If you have driven on a road, visited a public space, been supported by emergency services, or used any of the infrastructure in our city, you have experienced the work of our public works staff first-hand! They all play important roles in contributing to and enhancing the quality of life in our community. Even though they often work behind the scenes, Kitchener couldn’t run without them! 

This Public Works Week, we met with some of our incredible public works staff to learn more about what they do for our city. They shared how their roles help support our community year-round and some of their favourite things about what they do. 

To learn more about public works and explore this exciting field first-hand, join us at our Public Works Week Open House and Family Fun Night this Thursday, May 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. Visit our Public Works Week page to learn more! 

Vibrant, colourful flowers and lush greenery fill planting beds at City facilities across our community. Behind them all are Horticulturalist Mike Bors and his team! All year long, Mike is responsible for preparing, planting, and caring for gardens and planting beds throughout the city, introducing the plants that help support our local ecosystems and making sure they stay healthy year after year.  

The lifecycle of a city plant starts at our greenhouse, where Mike and his colleagues determine which plants will be planted in the coming year, then grow them from seed. Horticulturalists monitor conditions as planting season nears and develop planting plans to make sure every garden and planting bed in the city are addressed.Ultimately, each decision is made by our Horticulturalists to maximize the health and longevity of the plants in each space. Throughout the year, they are cared for by Mike and his team with watering, weeding, pruning and shaping in the warmer months, and cutting back or removing annuals in the fall. With weather changing constantly and many beds to care for, timing can be a challenge, but for Mike, the challenges are outweighed by the rewards. 

It’s nice to be able to see the result of your work in a role like this,” says Mike. “I have people come up to my team all the time and share how much they love the gardens in their neighbhourhoods, so it’s really rewarding to know at the end of every day you’re doing something the community can enjoy!” 

Our community’s roads connect us, but navigating them safely relies on the hard work of our road maintenance crews. As an Operations Supervisor, Mara Engel helps make sure our roads are safe and clear all year long! She and her team, along with our other road maintenance crews, are responsible for crack sealing, restoring the hardscaped and landscaped areas after infrastructure maintenance work or damage, keeping the roads clear of leaves, trash, and snow loading, and more. Mara is responsible for managing the City’s snow storage facility, which stores snow removed from places with no snow storage, like Kitchener’s downtown core and bike lanes. Mara is also responsible for the Operations yard which supplies aggregate and stores excess soils for all City maintenance work. These are environmentally managed facilities, which require close monitoring and reporting back to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure we are compliant with all applicable regulations.

Flexibility and adaptability are critical elements of the work Mara and her team do. Road conditions change with the weather, and their work along with it, so they have to be ready for anything. As the safety of our roads impacts the safety of the community, someone is always ready to respond, even after-hours. Whether our roads teams are out assessing street conditions, repairing damages, clearing snow or debris, or on-call ready to address an emergency, they are always working to make sure Kitchener residents and visitors can get from place to place and stay connected.

“My work is all about public service,” Mara shares. “Everyone in the city uses our roads in some capacity so knowing my team is making our streets safe for everyone drives us in everything we do.”

Access to reliable, safe infrastructure improves quality of life and promotes sustainable growth in our cities. Making sure our sanitary and stormwater systems are designed, operated, and maintained to meet these objectives is something Water Resources Engineer Navdeep Kaur works on every day. Her work keeping our waterways clean and sewer systems functioning as designed directly affect our ability to live, work, play and grow. 

 Navdeep’s work primarily involves engineering design review and approval of sanitary and stormwater assets to make sure they align with the City’s, Region of Waterloo’s and Province of Ontario’s rules and regulations. As the city continues to grow and new developments are introduced, her role is critical! Hard surfaces introduced during development activities create more stormwater runoff, so any new development needs to include design solutions to capture runoff to avoid flooding and other damage to our homes, businesses, and public spaces. 

Capturing runoff is important for the safety and functionality of our city but treating that runoff and monitoring water quality is equally important to the safety and functionality of our watersheds. Navdeep and her fellow water resource engineers and technicians monitor how much runoff enters each watershed, develop designs to manage runoff and improve the quality of the runoff before it outlets, and work with the Grand River Conservation Authority to monitor the receiving watersheds to make sure we maintain good water quality for the watershed habitats. 

 Navdeep is also passionate about developing green infrastructure wherever possible, like infiltration galleries that collect and direct stormwater from underground, naturalized channels that collect and convey runoff called bioswales, impervious concrete that better conveys stormwater into the ground, and many other design solutions that are continually being implemented on City projects. 

 “I love looking at the whole picture of how our stormwater management and sanitary system work,” says Navdeep. “From our monitoring program to the ways people manage water in their own yards, it all helps keep the city running smoothly!"

Whenever you visit a City facility, you can expect to find it clean and tidy thanks to Alena Kirkby and her team.As one of our Custodial Services Supervisors, it’s Alena’s job to maintain our facilities’ health and safety through cleanliness. In public spaces, this is no small job! Alena and her team make sure all public spaces are disinfected and every surface is cleaned to the standards of both the City and Public Health. These facilities are used year-round by our staff, residents, and visitors to Kitchener, so keeping them clean is a 24/7 job. In her role, part of Alena’s job is making sure there are staff available at all times, because her team’s services can never be deferred even if someone is sick or on holidays. 

For Alena, one of her favouritepart of her job is working with her team. It takes over 80 custodial staff working around the clock every day of the week to make sure our facilities meet the level of service we expect. These dedicated staff handle everything from maintaining core cleaning duties, sanitize, disinfecting, and garbage removal, to unexpected messes that could make our public spaces unusable if not addressed. With a diverse range of facilities, from Kitchener City Hall to community centres to pools and parks and beyond, her team is specialized and knowledgeable in how to keep all these unique spaces ready for use.    

Our work is truly a team effort,” says Alena. “My team is there even if you don’t see them, but without their dedication and commitment, we wouldn’t have clean and safe public spaces to enjoy!” 

Something most people can agree on is that we would prefer sewage to stay in the sewers. The fact that it does relies on people like Barry Kropf to keep our pumping stations and wastewater infrastructure working well! As a Wastewater Collections Operator with a focus on pumping stations, Barry helps maintain and service Kitchener’s 23 sewage pumping stations, which pump waste from homes to the regional sewage treatment plant. These pumping stations are complex, with electrical equipment, valves, piping and more that all need to be kept in good working order all day, every day.The rolesBarry and the 40+ staff on his team fulfill are varied and includescheduled maintenance on the pumping stations, emergency repairs, oil changes, coordinating work on the electrical systems, cleaning waste from the underground chambers, running the City’s vacuum truck to clean out the sewers, bi-annual valve turning to make sure all station valves are functional, supporting residents with wastewater issues at their homes, and more. 

The city’s wastewater infrastructure is critical to the safety and health of our community, so there is always someone on call to address issues, even in the evenings, on weekends or holidays. Issues at a pumping station could have broader impacts to the functionality of our sewer systems, so they need to be addressed quickly. Problems at local homes can also quickly become bigger issues, so Barry and other members of our Sanitary and Stormwater Utilities team also work to support residents with those challenges to return their home’s systems to a working state as soon as possible. Supporting homeowners, either directly at their homes or through the City’s infrastructure network, is one of the things Barry finds most rewarding. 

"At the end of the day, what we’re doing is making the city safe and healthy for the people who live here,” says Barry. “I work with an incredible team who are all a key part of making that happen behind the scenes. Knowing we’re helping someone at their home on a bad day, or making sure that bad day never happens, is a really special part of this job!” 

An effective municipal space is one that aims to meet the needs of its users. As a Landscape Architect, Karen Leasa helps make sure public green spaces are functional and enjoyable for all of Kitchener’s residents and visitors. She is involved in projects at every stage in their lifecycle, from delivering strategic plans, to conceptual planning and design for projects, through to construction. Her focus is the parks, playgrounds, and public green spaces within the city. Karen’s projects cross all city sectors, so she collaborates with many City departments as well as outside consultants and contractors, giving her the unique opportunity to build meaningful relationships across the community.   

 Landscape Architects like Karen look at the city from a holistic perspective, exploring how each new development or green space will impact the community, and finding design solutions that benefit the user, the environment, and the overall experience of the space. Because Karen’s work is not only about designing the physical spaces, but also about supporting the community, an important part of her role is connecting and engaging with the public. She needs to hear from the people who navigate these spaces in the city to understand what they need. As the city continues to evolve, and Karen’s projects along with it, listening to the diverse voices of our community helps her ensure our public spaces will continue to reflect their users. 
Integrating environmental principles and elements, innovative designs and amenities, and effectivelycollaborating with the community are some of the many factors Karen considers when designing the spaces Kitchener residents enjoy year-round.   

“I really appreciate seeing these community green spaces transform,” Karen shares. “Being able to watch Kitchener grow and knowing that I've had a hand in the design of some of these public spaces is a rewarding experience.”  

Throughout the city, our homes, buildings, and public spaces are supported by underground natural gas and water infrastructure. This infrastructure is often out of sight and out of mind, but when it’s not available, its important role in the day-to-day operation of our community becomes even clearer. Cory Mather and the team at Kitchener Utilities (KU)work behind the scenes every day to make sure gas and water are functional and available to support everything our city does. As a Utility Crew Leader, Cory leads a crew in the field and does anything from scheduled maintenance to emergency response.A regular day for Cory might include maintaining the system by flushing hydrants or inspecting and repairing valves, overseeing road construction to ensure it meets City standards, completing emergency fixes to hydrants, gas mains or meters, and anything else that makes sure the infrastructure running from the road to homes and businesses is working properly. 

Cory and his fellow KU team members have to be able to respond to any number of issues across the entire gas and water infrastructure network, so they have to be highly trained and certified to address whatever they encounter.They also have to be prepared to respond to changing conditions in the weather, on the roads, or in the spaces where work takes place. The work they are doing, especially in emergency situations, can seldom be deferred, because putting off maintenance or repairs could have serious consequences for the city’s infrastructure and the people using it. While their work can’t be put off, they understand the impact disruption to water and gas services can have on the community, so they strive to give as much notice as possible when shutoffs do need to happen – and above all, they work to make sure our systems are in good condition so those service disruptions are few and far between. 

“Water and gas are one of those things that if you don’t think about them, you know they’re working,” says Cory. “I really enjoy knowing I get to make things work for the people in the city. When I get to find a problem, fix it, and see the positive impact it has on someone in the community, that is a great day on the job!”