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Public Works Progressing Under 'Split Shift' Directive



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Road work and other projects - even routine administrative chores - at Newtown's Public Works Dept are progressing as efficiently as possible through the COVID-19 emergency.

But as the department's Director Fred Hurley explained recently, a lull in the sometimes frenetic activity of his office has provided an opportunity to catch up on routine administrative and organizational work that is too often stymied by regular interruptions during what would under other circumstances be a busy early springtime period.

"It's been a plus from a management standpoint," Hurley told The Newtown Bee earlier this week.

He also noted that while traffic on local roads is noticeably lighter, the ability to stage certain larger road projects is challenging because like other town departments, Public Works is also under a "split shift" directive. The order to only bring in half of each department's staff every workday is designed to provide more space to carry out appropriate social distancing, but also lessens the possibility the virus could be spread to more workers.

And while many of the public works projects are happening outdoors, personnel still has to get there and back to work sites in town vehicles, and crews still have to gather and pass through the Public Works offices as they begin and end their work days.

"Because construction is one of those jobs deemed essential, we're working now on how to effectively ramp up our actual physical work to try and get more done," Hurley said.

"Most routine work like pothole repairs and patching is getting done, but things like full drainage projects have been more on the back burner because we don't have continuity as far as people are concerned," he said.

If half a crew is on Monday and starts a project, that crew is not back on the job until Wednesday under the current workflow configuration.

"It's hard to do that kind of project without day-to-day continuity," Hurley said. "We're looking at possibly coming to the end of that. We'll still have social distancing, we'll still have only one person in each vehicle cab at a time, but we're looking at ways we can shuttle crews to sites and other workarounds so we can bring more personnel to bear on some of the bigger projects."

The public works boss said real work is still happening.

"The advantage of having everybody in every day is we could get going on some of our larger projects," Hurley said. "We are just looking at ways we don't have to pack a bunch of guys into our trucks."

Hurley said contract work is also progressing based on the availability of funds to cover the cost of non-department workers.

"We also have to be mindful of whether or not we'll have to phase big projects over time to create the greatest flexibility from a budgetary perspective should late summer or fall present challenges we can't foresee now," Hurley said.

"We have work we need to plan, but we still need to be flexible," he said.

Part of a $2,001,532 FEMA reimbursement that was recently delivered to compensate Newtown for funds put out following a May 2018 macroburst storm will be allocated to Hurley's department. But transfers must still pass through a series of authorizations by several elected bodies.

"It's going to happen over the next couple of weeks, but it needs to be determined how we're going to move forward transitioning from this year's budget to next year," Hurley said.

Hurley said until then crews will muster on doing all the work they can, while being creative about how to maximize the workforce needed to get those jobs done.

Newtown's administrative offices are not the only town departments working on split shifts to maximize safety and minimize possible COVID-19 transmission. Local public works crews are under a similar directive, which is challenging but by no means halting day to day work, according to Public Works Director Fred Hurley. —Bee Photo, Voket
Chris Capozziello operates Newtown's street sweeper on Zoar Road. Although Public Works and Highway Department crews are working in split configurations, many of the routine jobs performed by these departments are still getting completed — albeit a bit slower than if crews were fully staffed each day. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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