WESTFIELD, NJ — Lots of changes are afoot at the Westfield Department of Public Works, from the look of its trucks to tree removal and replacement downtown. DPW Director Greg O’Neil spoke with TAP into Westfield recently about some of the things that residents might notice — and some they may not.
Thanks to budget increase approved by the town council, the DPW is getting 10 new trucks of various sizes this year, several of which have already arrived. (A recent report on the blizzard of 2016 recommended budgeting for replacement of vehicles as they reach the end of their useful lives, as well as new radios — the DPW was granted both.)
O’Neil described the trucks as “very versatile.” All of them have plows, he said, and the range in sizes will allow for better plowing on different size streets this winter.
“They were desperately needed,” O’Neil said. “One of the things we’re really focusing on is the snow plowing operations.”
A new garbage truck was also ordered.
Quicker response to requests:
O’Neil said the department has spent much time catching up with residents’ requests for services, including pothole repair and tree replacements. During the work day, the DPW has a resident hotline (908-789-4100, option 4) to report issues includng potholes, fallen tree limbs and street drainage problems.
He estimated that the DPW recently worked on about 1,300 trees in 15 months, catching up on backlog of requests that extended back to 2011.
The DPW is responsible for trees growing in the town’s right of way. In some places, that’s between the curb and the sidewalk. Where there’s no sidewalk, a tree could be in the town’s right of way if it’s near the curb. Either way, the DPW can check to see who is responsible for a particular tree.
“If we remove it, we do try to replant,” O’Neil noted.
The DPW has also caught up on pothole patching, he said.
“The amount of complaints for potholes — if we get one to two a week, we’re surprised. We’re getting that far ahead,” he said.
And, while it may not be noticeable, signs are changed and repaired daily, he added.
Beautification around town:
The DPW is increasing number of trees in Westfield and, in some cases, switching out species that don’t work well in certain spots for trees that do. Downtown, he said, honey locust trees that were causing sidewalk and sewer problems have been taken out and are being replaced by Japanese tree lilacs, which O’Neil described as pretty and very fragrant.
Downtown Westfield’s overall landscaping is getting a makeover that O’Neil estimated will be completed over the next two years.
“What we’re doing now is kind of revamping the whole thing,” he said. “Our downtown crew is doing a great job. They’ve really spruced up downtown nicely.”
Throughout town, the DPW is introducing plantings that require little maintenance. For instance, islands once covered in grass that had to be mowed are now covered in other types of plants, he said.
“If we end the maintenance aspects of these islands, it’s better for everyone,” O’Neil explained. “It makes something either boring or ugly beautiful and easier to maintain.”
Parks are getting beautification too, like the hanging flower baskets that were added at Gumpert.
The fencing along the North Avenue side of the DPW’s grounds, which O’Neil admited looks ugly, will soon be replaced by a new building that will store not only that department’s trucks and equipment but also police vehicles, which will free up spaces around the municipal building, O’Neil said.
All of the DPW trucks are going from generic yellow to the town colors of blue and white, and are being clearly be branded with the town logo. DPW workers are wearing blue uniforms for the first time, too, making them easily identifiable as Westfield employees.
“It lends to better communication, better interfacing between the public and us,” he said. The new look also adds to workers’ sense of pride, noted.
Walk into the DPW office at 959 North Ave. West and you’ll notice the office itself has undergone a makeover, too, with fresh paint, new furniture and a more open layout.
Stephanie Majeski, administrative assistant to the director of public works, said that during the 14 years she has worked there, this is the first time the office has been redecorated.
“This is a huge morale booster,” Majeski said.
O’Neil hoped that the more inviting office will encourage residents to come in with their concerns.
“Any time a member of the public has a question or concern, you can call us, you can email or you can come on in. I’ve always had an open door policy,” he said. “I think what they’ll see is this is a professional organization run by professionals who take pride in what they do.”