There’s a story Greg Clausen tells, about when he was starting out as a professional engineer, working on the construction of a massive warehouse on the waterfront in Toronto.
Today, he is Greater Sudbury’s general manager of infrastructure services. But in 1974, he worked on a building that happened to be next door to another rather large construction project: the CN Tower. Turns out, Foundation Construction, the company pouring the concrete for the tower, also owned the company Clausen worked for.
“I’m on this job on Commissioner Street, driving by the CN Tower twice a day for eight or nine months,” said Clausen, sitting in his fourth-floor office at Tom Davies Square on a recent afternoon.
“I get a call one day from a guy I knew at Foundation, and he said, ‘Greg … how would you like to go up for a tour?’ And so I immediately said, ‘Great! No problem.’”
Foundation was almost finished pouring the ‘slip-forming’ concrete for the tower, a revolutionary construction technique used to build tall structures. Concrete is poured around the clock, with corrections being made continuously as the structure moves upward.
“I was 300 feet higher than the observation deck,” he says, pointing to a spot on a silver miniature CN Tower he keeps in his office. “When we went up the inside of the tower, the first 1,000 feet was by elevator. And the last 300 feet was by stairs. And then we get out on top of a platform.
“The CN tower was about 20 feet in diameter at that point, and here, around the outside of it, attached to the forms, was a four-foot wide walkway wooden platform, with wooden railings around the outside.”
“You get up there, and the first thing they give you is a chinstrap for your hard hat, so it doesn’t fall off, because once you get up there, you’re right in the wind. And the tower, up at the top, sways three feet on either side of centre. That’s normal.”
So there he stood, on a narrow wooden platform on what was then the tallest freestanding structure in the world. The glee that a much younger man felt at such an engineering marvel as the tower is still evident today, 38 years later.
“It was one of the highlights of my career ... The CN Tower, from top to bottom, is a quarter inch out of plumb,” Clausen says, referring to how precisely the tower was built. “It’s just phenomenal. The tower is 1,800 feet tall, the slip forms have to be adjusted as you go up, like a snake’s back, and it’s only a quarter inch out.”
As he prepares to retire Friday, July 13, after more than 25 years on the job, Clausen looked back in a recent interview on his long career. Born in Sudbury, but raised in Toronto, Clausen made his way back to the Nickel Capital a couple of years after his CN Tower experience. He ran the Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie offices for a private consulting engineering firm, but when they wanted him back in Toronto in the mid-1980s, he said thanks, but no thanks.
“I had three young kids at the time, and I much preferred Sudbury to Toronto. So I basically ended up quitting.”
He became town engineer for the former City of Valley East in 1985; in 1988 he was “hijacked,” he says, to come and work for Sudbury’s public works department.
“And I’ve been with the city ever since.”
He held a number of jobs through the years, as the city went through different reorganizations. After the creation of Greater Sudbury in 2001, he became director of technical services and, later, director of engineering. He got his current post in 2007.
As Sudbury is poised for unprecedented growth, but also struggling to upgrade its crumbling infrastructure to handle it, Clausen has a unique perspective on the situation.
He says there hadn’t been much growth in the city for a long time prior to the Second World War. But as demand for metals soared in the post-war period, Sudbury experienced rapid growth.
“After the Second World War, everything went crazy,” he said. “Cities were built, towns were built, roads were built. It was build, build, probably from after the war until the late 1970s.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 1951, Sudbury’s population was 81,000; by 1971, it was 155,000. Today, it sits somewhere around 161,000.
“With all that development, comes new growth. And new growth also means maintenance costs, because as soon as you build something, it starts to deteriorate,” he said.
The rule of thumb for roads is that they last 20 years; bridges and water-sewer systems should last 50 years. So much of what was built then is in need of replacement now.
“If you do the math, a lot of the infrastructure built after the Second World War is coming to an age where it should be replaced.”
Ideally, cities and towns should start putting aside money as soon as they build something so they can replace or repair it when the time comes. But local governments, especially in the north where the tax base is smaller, haven’t been able to do that.
“Now the (chickens) are coming home to roost,” he said. “We’re spending the vast majority of our money on what I would refer to as Band-Aid fixes, where you deal with the immediate problem, and keep your fingers crossed and pray for the future.
“One of the challenges … for all municipal engineers is to come up with a program and policy where you can become sustainable and maintain what you’ve got.”
He agrees with Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, who recently said that, since we’re headed for a period of unprecedented growth over the next 10 years, we need to get moving with infrastructure projects required to handle that growth.
“If we’re going to do something, let’s do it now,” Clausen said. “Let’s ride this wave and get everything fixed up and repaired as best we can.”
Clausen’s department has produced a 10-year plan on what it’s going to take to repair and maintain existing water and wastewater facilities. A similar plan for the city’s roads is due soon, as well.
“And it shows what we have to do is basically double the amount we’re spending now to be sustainable,” Clausen said.
“Everybody would agree that our roads are not in the condition now that we would like them to be … Again, that’s not unique to Sudbury. Nobody’s got good roads (in Ontario) no matter where you drive.”
About $700 million is needed over the next 10 years to maintain the city’s 3,600 square kilometres of roads, and that doesn’t include money for any new roads, or the cost of maintaining new roads once built.
As for solving traffic congestion, and making our roads last longer, Clausen points to the Maley Drive Extension, the Holy Grail of infrastructure projects in Sudbury. The $115 million project would widen Maley Drive to four lanes, from the Falconbridge Highway to Barrydowne Road.
Then a new road would connect to College Boreal at the Lasalle Extension, which would also be widened to four lanes until it links up with Municipal Road 35, leading to Azilda.
“That road would basically finish the loop around Sudbury,” Clausen said.
More importantly, it would take more than 10,000 cars a day off The Kingsway and Lasalle Boulevard, making those roads far easier to traverse. And a lot of heavy trucks would be routed around the city, sparing our roads the damage heavy vehicles can inflict. Construction would take three to five years.
The city has set aside money for it and is waiting – and waiting and waiting -- for the province and the feds to come up with their one-third share of the money. The plan has been talked about since 1980.
“If we got the greenlight today, I could call tenders tomorrow,” Clausen said. “We’ve got to get all that traffic off Lasalle and The Kingsway. It’s creating safety issues, and it’s wearing out those roads because they weren’t designed for that heavy volume of truck traffic.”
But that will be a project for Clausen’s successor, whoever that will be. Talking to people at city hall, you get the impression that he will be missed not only for his expertise, but because of the intangibles he brings to the job.
One word that comes up over and again is “gentleman.”
Mayor Marianne Matichuk worked with Clausen when she was a city employee a decade ago.
“He’s someone who has respect for people,” Matichuk said. “He’ll tell you something straight,” she said, but always in a kind manner.
She also admires his work ethic and community involvement. She worked with him on Operation Red Nose, the annual program that operates during Christmas and New Year’s, offering free rides home to people who have been drinking.
“He would be there until the bitter end,” Matichuk said. “We’re talking three or four o’clock in the morning. Every year. And he does it without any pomp or any ceremony.”
“And he’s the first person here every morning. If I come in at seven in the morning, he’s already here ... And after a council meeting, he goes back to his office to work. You can go up there and talk to him even then.”
Ward 7 coun. Dave Kilgour, who has known Clausen for 15 years, says he will be “sorely” missed, on a number of levels.
“He’s one of those guys that has that corporate memory that is so important,” Kilgour said. “And he’s such a compassionate guy ... He was always concerned that we were doing the right thing. He would always take the extra steps to ensure that people weren’t going to be put in a bad position because of what we were doing.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, who has worked with Clausen, among other things, as chair of the operations committee, says his experience has been “nothing but positive.”
“Greg and I have certainly had our battles,” Barbeau said. “But I have the utmost respect for him. He’s the ultimate gentleman.”
Clausen’s incredible work ethic made an impression on him, as well, Barbeau said, as he put in long days with a smile on his face.
“He’s earned every penny he’s ever been paid.”
For his part, Clausen says it’s not work if you love it.
“There’s a saying, and I’m not sure exactly how it goes, but they say if you love your job, you never have to work a day in your life,” he said.
“And that’s been 100 per cent true for me. I graduated 40 years ago, and every morning I get up, seven days a week, and I can’t wait to get to work. I absolutely love the job, I love the profession and I love the people. So, I’ve never had to work a day in my life.”
He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife and grandkids. He has three full-grown sons and four grandsons.
“And a fifth grandchild is in the oven.”
With so many boys in the family, is he hoping for a girl?
“I’ve never had to deal with girls, so my preference is for a boy,” he chuckles. “But everybody else in the family wants a girl. My mother-in-law has 12 grandsons and one granddaughter. So females are not in greater numbers within the Clausen clan.”
Despite being 63, and having overcome some serious health issues, it’s clear Clausen hasn’t lost his love of his job. So why is he leaving?
“I told (city CAO) Doug Nadorozny a year ago that it’s a good time for me to leave,” he said. “I love my job. If I had my way, I’d work for another 100 years.
"But I’m 63. My contract is up. With all this stuff that’s on the horizon, now is the perfect time for him to bring in … a younger person, to pick up the torch from failing hands, as the poem goes, and take the city for the next 25 or 30 years.”
So he has spent the last couple of weeks thanking as many of his 500 staff as possible. He’s been on a farewell tour of sorts, visiting workers in different parts of the city.
“I will go out to where they are and thank them for the job they do for the city,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that ... I want to thank them face-to-face.”
After he’s done working, he plans to keep volunteering with Easter Seals and Boy Scouts, among the many other community groups he supports.
“And who knows? If someone knocks on my door with a proposal, I’m open to it. If there’s an offer that’s a challenge and that’s interesting, I’m open to discussions with absolutely everyone and everybody.”
Posted by Arron Pickard