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.