Public Works Day, New Rochelle style

Kathy Gilwit
Communications and Marketing Manager
City of New Rochelle, New York

What's a department to do for National Public Works Week, when they're eager to celebrate but their City Yard is in transition and not in "company order"? Take the show on the road!

Department of Public Works staff poses on the steps of City Hall.

That was the decision made back in 2006 by newly-appointed Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Coleman, who sought to recognize the hard work of his staff with a ceremony and equipment exhibition right in front of City Hall. Two years later, the tradition continues.

"It's a natural time to tell our story," said Commissioner Coleman of National Public Works Week, pointing to the national momentum and support materials readily available through APWA. And in terms of its significance for his department, "It's a good time to showcase for a few hours the things our staff does all throughout the year; and to provide the opportunity for some community interaction in a way we don't usually get: to children, residents, and even to our fellow staff at City Hall. It's a morale booster."

The location is perfect: the stately campus boasts a long, tree-lined circular drive, directly visible from the main north-south artery. And, as the building is also home to the Board of Education, staff from both institutions has ready access to the festivities.

Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Coleman and a bucketful of students smile and wave to the camera on Public Works Day 2007.

Public and private school children, though, are the special guests of the day. The central location of City Hall means that in addition to elementary students that are bussed to the site, area nursery schools within walking distance can take advantage of "Big Truck Day" as it's affectionately known.

The morning event, traditionally scheduled for the Thursday of National Public Works Week, begins with a light breakfast and then a ceremony featuring elected officials from city, county and state governments as well as City Manager Charles Strome and senior staff. Mayor Noam Bramson and elected officials present proclamations to Commissioner Coleman and his department, affording the schoolchildren in attendance the opportunity to view the recognition firsthand and join in the applause.

Equipment on display is representative of each Operating Bureau, including a service truck from Central Garage, backhoe from Sewers and Drains, bucket truck from Traffic Services, and the newest garbage truck from Refuse Collection. As small groups of students visit each piece, operators are on hand to proudly demonstrate their functions and answer questions.

The students' morning ends with cheery goodbyes and goodie bags filled with stickers, crayons and P.W. Paws coloring and activity books, assembled by Senior Customer Service Rep Pakema Jones. The day's festivities continue for the department with an afternoon picnic at one of the city's beautiful waterfront parks.

Skilled Laborer Wayne Nelson was recognized at Public Works Day 2007 with a mayoral proclamation for his heroic actions while on duty in saving an endangered motorist.

As with any annual celebration, each year has its own unique features. Last year, a special mayoral commendation recognized the heroic actions of department employee, Skilled Laborer Wayne Nelson, who while on duty earlier in the year rescued a motorist who had driven off the road down a steep embankment and into a river.

Also last year, two videos were shown continually: "Slow Down to Get Around" from the National Solid Wastes Management Association, and "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," a student video project created by fourth and fifth graders from a local elementary school. Just weeks before, the Trinity Elementary School had partnered with the City for an Arbor Day observance, which in addition to a tree planting ceremony with officials and the City's arborist featured a panel discussion on environmental issues along with the student-produced video. Public Works Day organizer Deputy Commissioner Joseph Cotroneo, a panel participant, thought the student-to-student connection would be a perfect addition for the City's Public Works Day event.

This year's plans include the third-annual Public Works Day exhibit at City Hall as well as an onsite visit to one of New Rochelle's seven elementary schools.

"If you can, during the course of Public Works Day, continue to emphasize this very important message regarding the importance of recycling, stormwater quality, and traffic safety," Commissioner Coleman concluded. "Hopefully it will yield positive results in the future."

Kathy Gilwit is co-chair of the Chamber of Commerce Women in Business in New Rochelle. She can be reached at (914) 654-2117 or kgilwit@ci.new-rochelle.ny.us.

This year's theme for National Public Works Week is "Public Works: The Future is Now." To order a "How To" guide for planning your NPWW activities, just go to www.apwa.net/About/npww/orderguide.asp. If you have any questions regarding the promotion of National Public Works Week, please contact Jon Dilley, Manager of Marketing and Graphic Design, at (816) 595-5251 or jdilley@apwa.net.