Patrolling the streets of Newton every day, Joe Schroeder aims to keep the city safe for residents. While Schroeder is not roaming around wearing the uniform of a police officer, he does provide another service focused at protecting Newton citizens' quality of life.
An employee of the Newton Street Division, Schroeder handles the numerous tasks that come with the territory (i.e. asphalt patching, snow and ice control, curb and gutter repair, storm sewer cleaning, etc.), helping with the upkeep of the numerous city roads and related infrastructure — though he also has a very specific role within the diverse department.
"I'm on the asphalt crew operating most of the heavy equipment — the loaders, the grader, the backhoe, most of the bigger machines," Schroeder said.
Working as an equipment operator with his specific crew, Schroeder noted the exact workload can depend on the maintenance schedule. As part of the preventative pavement maintenance plan, the city is divided into six zones, with one zone being focused on each year. The projects can vary from small stretches (3 feet by 14 feet) to larger ones (8 feet by 300 feet), but on average he helps lay 10 to 30 tons of asphalt a day.
Schroeder previously worked with the Kansas Department of Transportation in a similar role before joining the Newton Street Division 10 years ago. Along with his day-to-day duties, Schroeder will also help manage the maintenance projects if his supervisor is sick or on vacation.
Noting he has always been an "outside guy" and likes to get dirty, Scrhoeder said working on street maintenance seemed like a good fit and he is happy to provide a service from which everyone in Newton can benefit.
"If we weren't here, the streets would deteriorate," Schroeder said. "We take care of the drainage, traffic signal maintenance, street signs, everything. Without us, it'd pretty much be chaos."
Oftentimes the street crew's work gets overlooked, which makes any recognition all the more special, like the reaction the department saw after helping put in the parking lot for the Girl Scout House two years ago.
Jobs like that are normally contracted out by the city, according to Schroeder, but getting the chance to give back to the community in that way was an opportunity he was glad to have — especially after seeing the new lot put to good use.
"That's an enjoyment, the gratitude of doing big jobs and seeing the end results," Schroeder said.
Resurfacing, repaving and general maintenance may be the first tasks you think about when it comes to the work of street crews, but the employees' safety concerns go well beyond that. Schroeder noted that, in the past, members of the street crew have helped injured animals, assisted citizens walking in hazardous (i.e. icy) conditions, responded to animal attacks, changed tires for motorists in need and removed motorists trapped in snow drifts.
For the Newton Street Division, clearly, maintaining a safe overall environment is the ultimate goal.
"We provide as much safety as we can on the roads," Schroeder said. "We always fill the pot holes. We take care of site obstructions and stop signs. We keep the roads in as best shape as we can for the motorists, pedestrians and everybody."