After being listed for years on the City’s sustainability plan, the transformation of City Hall’s parking lots into solar generating centers began this past summer. Then, in August, construction of a new Animal Care Center was finally OK’d to go to bid — four years after the design contract had been approved. And in November, a pedestrian-and-bicycle overpass at the 5 Freeway — to link the north and south legs of the Jeffrey Open Space Trail — was given the green light to go to bid, also four years after the design had been approved.
What do these long-delayed projects have in common? They are all now in the hands of the City’s new Project Delivery and Sustainability Department, whose sole job is to “get ‘er done.”
Irvine is the first city in Orange County to put construction project management in one focused department that reports to the City Manager. The new department has 49 full-time positions; 75% of them are project managers transferred from other departments or newly hired, says Sean Crumby, who was brought on in April to head the new unit.
Joel Belding, a longtime City employee who has had a lead role in the Great Park development, is the new department’s Deputy Director.
Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi said the department is a new way of dealing with an old problem: Management of major capital projects is not usually the top priority of department heads. That is understandable since department heads have many other responsibilities and generally don’t have a particular expertise in capital project delivery. According to Chi, that dynamic is further affected by Irvine’s unique history.
Chi said: “Every community has different muscles that develop over time. Irvine hasn’t developed its project management muscles because much of the City was established by private companies that built infrastructure as part of their developments and then turned it over to the City.”
The new Project Delivery and Sustainability Department, Chi said, “is moving projects forward at a rate the City is not accustomed to.” Belding cited the work now underway on the Great Park as an example. Demolition of some 80 old above-ground structures is complete, he said, and crews are quickly moving on to demolish and remove the old underground infrastructure.
“Next year we’ll be grading 200 acres, carving out the lakes and hills in the Great Park framework,” Belding said. Referring to the five-year Phase 1 of the City’s Great Park plan, he noted, “We’re going to have continuous construction activity until 2026 or 2027.”
Other projects that will be getting the department’s attention in the coming months include renovating the City Yard with new facilities and 40 EV charging stations for the City’s motor fleet. That project will go to bid in December, Belding said. Then there are projects to construct a fourth pool at the Woollett Aquatics Center; a new City gym at Bill Barber Park; and long-discussed development of pickleball courts in the City.
City Manager Chi also noted that Irvine, now more than 50 years old, will need a longer term program to redo its streets and renovate its community centers. “We’ve always had terrific people involved in building and maintaining the City,” Chi said. “The additional focus on delivery has everybody more comfortable.”
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