My final three weeks interning for the Department of Parks and Recreation were full of many different experiences. During the second to last week, granite installation finally began behind Borough Hall. The granite installation was a landmark process on the project to reconstruct the pavements at Cadman Plaza. The old bluestone concrete that used to decorate Cadman Plaza had a historical appeal to this particular downtown Brooklyn area, however, now the granite would put on a different feel to this historical site. The granite placement process was long and arduous and the pattern in which the granite pieces would be placed required constant supervision on behalf of the resident engineers. In fact, the resident engineers needed to control the entire granite pavers to see if the colors were in sync with each other.
In addition to granite installation, I had the opportunity to be a part of processing the first payment of this $8.5 million project. Mark, my supervisor, led me through the whole process that needs to be completed for the contractor to get his first payment. In order for the payment to go through, it has to go through departments such as the resident engineer, deputy engineer, Engineering Audit Office, Financial Services Office, and Comptroller’s Office. However, before the payment request is completed by the contractor, the resident engineer and contractor superintendent must make a “pencil copy.” The “pencil copy” is a rough list and estimate of the contract items and completed work that the contractor wants to get paid for. After completing the “pencil copy,” the contractor could then submit his first payment request. The first person a payment must be cleared with is the resident engineer, who checks to see if the payment request agrees with the “pencil copy” sum that the contractor and resident engineer agreed on. The payment request is also composed of forms such as bid prices and quantities, contractor and subcontractor’s payroll reports, and certificates of insurance. All of these documents must be reviewed before the payment request passes onto the borough director. These documents must be checked and passed onto the borough director in 3 days. I assisted Mark in checking certificates of insurance and payroll reports, in which the resident engineer must check to see if each laborer is getting paid at or above the prevailing wage for the work that they have done that day. This process is very laborious because the type of work completed each day for each laborer must be checked. As the project began in May and the first payment was in August, this meant that 60 days of work needed to be checked for each worker. In addition, the laborer’s hours of work and type of work for each day had to be double checked with the daily reports so as to make sure no extra workers were getting paid. If there were errors in the payment request because more workers were documented as working than actually were or a laborer was getting paid below the prevailing wage, the payment could not be processed. The payment would be sent back to the contractor to be fixed and then the contractor would have to submit a new payment request. Once the payment passes through however, the contractor is guaranteed payment within 6 weeks.
I also had the pleasure to attend resident engineer meetings and visit other resident engineer’s project sites during my final weeks at my internship. At the resident engineer meetings, all resident engineers in Brooklyn gathered to have a lunch hosted by the team project leader, David Martin. David Martin is the manager for all Brooklyn resident engineers, which makes 55 resident engineers in total. At the meeting, David discussed the goals that he has for the Brooklyn resident engineers, such as expanding their work force. He also shared information about the increase in budget that Brooklyn parks projects received and asked for any resident engineers to share their grievances. David also thoroughly expressed his appreciation for the work that the resident engineers were completing and gave them advice and encouragement to continue working through the complex project that they were being given.
On my last day, I visited the Parks project to reconstruct the boardwalk at Coney Island. The reconstruction of the boardwalk at Coney Island was necessary as a result of Hurricane Sandy, however, the project was impeded by the public because the reconstruction of the boardwalk would mean the removal of the historical timber wood boardwalk that Coney Island was known for. Although the project still went through, only a portion of the boardwalk would be reconstructed into concrete boardwalk. When I visited the project, there were cranes on site used to place the concrete panels of the new boardwalk. Because the concrete panels are extremely heavy and much attention and care is needed to place them, only 6-8 panels could be placed each day. Visiting this project was very exciting for me, as I had the experience of seeing another project that involved a lot of political and public attention.
My internship with the Brooklyn Construction team in Capital Projects was an invaluable experience and all of my expectations in learning more about city projects and the work that is put into it (on a micro and macro scale) was fully met. I learned, understood, and connected with many Parks employees that have gifted me with knowledge, support, and compassion. Not only did I network and learn about construction work but I also was immersed in a political setting. This was a wonderful opportunity because I was able to gain outside experience dealing with my two majors: civil engineering and urban studies. My perceptions about the Agency so far is that it is a very welcoming, friendly environment to work in and to be a part of their team would be an honor.
My internship with the Department of Parks and Recreation has thus far given me an invaluable glance at the career of a civil engineer. As an intern, I have learned a lot and have gained many knowledgeable mentors on the way. From each one of them, I started to see the many different ways one can view and manage a project. Mark Green, who is the primary resident engineer representing Parks on our project in Cadman Plaza, has showed me his style of managing projects and the way he chooses to deal with contractors and daily problems. In his words, “I always start a project with a full glass of water. It is up to the contractor on how much of that water he spills on the way.” In Mark’s managing style, he opts out of a domineering style that other Parks resident engineers, whom I had the pleasure of getting to know, choose to use. Mark starts each project with his best foot forward, acting professional, understanding, but always making clear that he is the inspector of the project and that it is he who has the final word on how the project will move forward. Elizabeth Maneli, a temporary resident engineer on our project, also has a very similar style. She always interacts in a very polite, professional manner.
The reason why I discuss styles of managing is because as a civil engineer, daily problems arise: trucks deliver material without notifying the engineers, the contractors are not completing the work as mentioned in the contract, there are safety hazards that need to be dealt with. During situations such as these, it is up to the resident engineer to figure out how he or she will deal with fixing the problem. And, as I spend more time on this project, the problems that arise do not lessen but rather increase in size and scope. Constant interaction with the contractor superintendent is necessary because it is the superintendent who works for the construction company and keeps the physical production of the construction workers going. Cooperation with the superintendent is always helpful because he/she is the first person a resident engineer talks to in order to fix a problem on the construction site. While superintendents can be difficult to work with because they can have different priorities of what needs to be done compared with a resident engineer’s priorities, Mark and Elizabeth have shown me that however many times an engineer needs to request or assert that a job needs to be done, the final word is the contract and it is an engineer’s treasure map in getting your word clear and understood. As a result, I have been supplied with my own blueprints, contract item book, contract regulations book, and NY State Construction work laws by my desk side so as to always refer to them when I am unsure of what needs to be done in special circumstances. As I continue my internship, I believe that the management style I have started to see within myself is much like Mark’s and Elizabeth’s. I choose to see that the glass is full too and it is up to the contractor on his speed of spilling. Depending on the contractor’s adherence to the rules of the contract, management means to me to get work completed in the most effective, necessary means and to make the priorities of different parties clear. Sometimes a contractor will not prioritize your requests immediately, however, that does not mean that your word does not pass. If a job is not completed today, Mark has taught me that it then must be a priority on tomorrow’s list of work to be done.
After starting this internship, I had begun to set goals for myself as I felt like I was being fed more information than I could process. I have started to achieve some of my goals, like familiarizing myself with construction items and tools and making it a habit to use the contract item book so that I could use the correct terms when writing which items were used on site. In the future, I would also like to interview and possibly visit more Parks construction sites to see how women resident engineers experience and do their work. Since the construction field is dominated by men, I would like to actually see the interactions and experiences that women have. Work in any STEM field does not mean the same for everyone. Men and women have different experiences and although I was fortunate enough not to notice a disparity in interactions on our project between men and women, my interaction with other female resident engineers led me to discover that they have had very different interactions in their careers. Perhaps, this would allow me to understand the styles that other women resident engineers whom I have spoken to have chosen to use to get their projects completed. And, perhaps, I would then understand that the method of management that I see myself conducting is not one that is static, but something that will have to change with every new project.
My internship with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation involves working on a project to replace the pavements at Columbus Park in downtown Brooklyn with granite. The area of Columbus Park includes buildings such as the New York Supreme Court and Borough Hall, the municipal building that houses the Borough President of Brooklyn and his city council. The project to reconstruct the pavements at Cadman Plaza is worth $8.5 million and the time frame given for completion of the project is 1.5 years. Thus far, I have learned much about this project and generally how city projects are undertaken. City projects are all given large time frames because they are typically meant to progress slowly due to the number of reviewals that the project undergoes, approvals in the design of the project, and allocation of money to fund the project. In addition, because city projects involve a breadth of people, including politicians, engineers, contractors, and of course citizens, at any one point, the project has a possibility to be stopped and abandoned due to politicians who do not want the project to continue because of political, economic, or social reasons. Thus, halting the project would cost less if the project were to progress slower so that important players in the game could voice any concerns early on.
The project is broken up into many phases so as to accommodate everyone who visits and works at Cadman Plaza. This specific project is one of the largest projects that the resident engineer that I am working with, Mark Green, has worked on, because it needs to go through several approvals by politicians before any construction work can start. In a typical day, we meet with several people to alert and remind them of any areas, such as judge parking lots, that would need to be closed off during a phase of construction. Also, every construction zone needs to accommodate people who use the two subway stations and streets to walk.
At the start of my internship, water leakage problems in the Borough Hall station began after the completion of Phase 1. During Phase 1, which was in front of the Borough Hall train station, the old bluestone concrete was replaced with a 6-inch concrete sub-base. The contractor and resident engineers were held responsible for the water leakage that had damaged a turnstile in the subway station. Resolving this issue required several meetings with MTA resident engineer, Andrew Johnson. A temporary solution to caulk or seal the expansion joints in the new concrete was decided upon. However, this did not completely stop the leakage problem. In the next several days, a test to flood the area will be conducted so as to test how strong the caulking is and if it would be an adequate solution for the next 5-7 years.
Moreover, a typical day for me includes managing the construction project with Mark. My work includes observing any trucks, vans, workers, and construction activity on the site, and checking if contract items, such as the approved granite that goes below the concrete sub-base, were delivered on site. Many times, contractors would deliver granite that has recycled asphalt pieces mixed in, which is a much cheaper form of granite than the one that was approved in the contract. In these cases, resident engineers need to be on site to record any deliveries and to see if contractors are adhering to the contract. If unapproved granite is placed in the formwork, Parks has a right to not pay for that specific area. Also, other activities that need to be monitored are the pouring of concrete, the use of any construction materials, and the depth and method of excavation. Since trains run right below Cadman Plaza, hand excavation is necessary for some parts rather than excavation by a CAT machine so as to not damage any subway tunnels. At the end of each day, a daily report of the construction work in the area, the equipment used, and any special notes need to be recorded. These daily reports are gathered into weekly reports that are delivered to the main offices of Parks so as to monitor if the project is going as expected.
After completing three weeks on the site of the construction project, I feel that I have so far gained a lot of insight about project management for a civil engineering project. Working on the site allows me to gain first-hand experience of how city projects are conducted and the many different actors that a project contains. As a civil engineer, it is not only important to know how to measure areas, differentiate construction items, or know exactly what is happening on-site. Most of the time, it also requires understanding and communicating with the superintendent of the construction company, construction workers, politicians, employees, and other engineers in the main offices who want to be updated on every step of the project. In the next several weeks, I would like to familiarize myself more with the construction equipment and be more aware of what steps would need to be taken to accommodate pedestrians and politicians before starting Phase 4. This will allow me to be more aware of whether the contractors are adhering to rules mentioned in the contract, such as always reserving 5 feet of the street for pedestrians or taking into account the relocation of bus stops due to construction.
Nonetheless, what I have also learned from working at Cadman Plaza is the importance of women in the engineering field. Most of the time, Elizabeth Maneli, another resident engineer, and I are the only women engineers working on-site and overlooking construction workers. The importance of this is that it allows us to be comfortable in settings that are not overpopulated with women and to break any misconceptions of the work that women could do. Mark Green always encourages me that real learning of civil engineering is not done in the office but on-site. He encourages me to be on site, and at times I am by myself observing workers and communicating with him by phone if everything is as should be. As a result, it is important to integrate any STEM education with exposure to real-life projects. In this way, students and future engineers are more comfortable in adapting and resolving issues that come up unexpectedly and communicating openly with the many different people a project involves.