Len Chambers has had a hand in many of Winnipeg’s largest residential developments – but not in the way you might think. He doesn’t build houses; he envisions communities from the ground up.
“You’re coming up with the concept and what you need to put in place for infrastructure to service that community. And then it’s great to see that unfold as it builds,” he says.
As practice leader, water for consulting firm Stantec, Chambers considers things like water and sewer service, wastewater treatment, land drainage, lift stations, retention ponds and flood mitigation when planning new communities.
“We sort of generalize all that stuff as water,” he explains.
A 1979 graduate of Red River College’s Civil Engineering Technology program, Chambers has participated in various design stages, as well as contract administration work, for major developments like Royalwood, Waverley West, Whyte Ridge and South Pointe.
“As I look around this city, I see several residential subdivisions that I was involved with,” he says. “It is great to see these subdivisions finished with families moved in and becoming part of the community.”
When designing, livability is a big concern for Stantec.
“Our tagline is ‘We build communities.’ It’s all about the people that are going to live there. You want an environmentally friendly, sustainable community. You want recreation close by. You want to be able to walk around safely – to have bike trails and all those other different opportunities.”
But residential developments are only a small part of Chambers’ work.
“I have been very fortunate in that I have lead major projects, done interesting work, and no two jobs are the same.”
For one, he was the groundside design manager for the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport redevelopment – a $90-million project that involved constructing an elevated roadway, a storm water lift station and retention pond, parking lots, sewer and water service, street lighting, utility relocation, and more.
In all the work he does, Chambers thinks about the environment. When asked about the most important advancement he’s seen in the years he’s worked as an engineer, Chambers talks about the role he played in incorporating a naturalized wetland into the retention pond in Royalwood.
“We used to have these manicured retention basins, but now [the basins] have cattails and native plants,” he says. “Those native plants, they take out the [contaminants] from the storm water, so what gets discharged into the rivers and streams is like a pure water, so that’s really helping to clean up the rivers. It’s a big plus.”
The first phase of Royalwood was constructed with a pristine lake, but the second received the engineered wetland, Chambers says.
“Now that’s the city standard.”
Chambers chose to study at RRC because he liked the Civil Engineering Technology program’s hands-on nature.
“When you go to Red River, you can go out and survey and inspect [upon graduation]. From an employer’s perspective they can put you to work right away. When I graduated from Red River it was like ‘Boom, here’s a set of plans, go and build it.’ Whereas if you’ve got more theory [like in university], you don’t have those kind of skills.”
According to Chambers, there’s a lot of competition for RRC grads, including from Stantec. That’s part of the reason the firm offers an annual scholarship.
“They call it ‘War for talent.’ Young people today that are graduating, they’ve got lots of choices, so we want to make sure potential employees recognize Stantec and want to come and work here.”
Today, Chambers doesn’t do a lot of the engineering work himself – luckily his favourite part of the job is working with people, including new staff.
“Mentoring staff and working with people. Whether they’re staff or clients, I just like working with people, solving problems, coming up with solutions.”
Chambers is honoured to be featured in RRC’s new billboard campaign.
“It’s created a lot of excitement here [in the office]. One of our draftsmen printed out a poster and we’ve got a trophy case so they’ve put it up in there… They’re certainly razzing me,” he says with a smile.
Profile by Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)