Engineering Excellence

by Jack Tenney, Publisher Business People-Vermont

Photos: Courtesy of contest entrants

Engineers pride themselves as problem solvers.

Can't sleep? There's an engineering solution: maybe firmer springs, adjustable coils, different materials. Water pressure low? There's an engineering solution: higher water head, strategically located pumps, different diameter pipes. Want to cross a river, tunnel through a mountain, fly into deep space? Engineers can solve all those problems. It's what they do, what they live for.

There's one little problem that has yet to yield to an engineered solution: how to get the word to a broader audience about the challenges, rewards and accomplishments of engineers. It's important to professional engineers that young people aspire to become engineers. It's important that everyone quickly associate the word "engineer" to problem solving and not to railroading.

To that end, the American Consulting Engineers Council of Vermont sponsors annual engineering excellence awards. They invite their peers to submit entries in six categories to be judged against a predictably precise apportionment of rating criteria. Meeting needs, originality, benefits, complexity and technical value to the profession are the criteria. Structures, transportation, environmental, water resources, special projects and planning are the categories.

This year the ACEC/Vermont Engineering Excellence Awards were presented during Engineer's Week festivities. Participants entered 21 extraordinary projects. The judging took place Feb. 17 during the better part of a day. The panel of judges were: Steve Gray , director of public works, city of Montpelier; Juli Beth Hoover , Mad River Planning Council; Annie McCluin , Engelberth Construction; Col. Allen Nye , U.S. Air Force, Camp Johnson; and architect Tom Leytham , TBLA Inc.

Some of the questions answered about each entry can be summarized simply as "yes or no." For instance: Did the entrant meet the client's time schedule? Is the solution an economical and cost effective solution? Other questions regarding the uniqueness of the mix of techniques, materials and equipment must be answered at least twice -- once in consideration of the project and again in relation to other submitted projects.

The Berlin Pond Source Protection Plan for the city of Montpelier, submitted by Dufresne & Associates PC of Windsor, used geographic information system (GIS) technology, mainly used as a mapping tool for planning agencies. This was cited as being a first-use of a GIS model for a source protection plan. At every judging criteria level, the GIS technology rang the bell including beating the Dec. 1, 2000, deadline by 11 months! That project received a grand award in the studies, planning, consulting engineering services category.

The Bartlett Bay Wastewater Treatment Facility project submitted by Hoyle Tanner Associates Inc. of Burlington cited several hard dollar savings in addition to meeting other criteria and won a certificate of merit in the water resources category. More than $350,000 of additional improvements were achieved without increasing the budget. Change orders totaled less than 1 percent following start of construction and the job was completed returning more than $125,000 in unspent contingencies.

An example of the unique problems solved by professional engineers is the Bennington Museum project done for Bread Loaf Construction by Engineering Ventures Inc. of Burlington. The existing museum required additional space on a very constrained site. The original 1700s building had already been expanded several times. The only remaining portion of the site was constrained by historic stone structures on two sides, a 1700s historic cemetery on one side and an embankment on the fourth side. The solution (utilizing soil nailing under the grave elevations allowing a near vertical cut at the existing cemetery property line) earned the buildings category grand award.

The 30-member Vermont section of ACEC completed its recognition of the 2000 Engineering Excellence Awards with a banquet held aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen II on June 6.