May 16-22 is National Public Works week and this year’s theme is “Stronger Together,” an apt description for a year that relied on Public Works and Development (PWD) employees working as a cohesive unit while being located physically apart. Department leaders this week are reflecting on the ingenuity, tenacity and willpower shown by PWD employees during the pandemic and the department’s ability to keep and maintain service levels during an extraordinary year.
“With all the changes we were forced to make as a result of COVID, the one thing that did not change was our commitment to getting our work done,” said Director Bryan Weimer. “Our team showed dedication and resilience as we shifted gears to new remote work operations. It wasn’t easy, but our desire to continue serving residents led the way.”
Public Works’ six divisions had to act quickly last spring when the pandemic forced the closure of county buildings for several weeks. Challenged with sending its seasoned workforce to now perform duties from home with limited interaction with the public, the department had to continue with its mission of enhancing the quality of life within unincorporated Arapahoe County by managing and planning growth, planning the county’s vast transportation network, maintaining roads and bridges, engineering services and animal and weed control.
Tasked with rolling out the virtual office model was the Support Services division as federal funds from the CARES Act helped in the process.
“I am so proud of our team, who accomplished a lot during a very challenging year,” said Rebecca Doane, Support Services division manager. “They showed their ability to adapt and be nimble during uncertain and ever-changing times, all the while maintaining a high level of service to our customers.”
The building division turned to technology and website improvements to offer greater access to building permits to the public and conducting onsite inspections, which totaled 48,000 in 2020.
“We never missed a step,” said Joe Richards, Building division manager. “We may have stuttered from time to time, but we always kept moving forward.”
Engineering Services also turned to technology as plans could be submitted electronically. The division also managed to update its floodplain maps for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We exceeded our targets in all of our performance areas for the year,” said Chuck Haskins Engineering Services division manager.
In the middle of updating oil and gas regulations and other planning projects, the Planning division turned to virtual meetings with the public to keep the process going.
“We learned we could do old things in new ways,” said Jan Yeckes, Planning division manager. “There were some ups and downs, but everyone pitched in.”
With stay-at-home orders in affect for many months in 2020, the Road and Bridge Division finished its paving program 115 days ahead of schedule and even got a head start on this year’s work.
“Because of less traffic on the roads, we were able to get back and forth from the jobsites much quicker,” said Allen Peterson, Road and Bridge division manager.
The Transportation division also had a busy year as it is formulating the 2040 Transportation Master Plan and overseeing numerous road improvement projects, which includes the reconfiguration of the intersection of Quincy Avenue and Gun Club Road.
“Twenty-Twenty presented many challenges to the County, and the Transportation division came together as a team to successfully meet those challenges while making advances in the way we perform work,” said James Katzer, Transportation division manager.
As 2021 unfolds, the department is working to earn reaccreditation through the American Public Works Association. In 2018, PWD became the first agency in Colorado to earn accreditation though AWPA and just the 137th agency in North America. Less than one percent of the nation’s public works agencies have earned this distinction.
As 2020 proved, PWD is indeed Stronger Together as it moves forward in 2021 and beyond.