The Oak Park Public Works Department is continuing to provide services to the village during the pandemic by operating in a shift formation with staff separated into five key areas based on job requirements. A new assistant director has also been named.
“We have three shifts working two days in a row. Each shift is made up of approximately 20 or so of our staff members,” said Public Works Director John Wielebnicki during an April 6 virtual village board meeting.
The five key areas are customer service, operations, police services, engineering and administration. The public works call center makes up customer service.
“Each shift is handling all of the emergencies and regular maintenance duty during that shift period,” Wielebnicki said.
According to Wielebnicki, maintaining operations makes up a large portion of the work the department has been doing since the COVID-19 crisis prompted the closures of public buildings and the necessity of social-distancing.
“We’re designed so that we don’t have any crossover to any of our other shifts,” he said. “In fact, we’re minimizing any of the other interaction between the key areas that we have.”
The water system remains a high priority. The village has committed to not turning off the supply to residents who cannot pay their bills during this time.
“Our pumping station operators are separated, so they are physically not in the same room at the same time,” he noted. “That seems to be working well.”
Attendance has been good. Supervisors and most of the department’s engineers continue working from home when not in the office. Wielebnicki said the number of calls the department receives has risen slightly.
“There seems to be a little bit more than our typical calls,” he said. “We’re averaging just over 100 calls a day with the exception of the day or day after the shelter-in-place order started [when] we had 250 calls.”
Most of the calls come from people with questions related to typical services —
refuse pickup, parking and building permits.
The department also hired Rob Sproule as assistant public works director. Sproule was already the village’s forestry superintendent. Wielebnicki said the process to bring Sproule on as assistant director started prior the crisis.
“Rob has just hit the ground running, doing an awesome job. We’re on different shifts and he’s been extremely supportive of me and the rest of the staff in taking the lead. I do appreciate the village board’s foresight in allowing that budget to happen.”
Public works also handles some of the village’s cleaning services. Village buildings, though closed to the public, still undergo cleaning to keep employees safe from COVID-19.
“We’re on call for any types of cleaning requirements,” Wielebnicki said.
Cleaning requirements include any public vehicles used by village employees that may have come into contact in some way with COVID-19 or those affected by it.
While the need to limit personal contact has made carrying out many regular village services difficult, the situation has actually had an unexpected positive impact on the Lake Street improvement project.
“On the construction side, believe it or not, this is actually a really good time for us,” Wielebnicki said.
The large number of people working from home and the closure of many businesses has allowed construction crews to carry out work faster than originally scheduled. The full closure of the intersection at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street has cut down the time to upgrade and replace utilities and sewers considerably.
Wielebnicki said the village is continuing to look for ways to further speed up construction of the three-part project, including the streetscaping portion, which began only a few days ago.
“We have to bring the state of Illinois into that discussion because the streetscaping portion is federally funded,” he said. “I remind residents and invite them to visit the BetterLakeStreet.com website” for details or to sign up for email updates.