Credit: Photo: City of Crystal Lake

Victor Ramirez, director of engineering and building/city engineer in Crystal Lake, Ill., enjoys contributing to community infrastructure changes that improve the daily lives of his family and neighbors.

After 16 years, Victor Ramirez was ready to tackle something besides sewage.

Searching for new challenges and a shorter commute, Ramirez looked to his own backyard. In September 2005 he left his position as public works director and village engineer for Lake Zurich, Ill., and became the director of engineering and building/city engineer for his hometown, Crystal Lake, Ill.

What was Lake Zurich's most memorable challenge?

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the village's population nearly doubled to 19,000. To accommodate the housing boom, a lot of our work involved water and sanitary sewer system improvements. We drilled additional wells and constructed pipelines to improve water distribution.

I still find it interesting that water and sewage are taken for granted. A lot of important work occurs behind the scenes, and when the systems aren't working, people tend to go haywire.

Why did you leave Lake Zurich?

I needed some fresh challenges and a new pace. Since I've lived in Crystal Lake for 23 years, I felt that working in my own town would allow me to improve things I see every day. I thought it would be interesting to work in a large town as opposed to a smaller one—Crystal Lake has a population of 38,000. Switching jobs was difficult, though, because I had to leave my comfort zone and all the issues I was familiar with.

What new opportunities have you encountered since accepting your new position?

I'm not as involved in water and sewer projects. Crystal Lake's focus is on transportation issues. Our intersections are experiencing significant delays, so we've launched widening and channeling projects.

Even though I'd lived in Crystal Lake for more than two decades, I was unaware of the city's public works challenges, but they became more apparent as I got accustomed to the job and talked with people. It's given me a new outlook on the community and opened my eyes to what should be improved.

What can public works departments do to attract and keep talented engineers like you?

Stay abreast of marketplace conditions, and don't be content with the status quo. Look at new, innovative improvements and evaluate staffing needs in tight economic times.

While working in one town for a long time has its benefits, public works professionals should keep an open mind and explore new opportunities.