Jim Budrick was in his mid-30s when he was promoted to the village's chief officer for public works projects in 1987.
As village engineer, his first major assignment was the massive task of "re-streeting" downtown Oak Park from an open-air mall after 15 years.
The project required coordinating removal of sidewalks and building a new sewer system, installing street lighting and restructuring the streetscape, along with countless other tasks.
Getting the project done on time and within budget was a tall order for the young engineer who had just been promoted from the position of assistant. He had previously worked as village traffic engineer.
"When you're building something in a major downtown area, the key is to build it and keep all the businesses functioning," he said. "It's always been our goal to not disrupt people."
Budrick stuck with the position for the next 27 years, and after a combined 35 years with the village, he announced earlier this month his plans to retire.
"It's been a very rewarding career working for Oak Park," Budrick said in a recent interview. "It's a special community because all the people here are working to keep it that way."
Keeping the village running — fixing water main breaks, dealing with sinkholes and repaving streets to name a few of his duties — has been Budrick's charge for decades, but he says the project he's most proud of reaches back to his training as a civil engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology and later as a traffic engineer.
From 2000 to 2009, Budrick and his team of engineers installed an interconnected traffic signal system, linking every stop light in the village to a computer that regulates the flow of traffic.
"It allows me to let traffic on the streets run much smoother, so people don't have to stop as frequently," he said.
The so-called intelligent transportation system includes a total 40 signals and cost $1.5 million, most of which was paid with federal funds, Budrick said.
"It was the second total system in the state of Illinois," he said.
Budrick was also at the helm in 2002, during the construction of the village's underground water reservoir at Stevenson Park, 49 Lake St. He said the reservoir adds 2.5 million gallons to the village's water storage capacity.
"That's basically so we have a sufficient amount of water stored in the village in case there is a problem with the water supply from the city of Chicago," he said.
Public Works Department Director John Wielebnicki said Budrick has been a resource for every department of government, not just public works.
"He's been a rock in getting the village through so many projects," Wielebnicki said, noting that Budrick helped him learn the ropes when he started with the village in 2003.
He and public works staff have always admired Budrick's calm, collected nature, especially during public meetings with angry residents.
"When you're up in front of a large group, whether they're trying to challenge your technical expertise or are motivated about any neighborhood issue, he just stays calm and cool," Wielebnicki said. "He handles things with the same demeanor the whole time, [even] in the hot seat."
Wielebnicki noted that Budrick was one of the first village employees to regularly use the bicycle program to get around town. Village spokesman David Powers echoed the comment in an email response to questions.
"Jim was among the first to embrace the village's use of bicycles to travel between the Public Works Center and Village Hall," he said. "The police department provides a few unclaimed bicycles each year just for that purpose."
Wielebnicki said Budrick will be missed for the institutional memory he takes with him in retirement, noting that he sometimes contacts Jim for answers to questions because of his depth of knowledge.
"It's easier to talk to Jim than to go hunt down that info," he said.
Allthough Budrick is retiring, he won't be far away at his home in Westmont.
"I think he's really going to miss this place; we're certainly going to miss him," Wielebnicki said. "We'll be calling him; we'll have him on speed dial. We're not going to let him get away that easy."
Budrick said that's just fine by him.
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