New director at city’s public works
By Angie Landsverk
Justin Berrens brings a varied background to his position as Waupaca’s new public works director.
That background includes environmental remediation, business development and road construction management.
Sept. 1 was his first day on the job at city hall.
“That first day, I walked in. I took a picture of the office and sent it to my wife,” he said as he smiled.
Berrens is already familiar with not only city hall, but with the city’s wells, wastewater treatment plant and streets as well.
During his tenure at K. Singh & Associates Inc., he worked on some city projects, including the reconstruction of the Royalton and Churchill intersection, which was a Wisconsin Department of Transportation project.
That project also included work on sections of both streets.
Royalton was milled and paved from Churchill to just shy of the roundabout, Berrens said.
Churchill Street was milled and paved from Evans Street to Park Street, with the project also including the addition of the fishing pier and turtle fence along the mill pond, he said.
“I was the project manager. The DOT hires consultants. You run the project and report to the DOT,” Berrens said.
For Berrens, who was born and raised in Waupaca, that project was a significant one.
“Obviously, it was back here in town,” he said.
Before becoming Waupaca’s director of public of works, Berrens worked out of the Waupaca office of K. Singh and Associates for about eight years.
Prior to that, he worked at Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton for a short time and then Trega Foods (now Agropur) in Weyauwega for a couple of years.
The 2000 graduate of Waupaca High School graduated from Lawrence University in 2004 with a degree in geology.
“I was trying to get a job in the environmental field. At the time, the job market was not real good,” Berrens said.
He and Kristy, who grew up in West Bloomfield and was working to complete her nursing degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, were married shortly after he graduated from Lawrence University.
The couple lived in Appleton until 2006, when they moved to Waupaca.
“I was still periodically looking for an environmental job,” Berrens said.
In high school, he liked and also did well in science. When he went to Lawrence University, he started as an undecided major with the thought of majoring in chemistry.
After Berrens took some environmental science classes, including one about geology, he decided to major in geology.
“He just seemed to be down to earth, no pun intended,” Berrens said of the geology professor who sparked his interest in that field. “He was knowledgeable, had an open door policy. Being open and being respectful – those are qualities I value now.”
As someone who grew up hunting and fishing, Berrens enjoyed the field aspect of his geology classes, where he learned about such things as soil, rocks and weather.
Not long after returning to Waupaca, he discovered a job opening in K. Singh’s Waupaca office.
“I applied. I got the interview. I got the job, so I was excited and started doing exactly what I went to school for,” Berrens said.
His job had a nice balance between working in the field and working in the office.
As he developed his skills, he began working in the office more and taking on additional duties, including business development.
That is how he met his predecessor, John Edlebeck,
As Berrens worked with Edlebeck, he noticed the same qualities in him that he had admired in his geology professor.
“Over the years, I worked with him,” Berrens said. “I thought it would be a neat job to have some day.”
As Berrens worked with Edlebeck on projects, he learned how the city’s wells worked. Berrens did a capacity study for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
When Edlebeck resigned from the position last spring, Berrens was just as surprised as many other local residents.
The city’s open position lined up with when K. Singh would be completing a large construction project.
Interested in becoming Waupaca’s next public works director, Berrens spent a lot of time preparing his resume and then preparing for both the first and second rounds of interviews.
He said it paid off.
“I’m already here. I know the community,” he said. “To me, this was a career goal. I’m not going anywhere.”
Berrens knows about many of the city’s projects and looks forward to being involved in the future reconstruction of Main Street.
“We have to improve the road. We have to improve the infrastructure. There are businesses there. We have to be sensitive to their needs,” he said.
One of the projects he did when he worked for K. Singh was a similar project in the city of Monona, on a larger scale than what Waupaca’s will be.
For Berrens, the city position was also attractive to him because its stable hours mean he will be more able to plan family and personal time.
He and Kristy have four children: 10-year-old Landen, 5-year-old Lainey, 2-year-old Leif and 9-month-old Porter. Kristy works in the Intensive Care Unit at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca.
“With the kids, there’s always things going on with them,” he said.
Berrens likes hunting, fishing, the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers, describing himself as the “typical Central Wisconsin guy.”
At work, he is delving into projects.
Berrens said much of his job will involve problem solving, creative thinking and bouncing ideas off of others.
He likes the planning that goes into a project and then watching it develop and be completed.
“Those are things I enjoy personally. That is why I do what I do,” Berrens said. “Obviously, this job is going to have plenty of those opportunities.”