In the late 1990s, Steven Parkinson thought outside the box to move his department into a new facility at minimal cost to taxpayers.
For more than 40 years, the Portsmouth Public Works Department had operated out of an old brewery that was nothing more than a drafty barn with a series of additions and renovations. Adjacent to a residential area, the facility was old and unable to accommodate modern operations. Several divisions were located elsewhere.
To acquire the land needed for a new facility, Parkinson worked with the city manager to broker a deal with a nonprofit organization that exchanged eight acres in lieu of paying taxes. The city then sold the outdated building to a private developer for $1 million, which was used to finance the new facility.
‘With limited funds, most contractors weren't interested in our project and said there was no way we could do what we wanted,” says Parkinson. “We proved them wrong by using value engineering.” This included choosing cost-efficient materials and energy-efficient equipment, and leaving some areas unfinished to be completed at a later date.
The department partnered with a local building contractor to jointly construct the facility as a design-build process. To save money, the department did some work, while the contractor performed work outside the department's capabilities.
An existing building on the new land was converted to provide vehicle storage and workshop areas. All other buildings were knocked down to make room for a 20,000-square-foot, two-story administration building that has locker rooms, showers, break/training rooms, central heating/cooling, individual offices, meeting rooms, shop space, and storage areas. According to Parkinson, the above amenities were impossible to add at the old building.
Because the new facility is located in an industrial area, service vehicles now have better access to major roadway systems. Most importantly, it's large enough to house all public works divisions under one roof. “This fosters better communications between the divisions, and the sharing of specialized equipment and personnel,” says Parkinson.
The department moved into its new home in 2000. Since then, a salt shed, cold storage building, and a multi-material recycling center has been added, funded in part by royalties received from a cell tower located on the new property. And as funds are allocated within the city's Capital Improvement Program, Parkinson continues to make improvements.
“This facility has been a morale booster, creating a sense of pride for the men and women who work for the department,” says Parkinson. “In addition, the department's image has increased tenfold as members of the tax-paying public visit various sections to conduct business.”
In 1989, while working for the village of Brightwaters, N.Y., Harry Weed put it all on the line for a concept in which he strongly believed.
He introduced a curbside collection program that recycles plastic into lumber that was used to replace wooden bulkheads in the local canal, along the village's Great South Bay front, and in the community's five freshwater lakes.
To get the program off the ground, Weed not only had to lobby the New York State Department of Environmental Control to accept it, but he also had to promise the village board his job: “If the product failed, I was to resign,” he says. “It was a radical new concept, and we were going to use a product that never was used before.”
Weed chose recycled-plastic lumber, an emerging technology at the time, because the canal's bulkheads were under attack by marine borers; larval worms were eating through the wood and reducing its lifespan from 15 to 25 years to three to five years. He needed to find a material that could withstand the borers.
Now superintendent of public works in Rockville Centre, Weed's venture did not cost him his job. The project not only benefited the environment, it saved the village hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs. After all, recycled-plastic lumber is nontoxic, lasts longer than wood, and is more resistant to salt, rot, mildew—and insect infestation.
“To this day, 19 years later, the bulkhead looks like it did the day it went in.”Top 10
Each year, the American Public Works Association names the industry's Top Ten Leaders of the Year during National Public Works Week. Designed to inspire—and reward—excellence and dedication in public service, the award program recognizes those who are deemed the best in the public works profession. Candidates come from both the public and private sectors and can be nominated by any group or individual. The focus of the award is career service. Next year marks the award program's 50th anniversary.