Engineering a long-time interest for new Covington public works director

Don Vondran was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High when a math teacher suggested he pursue engineering.

Don Vondran was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High when a math teacher suggested he pursue engineering.

It made sense to Vondran given that he was just a few miles south of The Boeing Co. operations in Renton. It also sounded interesting.

So, Vondran, who took over as Covington’s public works director in September, looked into it, then decided it was the right path to take. He spent two years at Green River Community College then transferred to the University of Washington where he earned a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

It was while he was a student at Green River, however, where he learned about civil engineering during internships with the Washington state Department of Transportation.

“I really enjoyed it and I did it again while I was going to school at UW,” Vondran said. “I really enjoyed the aeronautics program, but it was a lull at the time (he graduated), Boeing wasn’t hiring.”

Instead the state DOT contacted him about pursuing his professional engineer license so he could work in an entry level position for the department. Vondran did that and began working as a civil engineer for WSDOT in 1992.

“I worked in transportation pretty much reviewing traffic impact analysis for developers … to construction traffic with traffic control,” Vondran said. “Then on into fiber optics and intelligent transportation systems, so, all of the cameras that DOT put out, when they brought that onto the Internet … I was involved with operations side of that and troubleshooting and bringing systems online around the Puget Sound area.”

Vondran spent 11 years with the state DOT when he decided to take the next step in his career.

“I was getting to where I felt like I was becoming maybe too one dimensional,” Vondran said. “I felt like I was becoming an expert in that field but I felt like there was so much still that I could learn in civil engineering.”

In 2003 his options were to move into a management position within WSDOT or to shift gears into in order to broaden his knowledge. He began looking at positions in cities and found that Covington was hiring a senior traffic engineer. Vondran applied and was hired in the summer of 2003.

From there he moved up to assistant city engineer, then city engineer and in September he replaced Glenn Akramoff, who left in June to take on the city manager position in Normandy Park. Vondran served as interim public works director from mid-June through September.

Vondran said his progression with the city of Covington made sense.

“There’s a number of things I really like about it, for one, just the nature of the job, working for a municipality, it’s so diverse all the things you have to deal with,” Vondran said. “You interact with the citizens. You don’t deal with just one aspect of building a project, you get to see it all the way through design to construction … you get to experience an entire project, versus at DOT everything was so big, you only dealt with one piece of the puzzle.”

And he enjoys the people he works with.

“Also, to be honest, the council and the staff here are fantastic,” Vondran said. “I don’t think you could get a better group of people. I’ve always felt very fortunate that I landed here and to grow and for them to have invested in me and for me to give back any way that I could.”

There will be more opportunities for Vondran to grow and evolve in his new position just in the coming year as there are a number of projects to focus on.

“We have a number of capital projects that are occurring this year,” Vondran said. “We have 10 intersections across the city that are going to have some minor safety related improvements … that we got some grant funds for. There’s 156th Avenue, that we’ll be overlaying. It’s a pulverizing and paving project. That’s another one we got grant funds for. The Jenkins Creek Bridge project, we’ll be starting the design on that, then the big project on 516, we’ll start on the right of way on that.”

He will also be involved to an extent with the Hawk property subarea plan as it moves through the development agreement process in the coming months as well as planning for the city’s town center vision.

When Vondran is not working, he is spending time with his wife of 17 years and their three girls, who are 13, 11 and 6. He is also a runner and when he’s at full strength, runs at least three miles a day, six days a week. He ran his first marathon in 2010 to celebrate his 40th birthday.

“Probably what I love most is spending time with family, from going to soccer games to road trips to playing games,” Vondran said.

Vondran said the transition to his new role in Covington has gone well thanks to the people he’s surrounded by at City Hall.

“The biggest thing is the acceptance of everyone, the belief that I’ll do a great job and the encouragement of everyone, whether that’s staff in my department or others,” he said. “There’s just a lot of support and encouragement. I’ve really felt comfortable because of that.”