Long-time Normal Public Works director retires;
Town of Normal makes organizational changes
Wayne Aldrich, director of Public Works for the Town of Normal, announced his retirement following more than two decades of storied service. As a result, the Town of Normal named Ryan Otto director of Engineering & Public Works and Jason Comfort operations manager of Public Works.
Aldrich on change and challenge
Aldrich’s last official day is Aug. 2. Since joining the Town of Normal as city engineer in 1998, Aldrich has witnessed a lot of change. He is one of few employees who has worked for all three of the Town’s city managers: David Anderson, Mark Peterson and Pamela Reece. He says all three share similar characteristics: “They are all good, demanding leaders, fair and, most importantly, supportive.
“I’ve always wanted to come to work, even during stressful times,” says Aldrich, describing the Town’s work atmosphere. “When you work with good people, you come together to get it done.
“I’ve worked on visible projects, including Veteran’s Parkway, the interstate around Bloomington-Normal and Diamond Star Parkway, now Rivian Motorway,” explains Aldrich. “As city engineer, I worked on Raab Road for Heartland Community College and the rehabilitation of several bridges, including the historic Camelback Bridge.”
In 2002, Aldrich was named development director for Uptown Normal, overseeing the extensive renewal of the central business district in Normal.
“Many were supportive of Uptown Normal. The Council and administration were committed to the vision,” recalls Aldrich. “I was interested in the role because of its challenges. I was unfamiliar with many aspects of development but there was also a lot of engineering to be done. The job provided great opportunities to learn new things, as well as a chance to lean on my experience.”
Aldrich on learning and leadership
Aldrich learned from every phase of the Uptown Normal revitalization, from land acquisition to budgeting to financing to planning and execution. He credits a great leadership team, including staff and consultants who helped make Uptown Normal the reality it is today.
“That team aspect starts at the highest level with Council. They had the political will to initiate and support the project. The city manager (Mark Peterson) provided leadership and support. My role was to pull it all together and get it built,” he adds. “Building the plan was important. We had a great team of planners, engineers, architects, landscape architects and other professionals including Town staff. I think all are happy with how it turned out.”
In 2013, Aldrich was named director of Public Works where he oversaw teams responsible for maintaining the Town’s vehicle fleet, streets and stormwater and sanitary sewers, as well as waste (garbage, landscape, etc.) and recycling removal.
“The Public Works team is top-notch,” brags Aldrich. “They are always willing to help. We have dedicated workers. I’ve gotten compliments from contractors and others who see the team’s work on streets and sewers. Normal crews are known for doing a good job.”
Aldrich ends his career on a high note, having helped secure the funding needed for an Uptown Underpass from agencies with which he’s cultivated strong relationships throughout his career. The Normal Town Council voted July 19 to accept federal and state grant funding that will finance 93 percent of the cost of the Uptown Underpass project.
“People know if it’s happening in Normal, it will get done,” states Aldrich. “I can’t take sole responsibility; (the funding) happened from a mix of relationships … mine, leadership’s, the Council’s, our consultant’s …they are all key. The relationships nurtured with delegates and agencies are important.”
In addition to cultivating strong relationshjps, Aldrich encourages people, especially young professionals, to be passionate.
“I’m passionate about what I do, and I am motivated to make things happen. I try to be honest and timely in my communications which, I hope, is appreciated by the public. I care about what I do and am passionate about my profession.
“I was raised to be kind and respect others. I’ve always wanted to help. That’s an important message,” adds Aldrich. “Some people think the opposite. We often hear negativity and unhappiness from the public. It’s unfortunate. In my experience, public servants are here to help, and that’s especially true at the Town of Normal.”
Prior to joining the Town of Normal, Aldrich worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) where he worked on several key roadway developments, including the construction of Interstate 39.
Aldrich earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is a registered professional engineer in Illinois and a 1999 graduate of Leadership McLean County. In retirement, Aldrich hopes to travel, relax, reconnect with old friends, garden more often and take advantage of his pilot’s license.
Sidebar: Comfort and Otto assume expanded roles
The Engineering and Public Works departments combine under Otto’s leadership. He will continue as lead engineer for many of the Town’s capital improvement projects while also assuming oversight of Public Works. As operations manager, Comfort will assist in supervising the Public Works operational areas, as well as utilize his engineering skills with the Engineering team.
Comfort joined the Town of Normal in 2018 as a project manager in Public Works. In this role, Comfort has primarily been responsible for the Town’s sanitary sewer capital improvement plan. He has also played an integral role in the Town’s efforts for creek bank stabilization and detention basin rehabilitation and various pavement rehabilitation projects.
Prior to joining the Town, Comfort worked as a civil engineer at STV, Inc., an engineering, architectural, planning and construction management firm. At STV, Comfort focused on railroad design and construction, including large-scale projects at O’Hare International Airport, the Kensington Interlocking Commuter Rail Improvements and the Illinois High Speed Rail project from Chicago to St. Louis.
Comfort earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Michigan State University. He is a registered professional engineer in Illinois. He is a member of the American Public Works Association and the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers.
Otto joined the Town of Normal in 2018 as the town engineer and director of Engineering. As the director of Engineering & Public Works, Otto’s teams coordinate all engineering functions for capital projects and are responsible for maintaining the Town’s fleet, streets and stormwater and sanitary sewers, as well as waste and recycling removal.
Engineering functions related to capital projects include planning, budgeting, design and construction, bridge inspection, asset management, public improvement inspection, plan review, development review, right-of-way permitting and traffic control management.
Prior to joining the Town of Normal, Otto served as the assistant city engineer for the City of Bloomington from 2015 to 2018. In this role, he was responsible for planning, budgeting, staffing and execution of capital improvement programs for public infrastructure projects, including streets, sewers, storm water, engineering, water, traffic signal and motor fuel tax capital programs. From 2005 to 2015, he worked as a civil engineer for the City of Bloomington.
Otto earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is a licensed professional engineer in Illinois and holds certifications in Occupational Safety & Health, Illinois Department of Transportation Highway Program Finance and Motor Fuel Tax Accounting and Auditing.
Otto is a member and past membership chair for the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers, Bloomington Chapter and is a member of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology.
Locally, he volunteers as a ministry volunteer for New Castle Bible Church and an advisor to youth math and science competition teams.
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