Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER Neil Coulston is retiring at the end of the month as the public works director for the City of Niles.

Archived Story

Coulston to begin retired life

Published 10:56pm Monday, September 19, 2011

Neil Coulston considers himself a workaholic.
If it wasn’t for that work ethic, the Niles Department of Public Works director, who is set to retire at the end of the month, probably wouldn’t have made it the past 35 years working for the City of Niles.
Coulston, who has spent the past 17 years in his current position, has plenty of responsibilities to keep his schedule full. He says sometimes he has his hands in seven or eight projects a day.
“Dealing with the parks, cemetery, airport, golf course, street department, groundskeeping, buildings, there’s a lot there,” Coulston said.  “I have a short attention span, so this job is perfect for me.”
And now as he sees the light at the end of a tunnel of an action-packed career, Coulston, 61, said it’s “bittersweet.” He is concerned that boredom might set it in his post-City Hall life.
“I’ve got mixed feelings about it,” he said. “I’m kind of somebody who likes to be jammed with work all the time. That’s what I feed on.”
His propensity to work hard has helped the city in paving 40 miles of street, completing several sidewalk replacement programs, developing Riverfront Park and completing the trail extension project in his career.
One of the most difficult projects for Coulston was also the most rewarding — the construction of the skatepark downtown. The 15,900-square-foot concrete park was built in 2003, but not without a lot of work.
From setting up a committee to organizing fundraising projects, hiring a California-based company to design the park and installing the “complexly designed” park, it was “quite the challenge,” Coulston said.
But when it was complete, it was all worth it.
“Any time you go by there and the weather is nice, it’s really busy,” he said.
And that’s what kept Coulston going — seeing the fruits of his labor.
“Any time we wrap up a project, it just makes you feel so good,” he said. “It feels good when I drive through the city and see the 35 years of projects.”
The city is fortunate, Coulston said, to have another hard-working public works director waiting in the wings in Joe Ray, who Coulston hired 10 years ago.
“He’s gained so much experience and knowledge,” Coulston said, describing the current assistant public works director. “He and I both have the same type of work ethic.”
Ray is going to need that drive, as he will be expected to do more with less. When Coulston began his career with the city as an engineer director, the street department had 28 employees. Now it has 11.
“Everybody has to work a little bit harder,” Coulston said.
And after 35 years, he has certainly earned the right to say that.

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