Doug Vierzba capped a 38-year career in the city of Coon Rapids engineering department with his retirement Friday.
In those years as design engineer, assistant city engineer and since 2002, city engineer, Vierzba has seen the city evolve from a developing to a redeveloping city and the changes that has brought to his job.
According to Vierzba, his early years with the city when Coon Rapids was developing at a rapid pace mean that he designed multiple sewer, water, storm and street improvement projects; now as a more-the-less developed community, the focus of his work in his later years has been on street reconstruction.
Born and raised in Brainerd, Vierzba graduated from Brainerd High School in 1969.
His interest in a civil engineering career began when he was in high school.
He talked with a school counselor about a future career, indicated his interest in math and science and the counselor recommended a pre-engineering degree course at Brainerd Junior College.
“I tried it and liked it,” Vierzba said.
With two years under his belt and an associate degree from Brainerd Junior College, Vierzba transferred to the University of Minnesota for his final two years to earn his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
Doug Vierzba, retired Coon Rapids city engineer, ranks among the very top civil engineers that Steve Gatlin, Coon Rapids city manager and former public services director, has encountered in his long career.
Vierzba retired Friday after 38 years in the city’s engineering department; Gatlin had been the city’s public services director since 1998 before being appointed city manager effective Oct. 1 by the Coon Rapids City Council last month.
“Doug is one of the best engineers I have worked with technically,” said Gatlin, who like Vierzba, is a civil engineer.
Moreover, Vierzba had a demeanor where he never lost his cool in dealing with the public either at public hearings before the council or one-on-one, according to Gatlin.
“People respected him even when they did not agree with him,” Gatlin said.
Technically, Vierzba was very competent and never let economic and political issues get in the way of “making the right technical call,” he said.
Vierzba left the economic and political issues to the council, Gatlin said.
“Doug cared about the city of Coon Rapids and is one of the top two of three civil engineers I have worked with,” he said. “He was an outstanding city engineer.”
Vierzba was honored by his city staff colleagues on his last day at the office, Friday, with a retirement party, at which he was presented with a plaque on behalf of the city council by Councilmember Bruce Sanders.
“We have really appreciate Doug’s work and we are going to miss him,” Sanders said.
Vierzba is part of the city’s institutional history, according to Sanders.
“He can never be replaced,” Sanders said.
Vierzba has given the city years of exceptional public service for which the city owes him a debt of gratitude, he said.
Besides the plaque, Vierzba was presented with the gift of fishing tackle equipment by his colleagues.
–Peter Bodley, Managing editor
But the U program provided Vierzba with two quarters of work study each year, which he said was vital in him securing his job with Coon Rapids.
The experience he got in the field was with both consulting engineering firms and cities where he was involved in the design of all sorts of engineering projects, Vierzba said.
“The experience I got was very important,” he said.
Vierzba’s first job after graduating from the University of Minnesota was with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) working on drainage ditch issues with county boards in southern Minnesota.
But that was only for a short period of time because Oct. 7, 1974, Vierzba arrived in Coon Rapids.
His first job with the city was as a sidewalk engineering after Coon Rapids voters had approved a bond issue to construct sidewalks in the city, according to Vierzba.
That work kept him busy for the first 18 months and when the sidewalk projects were completed, Vierzba moved on to the sewer, water, storm drain and streets engineering work.
He was named assistant city engineer in 1979 after becoming a professional registered engineering, which requires four years of experience working as a civil engineer plus passing a test, according to Vierzba.
With Vierzba as assistant city engineer, the city moved a lot of the sewer, water, storm drain and street engineering work for the booming housing development in Coon Rapids from consulting firms to in-house.
“I was very, very busy designing miles of new sewer, water and streets,” he said.
“But by 2000, the city was filling up and development was backing off.”
According to Vierzba, that meant the focus of his job turned to street reconstruction.
The program began back in 1997 because streets built in the 1960s were now 30 years old and in need of more than just periodic seal coating, Vierzba said.
Vierzba developed a street reconstruction program which was approved by the then-Coon Rapids City Council that financed the work with a 50-50 split between assessments to benefiting properties and city funds.
“It has been in place for 15 years and seems to have been successful,” Vierzba said.
Homeowners tend to keep up their properties better with such improvements as a new roof and siding when they have nice streets in front of them, he said.
The street reconstruction program will be ongoing as the city’s streets get older, Vierzba said.
Indeed, there are 220 miles of streets in the city, 180 miles of residential streets plus 40 miles of collector street, which are wider and built to state aid standards to accommodate heavier traffic.
When Vierzba was named city engineer in 2002, it made official the city engineer’s work that he had been doing.
Public Services Director Steve Gatlin, now city manager, let him do his job, Vierzba said.
“Along with staff support, the councils I have worked with over the years have always supported everything I have done,” he said.
Vierzba also paid tribute to his fellow engineering department employees. “I have worked with a great team of people in the city,” Vierzba said.
Many of those in the engineering department who retired before him put in more than 30 years, even 35 years, with the city and there are current employees with tenure of more than 30 years, he said.
According to Vierzba, he considers one of his achievements during his years with the city to be helping residents with flood plain issues.
He has been contacted by hundreds of residents over the years seeking his help after their mortgage lenders wanted them to take out flood plain insurance.
The maps the mortgage companies use are very old and out of date, while the city’s maps are current and when he has checked the city flood plain maps for these residents, he has found they are not in the flood plain, Vierzba said.
As a result, they don’t need the flood plain insurance, which is expensive and Vierzba has provided the homeowners with the documentation they need for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), he said.
“I have received a lot of thank yous which has made me feel good that I have been able to help save them money,” Vierzba said.
In his years with the city, Vierzba has watched it “grow and mature” and people take pride in their neighborhoods, he said.
As he turns 62, Vierzba said he felt it was time to retire to enjoy life a little more, especially hunting, fishing and traveling.
His job with the city has made it impossible for him to take a summer vacation because May through September are the busiest times for construction, according to Vierzba said.
“I have only been able to take winter holiday and a few days here and there in the summer,” Vierzba said.
Indeed, Vierzba and his wife Marsha are planning to take an Alaskan cruise next summer.
The Vierzbas have lived in Coon Rapids throughout his tenure with the city, but will soon be moving to a home they have purchased at Crosslake.
That’s near Brainerd where he has a lot of friends and family, Vierzba said.
The Vierzbas have two grown daughters, Jill and Kay, and three grandchildren, ranging in age from 11 to three months.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]