MONTPELIER — The Capital City is getting ready to say farewell to Public Works Director Tom McArdle, who retires at the end of the year after 38 years.
Part of an old guard of veteran city employees, McArdle said he will ease out of the job, ensuring a smooth transition.
“I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll be around to help,” he said. “I expect there will be quite a bit of that, and that’s fine, I want to help.”
City officials praised McArdle for his long service and dedication to the city.
“Tom has been such a pleasure to work with,” said Mayor Anne Watson. “I have appreciated how thorough he is in his work. I have seen him keep a positive attitude and demonstrate kindness in difficult situations. I’m so grateful for his dedication to the city of Montpelier.”
City Manager Bill Fraser praised McArdle for his length of service, and institutional knowledge of the city, adding: “His work ethic and dedication are unmatched. It’s been a true privilege to work with and learn from him. He has earned a peaceful retirement. I wish him the very best, but the city will miss his talents.”
McArdle has been in Montpelier for a long time, since age 5, eventually graduating from Montpelier High School in 1978.
Turning 60 in November, McArdle was born in Syracuse, New York. McArdle’s father, Jerry, was a landscape architect born in Bellows Falls, which is what brought the family back to Vermont when Jerry was hired by Perry Merrill, the so-called father of the state’s system of forests, parks and ski centers.
McArdle’s mother, Trudy, was a nurse, born in Chicago. The family settled in Waterbury Center for a year before moving to Montpelier.
McArdle has been married to his wife, Sharon, for 28 years. They have a son, Sam, 27, and live in Calais.
McArdle first joined the city public works department as an intern on a work study program while still at New Hampshire Technical College, where he studied natural resource management, surveying and construction. He graduated in 1981.
After school, McArdle decided he wanted a break and headed west, surveying for oil and gas in Utah and Wyoming for about six months before being laid off and returning to a job in Montpelier in 1981 as a technician, draftsman, surveyor and project manager for the city.
“I thought that if I did take the job, I would probably be stuck here for a long time — and sure enough that came to be,” he added.
The first project assigned to McArdle was the reconstruction of Court Street, one of the oldest streets in the Capital City. It would give him a taste of what to expect in future years with the city’s aging infrastructure.
“They handed me the plans and specifications and said, ‘Off you go,’” McArdle said, with a laugh. “It was water, sewer, street, sidewalk, retaining wall — the works.”
From 1982 to 2000, McArdle was an administrative assistant and technician working with Steve Gray, the director of public works, before Gray retired in 2006 after 30 years of service. In November 2014, McArdle became acting public works director, and then director in February 2015. McArdle had worked under three city managers before Fraser, who started in 1995.
In addition to his day-to-day duties, McArdle said he had also been involved in four “declared disasters” in Montpelier. They included the 1992 flood, flash flooding in 2004, and twice in 2011 with a microburst in May and Tropical Storm Irene in August.
In the 1992 flood, while others handled the immediate emergency response, McArdle’s prime role was repair and clean up, and preparing reports for Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Those declared disasters persist long after people have moved on — all the paperwork and accounting and audits,” McArdle said.
Other major emergency response projects included the cliff rock fall on Elm Street in 2006, which cost more than $1 million to repair but was covered by federal highway aid assistance, McArdle said.
More recently, few will forget the series of major water main breaks last winter, including one on Elm Street, and most dramatically, a water main break on Nelson Street that sent thousands of gallons of water cascading on to Main Street, where it froze, paralyzing the downtown.
“It was a winter that required a full team effort,” McArdle said.
McArdle’s broader role is also to oversee several ongoing projects, including: the new Caledonia Spirits distillery on Barre Street, due to open June 29; the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex, due to open in August; and two recreation path projects, connecting the transit center and along Barre Street to Gallison Hill Road, due to be completed this summer.
“We’re here to serve,” McArdle said. “We’re at our best when everything is working well, and you cross a bridge and go through a traffic signal and you turn on your water or flush your toilet, and you just take everything for granted.
“The other side of this people don’t see is that public-works agencies are also first responders, whether it’s a flood or a tree down, and even fires, with fire hydrants,” McArdle said. “And we’re usually there long after the disaster is done, fixing things and putting them back together ... Then there’s the paperwork, the design, the engineering, the bidding (of) the contracted services.”
McArdle paid tribute to other staff members, including Kurt Motyka, city engineer and assistant director of public works, who is overseeing the $16.75 million upgrade of the Waste Water Treatment Facility, and also oversees the city’s water treatment plant.
McArdle acknowledged public works’ dual role in preparedness and resilience.
“We try to be proactive, and when we fix things, we take the long view. We want things to be long-lasting and will withstand those stresses,” McArdle said.
“It’s a 24/7 job. There’s no delusion about that being part of the job description for most of us,” he said.
Going forward, McArdle said, the city is committed to a 50-year water-sewer master plan and upgrades to stormwater systems, roads and sidewalks.
When he retires, McArdle said he plans to “take a break” from work, do some traveling in the Northwest and get started on some long-deferred maintenance — on his home.