Throughout the year, Howell Engineering and Howell Surveying support dozens of nonprofits through golf outings, sponsorships, events, sporting clay shoots, grand prix races, food drives and the like. There is no shortage of places to support; however, we chose to support the causes that mean the most to us and are in our “backyard.” I am big on supporting the community we live and work in daily. A year and a half ago, Theodore “Ted” Gacomis, a close friend and mentor, passed away suddenly. Ted was my boss before I went out on my own, and as many have heard me say, I literally would not be here today doing what I do without his mentorship, friendship and support. After Ted passed away, I wanted to create a lasting memory in his name, something that would carry on his legacy as a friend, mentor and engineer, and so with help from his wife Ellen, close friends, colleagues and the Chester County Community Foundation we have created the Ted Gacomis Scholarship for Civil Engineering. Please join me in supporting this Scholarship today. Your generous support will allow us to award a scholarship to a graduating senior high school student in Chester County pursuing a degree in civil engineering.
We appreciate your generous support. Thank you for considering.
Ways to Donate to the Scholarship
There are many ways to make a gift to the Ted Gacomis Scholarship for Engineering. Below are some of the most common ways to make a gift.
Check – Payable to: Ted Gacomis Scholarship for Civil Engineering c/o Chester County Community Foundation (The Lincoln Building, 28 West Market Street, West Chester, PA 19382)
Donor Advised Fund – A donor-advised fund is a simple, flexible and tax efficient way to give. It also serves as a meaningful way to strengthen your family’s tradition of philanthropy. Contact your DAF holder and request a grant distribution. Be sure to use the Ted Gacomis Scholarship for Civil Engineering’s EIN # 23-2773822. You can also designate the Scholarship as a beneficiary for your donor-advised fund.
Workplace Giving & Employer Matching – You can give to the Ted Gacomis Scholarship for Civil Engineering through most workplace fundraising drives. Your employer may match your financial contribution, whether you give at work or on your own. Please contact your Human Resources Department for instructions.
Many who are in this business know that one of the really fun parts about it is getting to attend Municipal Meetings at night, after work, and after dinner. There is nothing better than ending a nice long day of work at a Township Meeting that starts at 7:30 pm and goes until 9 pm, 10 pm, or sometimes 11 pm. My personal world record meeting was in East Whiteland Township, where I had the privilege of staying AT the meeting until 2:55 am. To say it was awesome would be an understatement. Now, as if the meetings were not fun enough, you could always count on 1 to 30 very angry residents attending and going into rants about traffic, stormwater, and kids. A vast majority of them moved into the Township in the last year or so, which is totally fine. There is absolutely NO hypocrisy there. They always hate more traffic, and who wants more stormwater with all of the climate change making it rain more, right? But hey, we can always widen roads, add traffic signals, and dig bigger and bigger holes in the ground to fill with stone and stormwater, but we can’t Zone away kids. Yeh, kids… are bad. Kids cause trouble. They speed, and worst of all, they are a burden on the school system. Add a kid to a Township and look out… you will need more police, more schools, your taxes will skyrocket, and you will likely also have more kids, as they tend to attract each other. But I can handle this night in and night out, and I mean NIGHT IN AND NIGHT OUT. Like a broken record over and over while stabbing yourself in the eye with a No. 2 lead pencil. What I can’t seem to handle is the apparent rampant rudeness that many elected and appointed officials seem to have these days. Back in the day, there was always one in every Township. You know, that person that got on the board or commission because they spent their middle school years getting teased and getting wedgies and felt this would be the best way to get revenge. But that ONE person was easy… we just avoided them at all costs. In need of a variance? No thanks, Bob, Fred, or Bill is on the Zoning Hearing Board and will just deny us. Ok, let’s move ahead with a crappy plan RATHER than go in and request relief and make a better plan. Yeh, this happens and it still happens every day. Back then, and I know this may be hard to believe, my strategy was to TRY to kill them with kindness. It worked sometimes, but overall avoidance was the best.
After being in the business for 29 years, I still do a lot of meetings and I still “enjoy” them. That is to say, I enjoy the challenge, I enjoy the fight, I enjoy the problem-solving. But what I DON’T enjoy is the rudeness. And I will tell you, it seems to be spreading faster than Covid. The level of disrespect at meetings from elected and appointed officials is on the rise and almost seems fashionable. I don’t even eat dinner before a meeting now because I know I will have 2 to 3 hours of biting my tongue coming soon. If I had to attribute it to something, I would have to say it is a trifecta of immaturity, insecurity, and lack of education. The immaturity part is easy to spot, which only takes a few seconds and can often be detected through visual observance. The lack of education part requires at least a few sentences but is also easily spotted. The insecurity part is the tough one as it is usually a self-recognized yet carefully hidden trait. Listen carefully, watch closely and it will show itself. Sadly, but importantly this is a skill we MUST instill into new engineers preparing for a career of presenting projects, being abused and being treated like crap. Now, we can’t explain it like this to them, of course, because who would ever want to work in the field then? So… I call it “reading the room .”We, again sadly, must prepare them for this in an attempt to manage their expectations of a meeting. Would you want to walk into a room and unexpectedly get slapped in the face or walk into a room KNOWING you are getting slapped in the face? Obviously, the latter is preferred and can be planned for and preparations made on how that will be handled. And so, while I wish being respectful to each other was something that could be taught or encouraged, the past proves that respect is a dying trait. I see it, my colleagues see it, and many have uttered this exact sentence to me… ”Denny, I don’t know what has happened in this business, but I just cannot handle it much longer.” Well, I can. It frustrates me and has forced me to skip dinner to allow room in my stomach for pieces of my tongue, but it has also made me ramp up my “reading the room” skills. So, next time you see me at a meeting, just know, I am watching, I am listening, I am remembering what you say. I am reading every inflection of every word and making split seconds decisions and seeing what Google says about you all while wearing my pink pants from Tommy Bahama. Don’t be fooled. Can Denny come out and play? Yes… he can!
Over the last 12 months, DL Howell and Howell Kline have been undergoing a significant “rebranding.” After being in business for a little over 23 years, we felt it was time to get a fresh new look and take ourselves into the future. We survived starting up with only two people (including myself), the 10-year-long recession, four different Presidents, and every strain of Covid thrown at us. It has been a long, involved, sometimes frustrating experience where we have learned much about our clients, our business and ourselves. This is by no means an official “unveiling,” but I wanted to share what our new company vehicles now look like. So take a look and remember what you see because the first five clients that snap a picture of one of our trucks on the road or on a job site and email it to me will get a $200 gift certificate to Pietro’s Prime Steakhouse in West Chester. Enjoy and good luck.
This can be a frustrating business on many levels. Unlike a normal job or career, this business tends to fry people quickly and frustrate them and make them want to leave the sector altogether. And in many ways, I don’t blame them. I have sadly had the displeasure of watching this happen to many who have worked with us. Young people come out of college, and after a few weeks of using their new engineering degree they decide… I am OUT OF HERE! Why? Well, I will tell you, but you may want to grab a drink and have a seat. Our plans undergo a massive amount of scrutiny and review. That is right, not just review but scrutiny. Every subdivision or land development project gets reviewed by numerous regulatory agencies. There are Township engineers, PA DOT engineers, Department of Environmental Protection engineers, County Engineers and Commissions. Below are the regulators that will review a typical subdivision in Chester County.
Township Traffic Engineer
Township Sewer Engineer
Township Landscape Architect
Township Lighting Consultant
Township Land Planner
Township Fire Marshall
Township Zoning Officer
County Conservation District
PA DOT Engineers for Highway Occupancy
PA DEP NPDES Engineering Review for Stormwater
PA DEP Sewer Engineering Review for Sewage Disposal
PA DEP Wetland Permitting Review (if needed)
County Planning Commission Review
Township Planning Commission Review
Township Historical Commission Review
Township Solicitor Review
Township Board of Supervisors Review
Water Company Review
And my personal favorite is the neighbor review
Is your jaw on the floor yet? Well, hold on, I will get it there. And sorry, but it is time this story gets told. Now with any luck, ALL of these reviews will conflict with each other in some way or another. Meaning that one agency will want one thing and another will want something else and you will bounce around looking like an idiot trying to address the flurry of comments, review letters and criticisms that come flying your way, all while trying to manage the project budget as well as a client that understandably is losing patience with the entire process and confidence in YOU! I am not saying it is all intentional or purposefully made frustrating, but it IS frustrating and inherently expensive. And no one is ever glad that “I am in town .” Meaning, we don’t want townhouses, or houses, or an office building, or a warehouse, or a school, or a daycare, or a church, or anything. After all, these are terrible, awful and disgusting things. They bring things like children, stormwater, traffic, tax revenue…whoops. You get the point, these are terrible and awful things and they must be resisted at every single turn, and believe me, THEY ARE! Trust me when I tell you it takes a special person to stay positive and work through this process and not want to go home and start drinking and kicking Rover. It chews the average person up and spits them out. Not me; I LIVE FOR IT! I live for the challenge, the fight, the win… and I NEVER, EVER give up, ever! This not only makes it very difficult to hire and retain people, but it also significantly contributes to unnecessary costs, frustration, anxiety and high blood pressure. It simply should not be this way.
About 15 years ago, I started an organization called Chester County Engineers (CCE) in the hopes of making things better for our profession, and I truly believe it has helped. As engineers and planners on both sides of the project, we work much better together to come up with the best plans possible, which, at the end of the day, is what is best for everyone. But the “process” is still very difficult and very expensive and, in my opinion, flawed. We still see engineering firms becoming “weaponized” by their Municipal clients to fight projects. Believe me, we can tell the difference between a professional engineering review of a set of drawings and a review that is fully intended on killing a project. It is wrong, plain, and simple, and it needs to stop. And frankly, when our plans are being reviewed by a non-degreed, non-licensed individual, it is a slap in our professional face! Ordinances and regulations are in place to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and to create healthy development, not crush a property owner’s rights or a real estate developer’s livelihood. And the problem is that we, as engineers, are caught in the crossfire. I know of NO other business where a degreed, licensed professional can be heckled, ridiculed, and treated this way, and it is accepted as normal behavior. Having rocks thrown at you as a professional isn’t fun, but it is less fun when those rocks get caught and launched back twice as hard (one of my favorite pastimes). Those who know me and know me well know that I don’t stand for that kind of BS. I am a nice guy but can turn into a problem-solving, vengeful 8-year-old in the blink of an eye when treated this way and even faster if one of our team members is treated this way and I find out. As I have said many times when you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it. And I do enjoy it, but I don’t enjoy seeing it done to my family here. And so… at 52 years old, I am going to begin my mission to improve this business and improve the lives of those that work in it each and every day. This won’t happen overnight, but the process needs to change. Maybe some changes come through legislative revisions to the process, and maybe some come through the way we conduct ourselves professionally, but one thing is for sure, the problem will not fix itself. More to come!
I was going to try to explain my average day as a Civil Engineer… but I think Neo explains it the best.
One of my pet peeves, and I have about 10,000 of them, is reading a review letter and seeing a review comment that I know damn well was not written by the individual who signed the letter. You see, in my business, more often than not, you get the pleasure of having your plans reviewed by a person who is not only not a licensed engineer but often an individual who does not even have a degree in engineering. We can debate the legality of that forever, but in my mind, it is far from what I would say meets the “standard of care” and simultaneously can be infuriating. And if it isn’t coming from the engineering side, it is coming from meeting attendees who are usually neighbors. This would be fine if it were respectful, constructive, intelligent criticism or concerns, but 95% of the time, it is just a rude, condescending, disrespectful word salad. But such is life, and although complaining about things I cannot change is one of my favorite past times, I have decided to go in a new direction as part of the daily therapy I need from blowing a gasket. Rather than get upset and argue (which I absolutely love to do), I feel it appropriate to give recognition to these comments. After all, everyone deserves their 15 minutes of fame. And so… I give you my new add-on to our weekly newsletter. I have called it….4RC, which stands for the Ridiculous Regulator/Resident Review Comment of the week. Over the course of 23 years of being in business, we have collected quite the list of flat-out awesome comments we get to hear, but so few get to enjoy.
While most of you are home in the evenings watching Jeopardy, relaxing, enjoying your family or pets, we engineers are out presenting our plans to Townships. Rarely are we met with open arms and a big sloppy kiss. Usually, we are greeted with disgust, skepticism, and a general disdain for our existence from neighbors, etc. Ironically, this doesn’t bring me down. It actually energizes me as I view this as a life-size game that I am playing that I am addicted to winning for my clients. Did I say addicted to winning? Yes, I did. Arguing with me is kind of like wrestling with a pig; you both get dirty, but the pig actually enjoys it. And yes, in that example, I am the pig. It is weird, but I actually enjoy knowing I am bringing more traffic, stormwater and school-age children to your neighborhood, and I/we will never give up. We are engineers, we solve problems! This is why I have a line below my email signature that says… I don’t stop when I am tired, I stop when I am done! Honestly, if you cannot find humor in this business and learn to embrace the relentless barrage to obstruct you then you will go crazy. I am beyond ½ way there, trust me. So… keep an eye out for the weekly comment at the bottom of our newsletter. They are all real comments from real people. We, of course, will keep them anonymous, but that should not detract from the fun. Enjoy….
4RC – “Townhouse buyers are all yoga pants wearing Karens…….”
In 1984 I started working with my brother-in-law and his brothers framing houses. This was before the days of air gun nailers and petty bone lifts, so there was a lot of carrying wood and swinging a hammer. I learned that I had better be tough or I would get run off the crew, so hot, cold, rain, or snow, it didn’t matter… we worked and worked hard. My brother-in-law Dave Keehn and his oldest brother Brian taught me the value of a hard day’s work and to never give up, like ever. If you smashed your finger with a hammer, you better not show that it hurt and quickly wrap it in black electrical tape when no one was looking and get back to work.
I worked with them for four years, and when I was 18 I met the job superintendent who told me he was a civil engineer. AHA I thought, now this is what I want to do. I want to stay in construction, but I would like to stay clean, not carry wood, lay down my hammer and get to tell my old co-workers what to do! So, after a short attempt to flirt with one of the painters (female) on the job (that was unsuccessful, by the way), I learned that Drexel University was a great place to learn civil engineering. Off I went, determined to graduate and come back and start barking orders. Little did I know… that was not engineering! Drexel was tough, very tough, but I kept my head down and refused to give up, even after getting a few single-digit grades on exams.
After my freshman year, I went through the Yellow Pages (no internet then!) and started calling civil engineering firms asking and pleading for a job. Where did I land? Edward B. Walsh and Associates, Inc in Exton, PA. There I met the man that set everything in motion for me, and at the time, I had no idea how much of an influence he would have. Theodore “Ted” Gacomis, PE, was who I worked with for all 3 of my Drexel Co-ops and then full time after I graduated. Ted had a saying pinned to his bulletin board: “Tell me I forget, Show me and I remember, Involve me and I understand.” Well, he involved me in everything.
Yeah, I made my share of blueprints. I had to as that was the “carrying wood” part of civil engineering. But I was eager to learn, and Ted was eager to teach. Every day was a new lesson in grading, stormwater, erosion control, etc. He tirelessly, and I do mean tirelessly, spent time teaching me, critiquing my work and helping me grow as an engineer. I would be in Ted’s office asking questions every hour of every day for years. I knew he was busy and often hesitated even going to ask him a question, but he was always open for a lesson. He would be at his drafting table, I would knock and he would say, “what is it now, junior” and then he’d take off his glasses and say “come in, let’s see what you’ve got,” and we would be off into an engineering lesson.
I had no idea at the time, but Ted had me on the fast track, under his wing so to speak. We can never see what is right in front of us it seems, and at the time, I had no idea how lucky I was. Ted was my boss and he answered my questions… big deal, right? Wrong… HUGE DEAL… for if it were not for Ted, I would not be sitting here writing my newsletter for DL HOWELL, a company I could have only started and built with the knowledge and work ethic he gave me. And even more remarkable… Ted made work a fun place. He was a huge practical joker and loved to play pranks. So, in between his engineering lessons, he was playing jokes and laughing and, unbeknownst to me, teaching me how to work and have fun doing it. If you can go to work, do a good job and have fun, you have won, plain and simple. No one can beat you. I loved going to work, what I did, and the people I worked with. It was that way then and is that way now.
Ted passed away last July, and I have spent the last several months reflecting on our days working together, playing jokes (most of which I shouldn’t put into print), and all that he taught me. Ted was not just an incredible engineer, but a great friend and mentor, and he is missed. A few of us have started to assemble a Scholarship in Ted’s name to make sure all he gave to us and our profession is not forgotten and to hopefully inspire others to INVOLVE so that many can UNDERSTAND.
The 100-year storm sounds like a storm you may only need to worry about once in a lifetime unless you are really “lucky” and get to see it twice. Lately, it seems we get to witness one nearly every year or so with its little brothers, the 25 yr and 50 yr storms popping up every summer. And with each big flooding event comes the phone calls about neighbors flooding out neighbors because someone put in a pool or added a shed. Our local politicians slide into their all too comfortable “reactive” (rarely proactive) roles and start trying to do something “so this never happens again.” Truly my all-time favorite statement to hear them say is, “we are going to come together in a bipartisan way to enact legislation to ensure this never happens again.” #hugeyawn And when they follow that up saying they are going to “raise awareness” to an issue we all deal with on a daily basis I get all tingly. Sprinkled, however, into the phone calls about flooding are calls ridiculing us engineers on why all of our fancy-dancy and expensive stormwater designs aren’t “working”. This is easily taken in stride if you understand stormwater runoff and how things are modeled. In short, other than the toddler of storm events, the two-year storm, the other storms have ZERO volume reduction occurring when they pass through the previously aforementioned fancy-dancy and expensive stormwater management facilities. You heard that right; VOLUME IS NOT CONTROLLED!
Therefore, you are right. If your neighbor added a pool or a shed or a 100 lot subdivision upstream of you, then you, in fact, are seeing MORE runoff every time it rains. Period end of story. More impervious equals more volume of runoff. The more it rains, the more water there is to runoff. Now, theoretically, the RATE of runoff is less, but that is for another newsletter one day. I think we can all agree that when you are part of the misfortunate that live/work at the bottom of a large watershed, that volume of runoff becomes the main concern. There is just nowhere for the water to go except up, and hence flooding occurs. None of this should really be news to any of us. However, one thing Tropical Depression Ida has done is turned up the candle power on the spotlight shining on these rainfall amounts. Engineers model for the 24-hour storm event, meaning we calculate runoff assuming a certain number of inches of rain falls during a 24 hour period. But the problem is we are getting these rainfall amounts over a much shorter time period, and when you get more rain in a shorter time period, that is bad. For example…7.2 inches of rain in a 24 hour period has a return frequency of 100 years; however, 7.2 inches of rain in a 6 hour period has a return frequency of 1,000 years!! The West Branch of the Brandywine Creek received just that during Ida and flooded large sections of Coatesville. The question now is….how will our local governments react to “make sure this never happens again”? Will the 100-year storm be redefined? Will we be required to design for the 1,000-year storm? That all remains to be seen but rest assured when it changes, D.L. Howell will be ready to design a system to “make sure this never happens again!!!”
It has been a long year!!!!! I took on “newsletter duty” last March and April during Covid while we all tried to navigate our way through the potential end of the world and humanity as we know it. This earned me a long reprieve from it being my turn to write one, but alas, here I am again on a Friday morning scouring my smaller than average brain on what to write. I find it strange that I am writing about how “last year” was as if this were New Year’s Eve or the end of a fiscal year, but it isn’t. It seems now everyone measures their “year” from when Covid began, as if March 5th, or whatever date it was, is when our year ended, and a new one began. So, let’s look at “last year” and see if we can use it as an indicator as to where our business is going. Warning, take none of this as gospel as I am usually wrong in all of my predictions of what I think is coming.
We have been busy, as have many in the construction industry. Clearly housing is off the charts, with houses being on the market just a few days and literally receiving dozens of offers, all well above ask. Ultra high demand coupled with ultra low-interest rates has proven to be enough horsepower to overcome skyrocketing lumber and drywall prices as well as nearly every other raw material used in construction. Heck, even the astronomical cost of civil engineering isn’t a drag on this housing market, or so some of my clients tell me. From my perspective, the suburbs are booming, and the cities are struggling. With the city nightlife shut down for the most part, crime on a steady upswing and it being difficult to social distance, we have seen a steady migration out of the urban areas to the suburbs. This may not make all of the Municipalities happy, but the phone ringing in our office is a welcome sound. And so, prediction #1, I feel housing will remain strong for at least several years while this demand continues to be met but may slow as interest rates and gas prices begin their slow creep upward. Someone has to start paying back all of this stimulus money and if you think it won’t be you, think again. Repayment comes in many forms, my friends. However, it is important to keep in mind that the home is no longer just the home; it is also the office, the school, the gym and the vacation spot (as we have engineered more swimming pools this year than we have in the last 20 years combined). And households have shifted those dollars spent on many of those things and put them in the “new house” bucket. This is a good thing….for us.
The office market… where do I begin. Our firm has all been in the office since May 1, when our Governor deemed us “essential”. Thanks Tom. However, we seem to be part of a very small club. Nearly every Zoom meeting I do, and I hate Zoom, has the other people in their kitchen or 4th bedroom office. Most of the people I deal with are still at home. I hope that changes soon, but rarely do I not have someone in a meeting lean forward, look over both their shoulders and whisper, “Denny, I get more work done at home than I do in the office”. Just know that while I would never do it, in my mind, I am leaning forward and slapping you and saying, “ Bull$*#T you are!!!”. So what will become of all of this office space? I don’t think anyone knows, but I hope that many eventually go back or space gets leased by businesses moving out of the urban areas. Either way, I would not be building an office anytime soon and phone calls to design a new office building are few and far between, if at all. So, prediction #2, the office market may be in for a change. Maybe new HVAC systems or “healthy” work areas will be the new norm, but it is anyone’s guess. My gut says people need to be in an office to hire new employees and people from college but who knows. Somehow Drexel and University of Delaware get $80,000 of my co-signed student loan dollars a year to show my kids videos online while they sit in a cinder block cell with a mask on, so maybe the same will hold true for business in the future.
The retail market… oh boy. I mean, when you can order whatever you want and have it that day or the next day at the most competitive price, what is the point in driving somewhere to buy something unless you need to try it on? I will let the pros figure this one out. What will be interesting is how PA Municipalities will react to this as it pertains to their retail and commercial zoning. Prediction # 3, we will continue to see a huge effort into large-scale Amazon and Target type facilities and significant infrastructure dollars will be spent to facilitate moving all of this merchandise around and into our hands. Of course, this brings jobs, and those people need a place to live so… refer two paragraphs up. To the rest of my retail buddies… I would hold on for some bumps as the world changes.
Lastly, let’s look at the flex/warehouse market. I see this being good for a long time coming. Many businesses that require office AND warehouse simply need to be physically at work. You can’t take tractor trailer deliveries, move merchandise and assemble things on your laptop in your underwear at the kitchen table. With all of the housing from above, the trades, landscapers, pool installers etc need a place to work and to service and take care of all of these new homes. Let’s face it, more and more new homeowners can’t fix a leaky faucet or mow their own lawn. Prediction # 4… I like flex!
So how has the last year been, STRICTLY from a business perspective? My answer would be different but good. Covid has taught us all some very tough lessons, but those lessons are only valuable if we learn from them. And as we learn from them and continue to pivot to meet the changes in demand, it certainly is pointing to a much brighter future than what many of us thought we were looking at this time “last year.” Many know I eat breakfast nearly every day at Market Street Grill in West Chester, and this morning, for the first time in a year, I had to lean across the table to hear what my friends were saying because of the noise of everyone talking in the restaurant. What a wonderful inconvenience to have! Stay safe and healthy, and see you “next year” in March 2022.
I am not!!!!! I fully understand that one-half of the people who read this will disagree with me, which is fine. It is not my intention to change anyone’s mind here. That is the beauty of America; we get to disagree and “coexist” at the same time. I have many friends and colleagues who have said this virtual thing is great, and they will likely never go back to their offices ever again. I also have my friends and colleagues (mostly colleagues as I don’t have many friends) that say they have had it with this virtual world. This is the side I fall on now. Yes, I embraced the whole Zoom thing back in March and April. We all marveled at how easy it was to “screen share” and were all happy that work didn’t completely shut down. But we simply cannot do this forever. No, I am not looking to put anyone at risk, and yes, I value human life, but I also value meeting with someone to discuss a multi-million dollar project. Everyone in our business knows that absolutely NOTHING is cut and dry, and no two projects are alike. Ordinances change every day, and many are clear as mud at best. The value in being able to meet face to face or even masked face to masked face is huge. Collaboration is essential to not only sound engineering but also solving problems and meeting our clients’ goals, not to mention the learning factor of our younger engineers. Those that know me know I have long been disappointed in the preparedness of many of our engineering graduates recently, and I lay that blame squarely at the foot of Universities that seem (in my opinion) to place making college fun and making money over education. Again…my 0.02 is that virtual learning will only make this worse. And before you get all “Denny you don’t care about human life” take a chill pill. I get it we need to social distance and stay apart, but to stand by and say that this “new normal” is fine is ridiculous. We had a project this week get sideways (and luckily back on track now) because there was no ability to conduct a face to face meeting so instead we tried to accurately convey our questions and concerns via email and telephone which takes much longer and inevitably results in something being lost in translation. And that is what happened. A face to face meeting would have most certainly avoided that situation.
DL HOWELL and HOWELL KLINE have been opened and back in our offices for a few months now, and yes, we take all possible precautions. Everyone’s temperature is checked before they enter, we limit in-person meetings, we wear masks when not at our desks, our clients wear masks and have their temperature checked and anyone who feels sick is kept out of the office. We regularly wipe down every surface that is touched but we have found a way to be safe and be back together again, providing the very best engineering and surveying we can. It is important to us that we are here as one team not only for our clients but also for each other. As long as we continue to stay safe and healthy this will remain our philosophy. Our clients deserve the absolute best we can provide, and that is what we are committed to doing. Have a safe and healthy remainder of the Summer.
Sound! Add it to the list of deplorables!!!! No, not THAT list of deplorables, the list of deplorables every municipality and neighbor has tucked deep away that they only bring up once I come into town and propose ANYTHING! In case you are not aware of that list, let me bring you up to speed. In no particular order, the list is stormwater, traffic and kids! Stormwater is awful, everything floods out everywhere EVERY and I mean EVERY time it rains. Oh how I enjoy the absolutes. Wish I had a nickel for each time I heard “I don’t care if you are an engineer or not, every time it rains I have a river in my yard!!! Are you going to fix that?“ Try now to picture my inability to hide the, you are a moron, look on my face while I smile and say NO! My second favorite is traffic. Unfortunately, I only get to be a spectator to this sport. But I do love watching my traffic engineer colleagues return volley after volley about how EVERY house in the new community will have ten family members that will all be of driving age, all have cars and all LEAVE and RETURN at the exact same time while the entire community hosts Super Bowl parties and other homes in the community catch on fire and need ambulances. And if not houses, ANY building of any kind will have tractor-trailer drivers coming and going 24 hours a day with back up beepers, pull forward beepers, door opening beepers, etc. Truly, I wish I was making even one part of this up. And lastly, my favorite deplorable…. KIDS! I am amazed at the pure disdain approach taken when someone calculates that EACH house will have ten school-age children that will crush the school system and require the construction of new elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, driving school taxes through the roof and thereby destroying the community.
Fortunately, in a time when we have had the phrase “we need to listen to and follow the science” drilled into our heads, we as engineers have the luxury of following OUR science. Things like stormwater management calculations and traffic studies, as well as fiscal impact studies, have made very easy work of dismissing the above ridiculous arguments that I hear over and over and over again. But now… a new deplorable has emerged onto the scene… SOUND! Most every municipality in the area has had sound ordinances in place for a long time, but it seems recently “sound” is taking a front and center seat to defeat things like bed and breakfasts, gathering venues, etc. Most civilian’s interpretation of sound ordinances is that they have the right to enjoy complete and utter silence while being outside, and ANYTHING you propose will violate their delicate quiet time and thus is not permitted. Of course, their mowing, weed whacking, chain saws, pool equipment, kids running around playing and AC units make no sound whatsoever. Well, as I said above, I have learned over the last seven weeks that we “must follow and listen to the science.” So…. DL HOWELL has now invested in a Sound Level Meter that can measure everything from the slightest whisper to a heavy metal concert. This meter can be constantly calibrated and used to measure sound up close or at a distance. So… for your next project that needs sound measured… keep DL HOWELL in mind. We would love to take measurements of sound at different places along your project boundary and see just how loud or quiet things really are and if the neighbor who HAS an issue may actually BE the issue. Can you hear me now?
I saw the light at the end of the tunnel from Day 1 of this statewide quarantine. This is one of my (many) flaws. I always think I can see things coming. What I couldn’t see was that the light kept getting farther and farther away, and the more I thought I saw, the more I realized what I did not see. I said… ”don’t worry, this will only be a week.” Then I said, “don’t worry, one more week and we will be back to work.” Now I am saying… ”one more month and we hope to start getting back to normal.” What I realize now is what I was seeing was my foolish optimism getting the very best of me and NOT a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t even think I knew what kind of tunnel I was in to be honest. But, as always, when we truly have something to look back on, it improves our ability to see things looking forward. After all, that is what our life experiences are all about. A month ago, my look back was… we have never quarantined or been told to close before, so this simply can’t happen. Well, it happened. We adjusted, like most everyone did, whether we wanted to or not. Now, almost four weeks later, our look back is much different, and my look forward is different as well. Don’t worry, I am not going to get all foo foo and say I can see a light at the end of the tunnel because we are so resilient or because a dozen actors have all told us that “ we shouldn’t worry, we are all in this together” from their mansions. I frankly cannot stand that crap. But what I do want to say, which is remarkable and a harbinger of what is coming, is that this last month has been a very busy one, all things considered. I have had many colleagues, regulators, engineers and site contractors call me and say, in kind of a nervous, afraid to ask tone, how are things going Denny? Like they were afraid I would say that things have turned off or work has stopped etc. Quite the contrary, actually. Our (forwarded) phones have rung pretty steadily throughout the last four weeks. We have sent out many proposals and many have come back signed and ready. We have spoken to many clients, had many conference calls and more ZOOM meetings than I care to share. Even more incredible, clients are paying in this economic climate. What an amazing testament to the great clients that we have and how fortunate we are that they support us. And that is the light I can see. The work, the activity, things happening and planning continuing. No, life is not really normal at the moment and watching the morons on the news can make anyone go jump off a bridge, but it will be back. It is on its way back and we are ready for it, in more ways than one.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 04.01.20. We have entered into another time and dimension. SO FAR many things look the same, but I am slowly realizing that they are not… I just cannot explain it. A month ago we were all driving around, eating out, shopping… free. But now… we are not… we CANNOT! In this, other world, the sun still comes up in the east and the birds still sing in the morning but the people… they just are not here and the ones that are, are different. The few people I do see, as I have been told, have been deemed to be essential. I am not clear on what that actually means, but I initially assumed it was people that were important to sustain life or very important for life. But then, as I was making my way through this new world, I observed humans entering a beer distributor. Could it be that beer is essential? Could stale beef jerky in a jar be life sustaining? But then, why would beer be essential, but the wine and liquor store down the street be boarded up? Is wine NOT essential? It makes no sense. I had to dig deeper. As I walked around, I did notice that all educational institutions were closed with no life anywhere. Trying to learn (no pun intended) more, I walked all around looking for anyone who could shed more light on this. I finally found a kind man on an abandoned college campus, wearing a strange mask. He did not tell me his name, but I will call him N95. He explained to me that a virus exists in this new world, and people are “social distancing” to keep from spreading this virus. He said schools and colleges were closed, but they were teaching kids using the internet and computers. He said all of the buildings were empty, turned off and didn’t require any heating or air conditioning or electric, water, gas, or janitorial maintenance. He said the student dorms were the same… empty! I said, wow, that is terrible, but that must mean a HUGE savings to the university. I bet the parents of those students were happy to get reimbursed their money for this during this difficult time. “NOPE” he said… the schools just kept tuition the same! Never gave back a penny… WOW! I continued walking around and arrived down by a large sports stadium. I spoke to a security guard there, who ironically had the same name, N95, and I asked when the next game was scheduled. He informed me all games were canceled indefinitely! WHAT? I was shocked! I told him, in my old world, I would buy tickets for the entire season, upfront, the year before. It would cost me thousands of dollars. We called people who did this… Season Ticket Holders! He said, yes, we have the same thing now! WOW, again, I guess those season ticket holders will at least be able to use that money they spent a year ago now that the season is canceled I said. “NOPE” he said….the sports team is keeping it! Captain emphasizes… THIS WORLD SUCKS. I just had to get to the bottom of this new world. I figure if a virus is causing this, the answers will be provided by a medical professional. It was a long walk to the hospital, but with the streets and sidewalks empty, I decided to take a stroll. The hospital was chaotic, with doctors and nurses rushing to take care of patients. I heard one yell out; “We have no more rooms or beds! We need to build a new hospital!” I said, “Hey, there are a bunch of empty college dorm rooms right down the street. Each room has two beds in it!” No one even looked at me. Finally, I grabbed one of the doctors and said “Can you please tell me what is going on?” “We have a terrible virus pandemic that is flu-like” he said. “We have over 217,000 cases in the country and over 5,150 have died! I cannot talk… the entire country is shut down.” That was all I had to hear… I got out of there immediately. I know now that this is not the world I want to live in. If could go back in time, I would. Back to a simpler time, like in 2009 when the Swine flu infected 60.8 million Americans and killed over 18,000 and we had plenty of hospitals and no one cared. I wonder… how did this happen?
Clearly the Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of people in not only our country but also the entire world. It changed the lives of everyone in America almost immediately and unfortunately will likely take the lives of hundreds of thousands before it is done. While we have all TRIED to adjust to life with Corona, it certainly has not been easy and proves to likely become more difficult. Not that endless videos from celebrities in their mansions and hot tubs telling us how we all need to stay home hasn’t helped. I, for one, can’t get enough of them telling us what to do and stay calm or the 24-hour death clock the news has been fascinated with showing us. But after all this settles…and it will… How will we be different? Will we be better? I believe so, and here are some reasons why…
Handshaking will be gone. I have never liked handshaking, but I do it, why, because everyone does. But every time a hand is extended out towards me I can’t help but think….did they just go to the bathroom, pick their nose, etc? Or… I just sat in a meeting and watched this person pick their nose and now at the end of the meeting they want to shake hands. No worries about that anymore.
Unnecessary Meetings – There are many reasons to get together for a meeting, but many of us would agree that there are many more reasons not to meet. Most of what we really need to accomplish can easily be done with a phone call or a virtual meeting. This will save time, save gas and cut down on traffic. I can’t tell you how many days I spend running from one meeting to another and afterward feel as though I really didn’t accomplish much of anything. It will be good to find ways to accomplish work without driving an extra 300 miles a week. To bring back an old slogan – Is this trip really necessary?
We will now be much more careful to NOT come in to the office sick. This is a very good thing. Too often people don’t want to “burn” a sick day and they come in and get us all sick. This is a personal pet peeve. I for one would rather pay you to be home sick or work from home sick than you come IN to the office sick.
Readiness – It is a shame to say it, but we will be much more prepared for the future. This pandemic not only has shined a light on our medical preparedness but also our business preparedness. We have been lucky as we have been preparing for this day for one reason or another (terror attack, recession, etc) for many years, but many businesses and government agencies have not. Shutting down for many has literally meant SHUTTING DOWN. For some business this cannot be avoided, but for others, it has been important, actually critical to be able to transition your workforce to home.
Buffets will be gone – They have a “sneeze shield”. Need I say more? This is good… humans should not feed on an assembly line.
Lastly… the look back on this pandemic will be difficult. Many will feel we didn’t do enough and many will feel that we went too far and over reacted. No one will know for sure what the right answer was, but what we will know is that things will be different in our lives.
A month ago if you asked me how things were going, I would likely have said “same old same old”. Funny how you can miss the same old same old… but we are learning that we very easily can.
On Monday of this week, I received some dreaded news!!! It was my turn to write the Newsletter….UGH, it always seems to come along during the busiest week when everything is crazy, and a million things are going on. Usually, I have an idea of what I am going to write about, which always seems to be me complaining about college graduates or some new regulation that is raising my blood pressure. This week I was at a loss. I know everyone needs a break from my complaining or drone videos of our newest project, so I decided to take a step back. With Christmas coming (or whatever holiday you chose to celebrate this time of year), it is always a good time to step back and reflect. This past May, we celebrated our 20th year in business, and I want to take a moment and reflect on all that I am truly thankful for these past 20+ years. For those that don’t know, I grew up in East Fallowfield outside of Coatesville. I graduated High School in 1988, and after my first year at Drexel, I went into the Yellow Pages and called Hunt Engineering in Malvern and was hired for the Summer as a surveyor. While I enjoyed working there, unfortunately for them, I delivered plans to a firm in Exton called Edward B. Walsh and Associates, Inc. and knew right away I wanted to work there. After significant harassing of Barry Walsh, I convinced him to hire me for Christmas break and luckily was brought back for all of my Drexel Co-ops and ultimately full time! And so, first and foremost, I am very thankful for Barry Walsh, PE, and especially Ted Gacomis, PE, for giving me my first opportunity in this business and for the countless hours of teaching I received from Ted. Every single time I walked into Ted’s office, no matter how busy he was, he stopped what he was doing, sat back, let me lay my plan on his desk and answered my questions, and taught me more and more about engineering, what a great environment to work and learn in! And if that wasn’t enough, I got to work on projects for and alongside Jack Loew, Eli Kahn, Tim Townes, and Craig Hough. I felt like I was a celebrity. Being in my early 20’s and learning from these guys was so great. Now I was learning not only civil engineering but also about site layout, construction costs, value engineering as well as architecture. My first client to have on my own to work with was John Drury, who became my father in law and one of my biggest supporters. Working with him and John E. Good, Esq on projects all over West Chester, I now found myself handling Township meetings myself and learning from one of the smoothest and most savvy attorneys I have ever known, not to mention 2 of the most fun people I have ever worked with. The John and John show as I liked to refer to them taught me so much, and looking back, I was still just a kid. So thankful for the faith they had in me at 24 years old. These eight people shaped a huge part of my early career, and no question started me down a path that led to having my own firm today. The year was 1995 (out of college for two years), and along comes one of my longest and best clients of all time Tom Bentley. When I left engineering to work for Bentley Homes, my experience and learning went into high gear! Tom gave me an amazing opportunity to learn and grow, and I was only 25 years old and learning residential real estate development. Few can say they have been given such amazing opportunities to learn in this business, and for all of this, I am so grateful. Alright, lets fast forward to 1999 when DL Howell was started. There are hundreds of people that I am thankful for getting us through these last 20 years, but I want to especially recognize several in particular.
First, our clients:
Thank you,Tom Bentley, and all of your crew for placing trust in me for so long and teaching so much about residential community design. Thank you to Eli Kahn for so many years of so many creative, cutting edge projects that you entrusted with us and being a friend for all of these years. Thank you to all of NV Homes and for giving us the opportunity to be a part of such large impactful communities in Chester County. Thank you to John Lynch for keeping us on our toes and teaching us that we CAN find another high gear when needed. Thank you to Mark Bedwell and the Bedwell Companies for always thinking of us and giving us opportunities.
Thank you to all of our clients who so loyally work with us and entrust us with your projects.
Thank you to all of the site contractors who get to implement and interpret our plans, including Lyons and Hohl, Brubacher, Schlouch, Kreider, and B and J Excavating. You all make us look good, and we appreciate not only working together but also you catching our mistakes before pipe goes in the ground or asphalt goes down!!
Thank you to Ed Theurkauf for reading every single newsletter we send out AND commenting on it.
And lastly, thank you to the entire team at DL HOWELL and HOWELL KLINE…. We are only as strong as our team!!!
I think we unintentionally take for granted all of the great people we work with every day. In many ways, they are like family and it sure seems like we spend more time with them then we do our real families, especially when we are out until 11 pm at a Planning Commission Meeting. I often stop and look around at all of the holiday parties this time of year to take in all of these great people and am glad I have this chance to thank as many as I can remember at 11:27 pm on a Thursday night. Have a great Holiday and New Year and see you in 2020.
Rain rain go away! With each storm that hits Chester County our phones ring more and more. Drainage problem after drainage problem seems to be appearing out of nowhere. Homeowner’s yards with rivers in them, driveway stream crossings washing out, videos of basins filling up with water. Could it be possible that these are all drainage “problems”? Of course not! These drainage “problems” are the direct result of record rainfalls for the last 2 years. Currently, Chester County is approximately 75% ABOVE it’s average rainfall for the year. That is a massive amount!. And it isn’t just the rain. The ground is so saturated that infiltration has been so diminished that nearly all of the rainfall that comes out of the sky is hitting the ground and running off. And yet, everyone wants to point the blame at their neighbor, PENN DOT, their Township etc. rather than blaming the true culprit…..Mother Nature. That is right, Mother Nature is currently giving us a pretty good ass whipping and she shows no signs of letting up. So….what can be done you ask? Well, a few things actually. First and foremost is that one must recognize that about 75% of these “problems” are not problems at all. For example, a river of water flowing through your yard on it’s way to a stormwater facility is not a problem. With a lot of rain, you have to expect a lot of runoff. If your house is not being flooded out or your yard isn’t being eroded than you don’t have a problem. If you don’t care to see water running through your yard when it rains then buy a house on top of a hill. Secondly, with these extreme rainfall amounts one also must consider that older communities were not designed to handle such events. We classify storms by intensity and frequency of occurrence. For example, a 2 year storm is a storm with such intensity that it is expected to occur once every 2 years and a 100 year event is a storm with such extreme intensity that it is expected to only occur once every 100 years or so. The problem is, Mother Nature is sending us rain events of 2, 5, 10 and even 25 year frequencies every few WEEKS! Many older communities were simply not designed to convey stormwater for these large events and further compounding this problem is severe lack of maintenance of these pipe systems. Many are clogged, collapsed and in disrepair. So….how can THAT be fixed? Short answer, not easily. It requires money, lots of money. A few municipalities have now formed Stormwater Authorities and are collecting a fee (not a tax!!) from property owners based upon their area of impervious coverage. Will this new “fee” fix these problems? That remains to be seen and I for one am skeptical, sorry. So…my best advice, unless you want to spend 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of your own dollars, is to grin and bear it and keep telling yourself….this is noooooo problem!