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Sawitzke Had Significant Impact on Simsbury During 33 Years as Town Engineer

For his retirement, Rich Sawitzke's co-workers bought him a custom bicycle.
For his retirement, Rich Sawitzke's co-workers bought him a custom bicycle.

During 33 years as Simsbury Town Engineer, Rich Sawitzke had a hand in countless projects including The Hartford Campus, converting an old school into town offices, school renovations, open space purchases and much more. 

But despite his title Sawitzke said he always tried to focus on much more than technical details.

“It really, in the end, is all about the people,” Sawitzke said. “Everything we build is in service for the public.”

After more than 33 years in town, Sawitzke recently retired from his full-time position, although he is staying on in a part-time transition role. 

He came to town when Jimmy Carter was president and has worked for seven first selectmen from both major political parties. 

Current First Selectman Mary Glassman said many don’t realize the full impact of his work.

“Rich has made his mark on every building, every road, every major project and every open space agreement,” Glassman said. 

As some examples she cited The Hartford, renovation of Belden School into Town Hall, coordination of the town’s mapping program, town road drainage and bridge projects and landfill closing and monitoring. He’s also worked on projects like renovations at Simsbury Farms, local schools, the performing art center and countless others.

“There is no question that Rich’s expertise and unique ability to deal with any situation will leave a lasting impact on the town of Simsbury,” Glassman said.

Sawitzke grew up in Torrington, graduated from Torrington High School and went on obtain a bachelor’s in Civil Engineering and a Master’s in Engineering and Urban Facilities from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

He later went to work for Lord-Wood, Larson Associations, traveling all over the east coast as a land-use consultant. Later he worked for The Middlesex County Development Council and then the town of Marlborough. 

In the latter town, he was really immersed in the workings of a municipality.

“It was a really good opportunity to see the whole depth and breadth of what goes on in a community,” he said. 

Simsbury may be a larger town but since coming here in Sawitzke has worn many hats, some of which were beyond what most town engineers would generally oversee.

Since he came to town, Sawitzke has always been town engineer but over the years the job has incorporated other duties. He, for example, spent many years in management roles for the Public Works Department and in 2000 became director of public projects. He’s also been intimately involved with open space.

“I was able to shift my energy and got involved in all kinds of exciting opportunities in the community,” he said.

Sawitzke feels the town has struck a great balance in developing business friendly areas such as downtown while preserving green space and agricultural use. All major farms that were here when he started are still operating and largely protected, he said.

“Simsbury managed to preserve it all from the beginning,” he said. “That’s quite an accomplishment.”

Sawitzke said working for a municipality involves long hours but said he’s thankful to all the officials and co-workers he’s partnered with.

“It’s a team effort,” he said. “All the elected officials have been very encouraging.”  

Sawitzke said he especially wanted to thank his Assistant Joan Sikorski, who does much work without the public credit.

“She’s always been a silent partner,” he said. 

With more time on his hands Sawitzke has several projects in the works. Appropriately some involve buildings, including the renovation of a family cottage in Milford and a cabin in Vermont.

He also plans to do more activities such as skiing and hiking and well as some traveling, including visits to National Parks and an Alaskan cruise.

“It’s kind of my passion to stay active,” he said. “I’m kind of in forever young mode.”

Sawitzke said he’d also like to do more volunteer work in his own community, including with the Glastonbury Land Trust and of course spend more time with Pat, kids David and Kristin and other family.

Of course it’s also not quite goodbye. The Board of Selectmen has approved funds to retain Rich on a part-time basis, Glassman said, adding that the hope is to fill the position by January. 

“We are grateful that he is willing to share his expertise and experience during the transition,” Glassman said.

Sawitzke said he’s actually looking forward to keeping a hand in things as well and also mentioned the possibility of some ongoing consulting.  

“That will be a good transition for me too,” he said. “It’s hard to just walk away after all these years.”

 

 

 

dominique avery December 05, 2013 at 07:18 AM
We should not forget that the Bridge of Flowers which is now considered one of the town's major assets would never have happened without Rich. He was there assisting us from the moment I first had the idea to add flowers to the bridge. Many, many town groups were on board from the very beginning to create the flower bridge but it never would have come together without his positive attitude, his help and guidance. Dominique Avery Bridge of Flowers Founder
Simsbury Chamber of Commerce December 05, 2013 at 09:33 AM
The Simsbury Chamber of Commerce has had a long and productive relationship with the Town of Simsbury in large part due to Rich Sawitzke. Rich helped us understand both sides of an issue while bringing a wealth of knowledge and insight in land use history and had some of the best stories ever. When Rich wanders into your office you know it is time to settle back and enjoy his visit. We look forward to having Rich continue as a consultant - he is a Town treasure. Charity Folk, Executive Director, SCOC
janlintner December 05, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Your unique big picture vision coupled with your attention to detail has helped shape Simsbury. You will be missed. Jan Lintner

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