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That special time of the year: APWA National Public Works Week!

Jim Proce
Public Works Director
City of Palm Bay, Florida

Every fall season all over the country, if not all over the world, folks get ready for their respective holiday seasons, shopping for those special gifts, decorating the home for holiday gatherings, and cooking those special dishes to share with friends, neighbors and family. We all have our gatherings, parties and celebrations that make up the traditions we partake of each and every year and when it is all over we celebrate the New Year and make our resolutions for the year that lies ahead. It is truly a special time of year with the aspirations and plans for greater things to come.

In Palm Bay (Florida) it also marks the beginning of a new season, where we begin the planning for what has become a tradition in our community...

The American Public Works Association National Public Works Week.

Over the last six years or so, folks in Palm Bay have celebrated the American Public Works Association National Public Works Week with a growing interest and anticipation. With the turn of each New Year our department begins planning for this continuously growing and ever-popular event in our community. Our NPWW employee committee sets up and plans the entire event: setting the meetings dates, reserving and mapping out the fairground on the City Hall campus, and calling upon all of our partners throughout our community to set the wheels in motion for what promises to be a fun and educational time for all. And each year we try to outdo the previous year by getting bigger and better. So when the third week of May comes around, our department is ready to host the NPWW community celebration.

So you might ask, what is so special about this event?

Well, aside from the obvious cool public works stuff that we all know and love, we have all sorts of festivities and activities planned for folks of all ages, although I have to tell you that the kids' activities are the most fun and rewarding for our staff.

Parents and their children enjoying themselves at one of the booths during Palm Bay's NPWW celebration.

It all begins with the educational displays and demonstrations from each of the functional areas in the department and that list grows longer and more detailed each successive year.

With the NPDES requirements our staff has put together several outreach programs to present to citizens on stormwater regulations and illicit discharges. While that does not sound too exciting for most folks, as you go from one booth to the next you are gathering valuable information about our community as well as the pieces of a the puzzle for the "Scavenger Hunt" that makes you eligible for some really awesome giveaways and prizes.

Some of our partners throughout the community such as the local and regional water control districts, Waste Management Inc., folks from several homeowner's associations, and other civic-minded organizations all help out, providing information on litter control programs, community interests and concerns, and environmental issues. Besides, we need someone to help cook the hot dogs and they are highly qualified in that area too.

When you stroll over to the Fleet Services display you will see a vast array of all sorts of bells and whistles and lights and sirens and pieces and parts, but the real draw is "Tire Bowling." "What the heck is tire bowling?" you might ask. Well, it is what it sounds like. And kids from 3 to 100 just love it. It may look easy, but I have to tell you it really is tricky.

And if you happen to be one of our constituents who might not be happy, we have our customer service staff available to respond to your request for service on the spot. They are ready to discuss any and all of our current projects as well as let you know the latest on transportation issues and traffic concerns. And if you want to play a little "Red Light Green Light" with a real traffic signal, you might even win a prize.

Bayside High School Jazz Ensemble entertains at the Palm Bay NPWW event. (Photo by Mike Bouvier)

And if all of these physical activities just aren't your thing, you can just sit back under one of the large shade tents and take it all in while enjoying the live entertainment, free food and refreshments. If you are lucky, you just might catch the Palm Bay Public Works rock band, a.k.a. Roadkill, perform at a NPWW celebration near you.

Speaking of performers we also take the opportunity to recognize our award-winning performers in the department and the community. Several awards are issued but the most notable awards are the "Public Works Employee of the Year" and the "Public Works Volunteer of the Year."

So...at a glance you might think, "Is this really a worthwhile expense for your community's tax dollars?" Hmmmm?

Well, with all of us in the public works business trying to do more with less year after year, the investment in such a community outreach might seem a bit frivolous; however, this type of event can often be well worth the hard work and time you spend doing it, especially when you see the results and the impact that you can make on your community.

The bottom line is that we have provided a great opportunity for our community to come out, have some fun and get to know our staff, by getting educated about services we provide, and learning about all walks of public works life. Each year literally hundreds of children (of all ages) visit the heavy equipment demonstrations, climb a rock, participate in the "paint your own truck" contest, lurk about with the surveying scavenger hunt, make a street sign, run the obstacle course, play "tire bowling," get their "Future Heavy Equipment Operator" photo license, and all while viewing the numerous educational and informational displays and demonstrations. This type of event builds and endures goodwill in our community and it can in yours as well.

One year I received a letter from a young fellow named Sam thanking me for letting him sit in the big trucks. We even let him paint a little truck of his own to take home. Well, Sam was so excited about the big trucks that he comes back each year to see what new trucks we have gotten since his last test drive. It is a rewarding experience for all of the staff when we receive a letter like the one that Sam sent us. Someday maybe Sam will work in public works. We can only hope so.

Crew Leader Ossie Samuel teaching future heavy equipment operator Joe Proce the safe use of an excavator.

And as far as the costs for pulling this all off, well, here is the trick. With the support of our City Council and City Management we provide this event at little or no cost to our community and the best part for everyone is that it is all free. It begins with the partners and sponsors who all become a part of the event—from the big box stores to the local supermarkets and the local ice cream shop and several of the local businesses, all who support the effort through their participation and donations of food and cash. And the best part is our staff, all of whom volunteer their own time to participate in this event each year, giving up their weekend to give back to the community. It is their way of saying thanks for continued support of the Public Works Department in Palm Bay.

So if you are thinking of having a NPWW event and you would like to see how it is done, I hope to see you in Palm Bay, during the third week in May, that special time of year.

Jim Proce, Your Friendly Neighborhood Public Works Director, will present a session at this year's APWA Congress in New Orleans entitled "Connecting with Your Community: The Little Things that Can Make a Big Difference" which takes place on Tuesday, August 19. He can be reached at (321) 953-8996 or procej@palmbayflorida.org.

This year's theme for National Public Works Week is "Public Works: The Future is Now." To order a "How To" guide for planning your NPWW activities, just go to www.apwa.net/About/npww/orderguide.asp. If you have any questions regarding the promotion of National Public Works Week, please contact Jon Dilley, Manager of Marketing and Graphic Design, at (816) 595-5251 or jdilley@apwa.net.