By Stephen Knight
The sweltering, oppressive weather has certainly been a hot topic (yes, pun intended) these past several weeks. But, ironically, for most of us, the conversation takes place while we go from our air-conditioned house to our air-conditioned car to our air-conditioned place of work.
But that sure isn’t true for everyone. So,this is a column about some of those folks who have had to work in this miserable weather, specifically, most all the forty-five employees of the Wallingford Public Works Department. They work in near anonymity, accomplishing a variety of tasks that we all pretty much take for granted. The paragraphs that follow discuss just some of the many jobs they do to keep our municipal infrastructure in good shape for all of us to use, and stem from a conversation with a Public Works official. Here are just six of their primary responsibilities (in no particular order):
Park maintenance: There are 22 parks in town, 9 of which have athletic fields. Besides getting all the parks in shape after the winter, DPW reconditions the fields several times weekly, including grooming and striping the fields when needed, maintaining the lighting and mowing, cleaning and irrigating all of the parks during all the months that they are used.
Road maintenance: Our town has 220 miles of local roads. (Put in perspective, this is the distance between Wallingford, CT, and Portland, Maine). On the sides of these roads are approximately 5,000 storm drains, approximately 200 of which are cleaned each year. Every mile of these roads is swept annually. During the winter, at all hours of the day, seven days a week, DPW employees may be out there removing snow, salting intersections and keeping our roads safe and passable all winter.
Road paving and reconstruction: Utilizing approximately $1 million yearly of the Capital & Non-Recurring budget, DPW crews — sometimes in conjunction with outside contractors — mill and repave 6 miles of town roads annually. In some cases, roads will undergo complete reconstruction to bring them up to current construction and safety standards. Determination of which roads and the details of repair and/or reconstruction is done in coordination with the town Engineering Department. There are also occasions when the department actually constructs small bridges and culverts on town roads, as well.
Town building maintenance: Public Works maintains 7 town buildings — Town Hall, the Senior Center, the SCOW/STEM building, the historic railroad station, the Parks & Rec building, their own Public Works building complex and the Animal Shelter. Several of these buildings have been repurposed over their many years. For instance, the SCOW/STEM building was built in 1899 as the Borough Electric Division’s power generating station. The railroad station dates from 1871. You can imagine that facilities of that vintage require constant attention. Add to that, winter snow removal and maintenance of all the parking lots adjoining these buildings and all the public parking lots in the town center.
Tree removal and pruning: While outside contractors remove trees in proximity to power lines, Public Works removes and/or prunes dozens of trees monthly. Wallingford has thousands and thousands of trees lining our streets and roads. By state statute, these trees cannot be removed until they have become a moderate hazard, a situation frustrating to residents and the two DPW tree wardens alike. After a large tree is removed, the stump must also be ground up, and topsoil and grass seed applied to the area.
Vehicle maintenance: The department’s five mechanics maintain all the vehicles owned by the Town, with the exception of specific equipment on fire trucks that require special knowledge. Obviously, the largest fleet belongs to Public Works itself. Add to that list the police department vehicles, routine maintenance on fire department vehicles and automobiles used by various town departments.
Now here are a few more tasks that Public Works crews handle “in their spare time”:
■When necessary, they assist sheriffs with evictions, removing furniture and storing it in a town-owned barn until disposition.
■Installation and removal of Christmas and other seasonal decorations.
■Delivery and removal of voting machines to nine polling places each November.
■Hanging of banners above the entrance to Town Hall.
■Administration of the Compost Center and the Solid Waste Transfer Station.
All this work is accomplished by three department managers, five mechanics, two clerical staff members and thirty-five maintainers. And consider this: In the event of a weather emergency, such as the microburst of a couple of summers ago, all these tasks take a back seat to the massive cleanup immediately required.
Let me conclude with this: I love the Mike Rowe show “Dirty Jobs”, where Mike travels throughout the country highlighting difficult, dangerous and sometimes downright messy jobs that people do. As he puts it, it’s a show about “hard-working men and women who do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” I thought it was time to highlight some of those right in Wallingford who fit that description and describe the important work that they do. Thank you, Public Works employees.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.