving and defending our unique quality of life.”

Contributing research by Danny Gorelik