Smile Politely

Meet some of the crew at Champaign’s Public Works

I come from a family of service people. We work as nurses, preachers, hygienists, and teachers. I value work that benefits the community, so I wanted to highlight those people who take away our leaves, plow our streets, and trim our trees. Mixed in with this article are some questions about general operations at Champaign Public Works but in general, I wrote it for the crew.

Kris Koester was my tour guide. He is officially known as The Administrative Services Supervisor & Public Information Officer for Public Works. Koester is also a local who grew up in Champaign and went to school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Smile Politely: Where are we?

Kris Koester: We are at 702 Edgebrook Drive in Champaign just off of Bloomington Road between State and Prospect. This is where all of the Champaign trucks come for storage, supplies, and repair.

SP: What kind of mechanics do you have working on the equipment?

Koester: Most of it takes special training. Some of which we do in house and others are sent to training centers. The fire truck specifically has to be worked on by someone specifically trained.

SP: Do these work?

Koester: Yes, they do. This is where all of our trucks come to fill up. These pumps are old but they are hooked up to some new technology that allows us to track how much each truck requires. We buy the gas in bulk every year and that request goes through city council. The police station has the same set up.

SP: Is this the salt?

Koester: These are our salt reservoirs. We purchase an amount every year based on the average of the last 15-20 years of need. Our trucks are equipped with computers so as we load the salt and distribute it we are able to track how much goes out. We also take the salt and make a salt water mixture which we can use for the roads. It works better sometimes because it actively melts the ice. We also have a calcium chloride mixture we can use to melt ice.

SP: You have a few options for melting ice. How do you choose which one to use?

Koester: It depends on the condition. There is no formula but there are factors that go into the decision. We take into consideration the temperature, wind, snow, and forecast. Salt is better for slippery roads because it provides traction. If the temperature is below freezing we will use the calcium chloride solution instead. If the temperature is below zero we typically don’t put anything down and just plow because if we melt the snow and ice, it will turn into more ice.

SP: Will we have enough salt for this year?

Koester: Yes. Based on the averages of the past 15-20 years we should have enough for this season. We actually have more than the years past. 

SP: What is this pile? It (literally) stinks.

Koester: This is what the street sweeper has picked up off of the street. The mattress we got a call about and had to go pick it up with a truck.

SP: Is this like every kid’s dream? A huge pile of leaves?

Koester: Maybe for some kids. This is our leaf pile. We stack them here and then haul them over to Urbana to be turned into mulch. The bags go into the mulch too so that why we ask that you use paper bags. Our crew brings in about 10,000 pounds of leaves daily during the heavy season. This is pretty low. Last week it was about 20 feet higher.

SP: I would call this the elephant truck. What is it used for?

Koester: That long hose is used to go down into our sewer system with a camera and clean out the pipes which are at most three feet around.

SP: So, the pipes under Champaign are not like what we see in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies?

Koester: No, like I said, three feet around is the biggest I’ve seen. You can fit down into a man hole but no way could you get into the main sewer system.

SP: It is a little early for Christmas decorations. What are these?

Koester: This is the main center for controlling the stoplights in Champaign. And yes these light up and indicate what is happening in real time at some of the major stop lights.

SP: Where are the street signs made?

Keoster: We make all of our signs in house with a computer and a special printer. 

SP: What is your name, what is your job, and how long have you been here?

Dave Richmond: My name is Dave Richmond and I am responsible for the city trees here in Champaign. I’ve been here since 1992.

SP: How many trees does the city own?

Richmond: Last count was about 20,000 trees that we take care.

SP: What projects are in the works for the trees of Champaign?

Richmond: In 2016 we are going to be working on Green Street between Neil and 4th Street. We are in the design phases right now. This is the truck we use. It has a hug battery in it so that we don’t have to run the equippment off of gas. It saves money and isn’t as noisy. It’s really great. 

SP: Who decides on the designs?

Richmond: It is a group effort between the merchants and the citizens. The planning committee developed a website for citizens to access and give their input. We think thats important because its where you live.

SP: What is your name, what is your job, and how long have you been here?

Aaron Allen: My name is Aaron Allen and I’ve been here since 2002. I work on street maintenance.

SP: What does street maintenance include?

Allen: We do leaves, street sweeping, mowing, and pot holes. 10 very hard working people on 14 trucks going out on seven different routes takes care of about 720 miles of road in Champaign.

SP: What are the hours like

Allen: It is 12-hour shifts. But if a storm hits we can sometimes work 12 hours on and 12-hours off for days. Last year we went 14 days non-stop back to back 12 hour shifts. It was rough on me but also on my family.

SP: What would you like to tell citizens about the plows?

Allen: That it takes time. We have to be safe. Believe me we want to get it cleared for you but we have to be safe. Citizens have to stay back 50-100 feet behind the plow because we can’t see you behind us if you are closer. If the salt or rocks are hitting your car, you’re too close.

Koester: This crew works really hard for long hours. And they have family, too. So I really commend them on the work that they do.

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