Haskell Project Superintendent Karl Kerr likes to take a vacation after finishing a project and before starting a new one. He’s definitely taking time off when his current job ends — and he’s heading somewhere warm.
Kerr has lived in State College, Pennsylvania, for the past three years helping to convert Penn State University’s century-old wastewater treatment plant into a state-of-the-art water reclamation facility. When complete, the $46 million project will allow the university to convert all its wastewater, a mix of sullage, sewage, and various industrial reject, into water that will supply all of the campus’s irrigation and other service-water needs.
It’s been a demanding project, as the team has kept the existing facility running continuously throughout the process of demolishing and rebuilding it.
“I describe this project like this: We're overhauling an old John Deere tractor while it’s dragging a plow,” Kerr said in his trademark Texas drawl. “It services the wastewater for the entire campus, so it can’t shut down.”
A mechanical contractor with more than 40 years of commercial construction experience, Kerr was a longtime Haskell subcontractor and consultant. After years of recruiting, the company enticed Kerr to join the team full-time in 2012.
“They kept asking me to come on board, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted my next move to be,” he said. “They finally caught me on the perfect day. I had just spent a lot of time with my CPA and doing all of the other tedious work necessary to run a business. I said yes and have been here ever since.”
The Penn State project is the exact type of job Haskell hired the level-headed veteran to oversee.
“This whole job has been a challenge, but he brings a calmness to it,” said Jeremy Holsinger, a senior project manager who has worked with him on the project. “He’s a great team player and has used his experience to troubleshoot every mechanical issue we’ve had. He’s also stepped in wherever else he’s needed.
“It’s really hard to not like Karl. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy. He has that old-school construction side to him, and he doesn’t pull any punches. When someone screws something up, he has no problem letting them know it. But he’s articulate where he can get his point across without offending anyone.”
Kerr said the biggest challenge on the Penn State project was figuring out how to keep the facility running while demolishing and replacing roughly two-thirds of the existing plant. To do so, they’ve created a hybrid system that relies on a mixture of the existing and new equipment.
The challenges didn’t stop there: Since the facility is more than 100 years old, there were few records detailing the underground infrastructure.
“This place is prime pickings for utility strikes. It’s a crapshoot every time you stick a shovel in the ground, because you’ll never know what you’ll find,” Kerr said. “Still, one of Haskell’s highest focus these days is to minimize utility strikes, and we’ve developed a strong relationship with the locators and had zero incidents in the three years we’ve been here.”
Looking back, Kerr said he was glad he decided to join Haskell. And while he’s nearing the end of his career, he conceded that Haskell always found a way to convince him to stay and keep him in the fold.
“I wasn’t really looking for a job when I came here full-time, and if I wasn’t so impressed with this organization, I would have been gone a long time ago,” he said. “I’ve been absolutely stunned at what a great work environment Haskell has created. I’m amazed that Haskell is so employee-centric. They get the most out of their people by treating them right, and in turn, their people treat them right. I think that’s the ideal working relationship.”
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