Youthful curiosity molded Jim Rodgers from the beginning.
It started with tinkering with his Schwinn bicycle and his efforts to put a metaphorical Humpty Dumpty back in working order.
“Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by how things work,” Rodgers says. “I went through a lot of bicycle parts by taking my bike apart and not being able to put it back together.”
Rodgers coupled that inquisitiveness with a dedicated work ethic derived from his time working on his grandfather’s farm in Pendleton, Ind. Rodgers baled hay, built fence and cared for livestock on the farm from the ages of five to 25 and learned how to think quickly on his feet.
“On the farm, when something broke you had to fix it,” he states. “There was no time to go to town and buy parts or wait on a service truck to fit you into their busy schedule. I just always had a fascination with how and why things work.”
From there Rodgers, a lifetime Indiana resident, crafted a career designing plumbing and fire protection systems for some of the Hoosier State’s most prolific buildings, garnering the respect of his colleagues at the Indianapolis office of worldwide firm Ross & Baruzzini. Rodgers is the recipient of pme’s 2015 Plumbing Engineer of the Year award.
Rodgers first entered the construction industry out of high school and swiftly realized laying the groundwork of a plumbing system was what truly interested him.
“I decided that instead of carrying tools for a living I need to be designing systems,” he recalls.
After more than 20 years in the industry, Rodgers began corresponding with former colleague and industry friend Andre Maue, P.E., the director of MEP operations for Ross & Baruzzini’s Indianapolis office. There was mutual interest to bring Rodgers into the fold at the new office and the deal came together quickly.
It was a perfect fit from the start.
“The thing I liked most about coming to Ross & Baruzzini was that we are an international firm, but yet provide a small-town atmosphere,” Rodgers says. “We have a lot of local clients that I have had the pleasure of working with for many years.”
For Maue, who strictly works on HVAC systems, he needed to have a plumbing designer he could trust from the smallest details to the most complex designs and high-pressure situations.
“I needed to trust whoever I gave those projects to that they would get done right. And that is Jim,” Maue states. “It is critically important to have people with the right attitude. It you are going to work with someone for 80 hours a week sometimes, you want to get along with. Jim is that type of guy.”
As soon as Rodgers started at Ross & Baruzzini, which has its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, he was thrown into the fire. In August 2014, he began the plumbing and fire protection design work on Purdue University’s Honors College Residence Hall in West Lafayette, Ind. The 325,000-sq.-ft.-building features 800 beds, a restaurant, teaching space and more where the brightest Boilermakers can live and learn.
The fast-track schedule of the Honors College was manageable because of Rodgers’ long-standing relationships with key players. “The key to that project – and any project – is to have a good team,” he says. “The architectural firm and design team and I have worked together for 20 years.”
Quickly after the Purdue project, Rodgers shifted his focus on the rehab and expansion of Assembly Hall, the hallowed basketball arena at Indiana University. As an avid sports fan, working on arena projects gives Rodgers an extra pep in his step.
It was even more of an honor to work on Assembly Hall because his father was a graduate of IU’s School of Dentistry and Rodgers is a lifetime Hoosier fan, especially during Bobby Knight’s tenure which included three men’s basketball national championships.
The 44-year-old arena currently is in the construction phase of a $35 million expansion and renovation.
When the updated Assembly Hall is completed it will be a LEED-certified project, Rodgers points out. One major element and the toughest challenge, he says, was the grease waste system he designed. When it was originally constructed no consideration was given for the removal of grease waste at the multiple concession stands throughout the building.
“That was a major undertaking to separate the grease waste from the sanitary waste,” he says. “We had to pretreat the grease before it was sent out to the municipality. It was quite a challenge to separate the 40-year-old system and come to a resolution with the local municipality on how we would do this.”
On the project, Rodgers worked alongside P.K. Patel, Indiana University’s director of engineering. The duo had to work through the city of Bloomington’s codes and ordinances on grease waste management for the approval on Assembly Hall’s system. The problem is the codes were written with only new construction in mind and not a renovation project of this size with such challenging existing conditions.
The system features Zurn/Green Turtle Proceptor models and Rodgers was thankful the manufacturer was there to help when needed to clear the many hurdles he faced. “We had to get creative,” he says. “We had to design a unique system that met the EPA requirements and that could be retrofit into the system’s infrastructure.”
The grease interceptor system consists of multiple 200- and 1,000-gallon tanks inside the facility (the city typically wants them outside). The team had to work closely with the city to obtain approval of the hybrid system and its variances from the existing ordinances.
Patel enjoys working alongside Rodgers and looks forward to seeing the Assembly Hall renovation to completion with him. “We had a good discussion and talked about some different ideas,” Patel says. “Jim came up with a good design. He looks into everything and comes up with a good solution.”
Diving right in
Rodgers joined the American Society of Plumbing Engineers in 1998, the year the national convention was held in Indianapolis. “I immediately realized this was what I needed,” he says. “I was a young guy trying to learn the trade.”
He quickly began to take on numerous roles with the group, starting with becoming a local officer, Indianapolis chapter president (2003-2005 and 2009-2012) and Region 2 chairman (2005).
Then in 2006, Rodgers was elected as a voting member to the ASPE national board of directors. He was with the first group of regional directors allowed to vote. “That was quite an experience and I got to work with a lot of great guys on the national level,” he says.
Rodgers has scaled back his hands-on work with ASPE, but attends all the major association events including the upcoming Technical Symposium in St. Louis.
“I always encourage ASPE membership,” he says. “The big thing is networking. If you go to a local meeting, especially if you are new to the area or a young designer, you get to meet some of your colleagues and the manufacturers reps and establish contact with them. Now, if you have a question on the faucet, you have a source you can call. You do not have to rely on a website.”
One of those local manufacturers reps that Rodgers met through ASPE and now works closely with is Randy Vogt with Indianapolis-based Aspinall Associates. The two have worked together for the last 10 years. “We built our relationship from meeting through ASPE,” Vogt says.
Vogt also is helping Rodgers and Ross & Baruzzini on the Assembly Hall project. He supplied Bradley solid-surface Express lavatory systems with Sloan BASYS faucets for the restrooms that helped enhance the look of the facilities. “It was a challenge to stay within budget while providing a higher-quality product,” Vogt says.
Vogt appreciates how Rodgers can be flexible in his designs, while remaining firm on how to achieve the end goal with the correct products. “Jim believes in his designs,” he states. “He stands strong in the world of value engineering. He’ll fight for his designs. That is why clients hire him because they want the right products.”
Maue knew when he began to fill out his staff at Ross & Baruzzini in Indianapolis that he needed a leader like Rodgers. “I knew we were sized to where we needed two people,” he says. “I did not need two senior guys – I needed a senior designer and a junior-level guy. Jim has the experience, the knowledge and the right attitude to teach it. He does not have an ego about this role.”
Rodgers works closely with David Lindley, a young plumbing designer who joined the company in March. Lindley came to Ross & Baruzzini from a local engineering firm and is impressed with the higher-profile projects he works on now. He’s also appreciative to have Rodgers in his corner.
“He will answer any questions I have and guide me on the right path I need to go on as needed,” Lindley states. “He is great to work with.”
Rodgers adds: “We have a good staff here and I have great help. David is an up-and-coming designer himself. It is nice to have good people you can assign tasks to and know you are in good hands.”
Rodgers believes it is critical for young engineers to not be afraid to ask for help. In return, the older generation needs to be there for the rookies, he adds. “Ask questions, that’s the main thing,” he states. “Whatever situation you are in another plumbing engineer has been there at some point in their life.”
Rodgers reports that he hears from national sales representatives that they are having a difficult time convincing young engineers to hold the spec. He implores new engineers to dive in and have a well-rounded understanding of the products they have at their arsenal.
“If you specify a product you need to understand the product and how it works,” he states. “You want to write your specification so that if an equal product becomes available, the manufacturer will provide a truly equal product. You need to make your own decision if this is an equal product or not. Do not just take their word for it. Do your homework and your own research. That is a key thing.”
The last year has been a whirlwind for Rodgers, but he could not be happier at Ross & Baruzzini and the work he and his team are doing. “It has been a great year. I really enjoy it here,” he says. “I consider it home.”
Rodgers considers himself “lucky” to have worked with some of the stalwarts of the engineering industry.
“I need to say a special thanks to the many mentors I have had over the years,” he says. “Not only for the lessons in engineering, but more importantly for the lessons in life they taught me along the way. I hope to spend the rest of my career passing along the many lessons learned to my coworkers, friends and family.”
This article was originally titled “Hoosier ace” in the September 2015 print edition of PM Engineer.