Hands-on, head up, and all heart.

Man with a goatee, Harley Davidson beanie cap, and bright orange NEORSD maintenance shirt stands in a dimly lit hallway deep in the bowels of the Easterly treatment plant. He has hands in the pockets of his dark blue work work pants and making stoic eye contact with the camera.
Photo by Thomas Dang.

Brian Bunjevac is a man who can’t sit still.

“When I go home from here, I’ll take a shower, eat dinner, and then head right out to the garage to work on my Harleys or tear apart a lawnmower,” he said. “I go to bed at midnight and get up at 4:30 a.m., even on the weekends. I like to stay busy! I don’t watch TV. In winter, I’ll snowplow a path in the back yard for my dog so he can run around.”

Bunjevac is a Utility Maintenance Technician and 18-year employee at our Easterly treatment plant in Cleveland. He grew up in nearby Garfield Heights. “I was always fiddling around in my parents’ garage, tearing stuff apart and figuring out how to put it back together,” he said. “I’ve been working on cars for 40 years.”

Prior to joining the Sewer District, Bunjevac worked at a metal processing company. “I learned every aspect of the plant, ran the furnaces and the cranes,” he said. He had moved into a supervisor position with a crew of 35 people when the company went out of business. “My wife and I had just bought a house,” he recalled. He took a job as a corrections officer, but soon learned about opportunities at the Sewer District from a cousin who worked here.

From his first day at Easterly, Brian’s main area of expertise has been the plant’s Primary Settling Tanks. “I’ve seen everything that could possibly go wrong with them,” he said. “No matter what we do, they’re going to break, which is unfortunate because redoing a whole tank is a lot of work. But I enjoy it.”

Old school: Brian Bunjevac back in the days of 2011 working in the gallery, a long hall of valves and windows, at the Easterly Wastewater Treatment Center. Photo by Eric Mull, 2011.

“Brian and I work well together,” said Plant Maintenance Manager Wayne Messer. “I rely on him. He helped me along when I came to the Sewer District ten years ago.”

Making repairs on equipment that dates back to the 1930s poses challenges, including replacing heavy machinery in spaces that weren’t designed for easy access. “Since this plant is so old, we’re always trying to figure out how to pull something out of cramped spaces,” Bunjevac said. When basement flooding damaged two electric motors, he drilled holes through the concrete floor and fed chains through the holes to lift and maneuver the new 700-pound motors into place. “I just visualize what I want to do and I do it,” he said. “If I come up with something, Wayne says ‘go ahead’ because he knows it’s going to work. He trusts us to keep this place running.

The “go-to guy” at Easterly, Bunjevac has worked there the longest out of all the plant’s maintenance staff. One project he’s proud of is an upgrade to the plant’s grease-processing system.

“Before, I was coming out here twice a week to pull the grinders out, bring them to the shop, clean them, and put them back in service,” Bunjevac said. His solution was to eliminate a 50-foot tangle of pipe and replace the six old grinders with two new, more powerful units. “These things will chew up anything that comes through here,” Messer said. “We haven’t had a problem since,” added Bunjevac.

Older school: The Easterly treatment plant dates back to the early 1930s. Many of its buildings, including it’s administration building shown here under construction in 1936, are still in use today.

As the Sewer District looks to the future, its award-winning service to Northeast Ohio and Lake Erie will still largely depend on the people caring for the equipment — and each other. “I have an old-school work ethic. I’m here to make things easier, not only for me, but for the younger guys down the road,” says Bunjevac. “It used to take us six hours to drain and put new oil in these gearboxes,” he said. “I’d get so mad!” With a supply of 2-inch pipe and some shutoff valves, he built a more efficient piping assembly. “Two days later I had it done. Now the pumps only take 15 minutes to drain and 25 to fill back up.”

Bunjevac has straightforward advice for anyone starting out in treatment-plant maintenance. “You always want to be safe in what you do, and mindful of your surroundings,” he said. “The hydraulic lines on a tow motor can burst. I don’t care if it’s brand new. Things happen.”

Taking pride in one’s work is also important to Bunjevac. “If it looks better than it did before you started the project, you can be proud of that, and that shows that you’re a certain kind of person,” he said. He noted the importance of having respect for others and the value of working with people you like. “We have fun,” he said of his coworkers. “If someone needs a hand with something, we’ll even go over to each other’s homes and help out.”

Bunjevac admits that it may soon be time for him to consider retirement, especially given a nagging shoulder injury. But, he said, that time hasn’t come just yet. “What can I say? I enjoy it here.”

Story by Mike Uva.

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Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Official Medium channel of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, OH

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