After nearly 50 years of engineering, researching, working with regulators and planning projects, John Sweitzer is showing no signs of slowing down. For the past year his firm, Sweitzer Engineering, Inc., has been juggling two projects in Bartow County — White’s downtown sewer extension and Kingston’s planned water utility renovation.
The two projects are the latest in a career that has included work for Bartow County, serving as a consultant for a national hotel and motel chain and working as a consultant for the U.S. government in an assignment to Kenya, where he evaluated the country’s rural water supply and distribution.
It is a career he was almost born for.
“No doubt that the draw toward engineering was embedded in my genes,” Sweitzer said. “My father was a structural engineer and my older brother is a land surveyor, so I grew up surrounded by things engineering was destined to follow that path.”
Name: John Henry Sweitzer
Age: Older than almost everyone I work with.
Occupation: Owner and president of Sweitzer Engineering, Inc., a small engineering consulting firm in Acworth, specializing in civil and environmental engineering.
City of Residence: Atlanta
Family: Married to Letitia, a writer, editor and life coach. We have four grown children, sons, Chris, Scott and Wilson and a daughter, Helen. We are blessed with five grandchildren.
Education: I started first-grade in Savannah, finished high school in Virginia, have Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of Virginia, 1960, and a Master of Science in Sanitary Engineering from the University of North Carolina, 1967.
Are there any special considerations you have to make when working with small towns such as Kingston and White?
A: Although our basic engineering services are identical for any client regardless of size, the smaller communities rely on us for more than just “engineering.” We get involved with assignments from the very first, assisting with the project planning, procurement of financing, regulatory approvals and permits, etc. for public works projects, generally doing what an in-house staff would do for larger municipalities. Of course there is an engineering design phase for every project, but for smaller communities that sometimes seems almost incidental.
What do you think are the greatest benefits of White’s upcoming sewer project?
A: The collection sewer project, now in design, is the second phase of White’s 2006 project, which extended a trunk sewer from the city of Cartersville and eliminated a small aging treatment plant at the 60-house Whispering Pines subdivision. The trunk sewer conveys wastewaters from White to Cartersville for treatment, and it also made sewer service possible for the Toyo Tire manufacturing facility and the new Cass High School. When White’s collection sewer project is complete, nearly all of White’s residences will be able to enjoy the health and sanitation benefits of public sewers, fulfilling a long-held goal of the city’s leaders. There will be ample capacity to support future residential, commercial and industrial growth.
What are the largest challenges facing Kingston’s water utility project?
A: Kingston’s challenge is to maintain and grow their water system out of its current difficulties. These are financial and operational, as well as the burden of aging water infrastructure, inadequate pressures and a limited water supply. The currently proposed water improvement project is intended to utilize U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and low-interest loan funding to strengthen the distribution system for future growth. Importantly, an updated and financially healthy water system at Kingston seems essential for Kingston to achieve its goal of constructing a public sewer system in the future.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: Clearly, it is the enjoyment of helping the firm’s clients achieve their goals. This means that I must keep up-to-date and engaged in areas other than engineering. It means almost daily involvement with a dozen or so long-term clients regarding their financing, regulatory and compliance issues, contracts, report writing, design calculations, construction management, and systems operations, etc. I definitely thrive on my work and cannot wait to get started every day.
Is there a particular project, past or present, that best represents your work as an engineer?
A: My assignments have been many and diverse, so that it is hard to pick a single best project. Instead, I would say that the sum total of my work with the Bartow County Water Department best represents my lifetime of work as an engineer. I am proud to have been involved as a young engineer with the very beginnings of the Bartow County water and sewer systems and, during the many years since, have had the good fortune to be engineer-of-record for at least 80 major projects plus 50 or more consulting assignments for studies, reports, funding applications, permits, etc.
If you had a dream job what would it be?
A: It is hard for me to imagine a better job that the one I have. I am comfortable with the belief that my Maker put me in the place I am best suited to serve others while providing for my family.
What is your greatest achievement?
A: I will leave that judgment for others and the passing of time, but perhaps a list of notable professional achievements would include my lifetime of engineering work for the Bartow County Water Department; or my work with Emerson to develop their spring water source back in the 1970s, or my work with Calhoun in the 1980s to bring them clean water from the Coosawattee to replace the Conasauga River source polluted by Dalton’s textile mills. These three are examples of successful achievement of my goal to help provide clean, healthy water for clients.
Also, Gov. Joe Frank Harris gave me a unique opportunity for achievement when he appointed me to the Georgia Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, where I served on and off over a 19-year period. There I was able to successfully promote changes in the law to hold engineers and surveyors more accountable for unlawful or unethical practice in Georgia.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: That deep down I am a happy-go-lucky guy who sees humor in just about everything and who is overwhelmingly optimistic about life and the future. This, in spite of the misconception many have of me as a hard-driven, unsmiling, workaholic perfectionist. That misconception is best illustrated by my favorite poster — the one showing a stern-eyed bald eagle who is saying, “I am smiling.”
Do you have a personal motto?
A: I have never adopted any one motto. I suppose “moderation in all things” has been a guiding principle keeping me out of trouble. That, along with Ludlow Porch’s advice, “Don’t let negative people in your life.” There is simply no merit to being pessimistic or negative.
If you were to write your autobiography or memoirs, what would the title be?
A: Something like “I Don’t Even Understand What It Is I Don’t Understand,” with my apologies to Charlie Brown. Such a book would contain fun chapters with titles such as, “How warts on a cow’s face got me a 4-year scholarship” or “I ate the Buick for lunch” or “The day my new sailboat landed in a tree” or “What it felt like to climb a 1,800-foot TV tower for fun” or “How I got a free first-class ticket home from Kenya.”