Last Updated on January 30, 2024
In this month’s edition of My River POV, we sat down with members of the River Authority’s Facilities Team to ask them questions about their personal connection to the San Antonio River in hopes of inspiring stewardship of area creeks and rivers.
Who is the River Authority’s Facilities Team?
Facilities Team members (left to right): Joaquin Wilson, Victor Gomez, Roger Pruski, and Naomi Oster.
Naomi Oster, Facilities Manager
Byanka Covarrubias, Safety and Occupational Health Administrator
Victor Gomez, Facilities Foreman
Joaquin Wilson, Facilities Maintenance Technician
Johnny Craig, Facilities Crew leader
Rudy Romo, Patricia Cabrera, and Anna Lopez, Custodians
Featuring Roger Pruski, Master Electrician
How does the facilities team help to keep the river safe, clean, and enjoyable?
Naomi: Our team addresses order requests through our software system and performs routine checks to fix things we notice on the ground. It could be turning on and maintaining the boiler to get adequate heat in the building or heading down to the Mission Reach Operations Center (MROC) to check on something. Our custodial crew is essential in keeping the facilities clean and enjoyable for everyone working there. Additionally, our team supports the safety of all employees. Byanka and I will work on facility assessments of all the sites to include potential safety issues within our facilities.
My job is to listen to my team and ask the necessary questions about their tasks and challenges. I may not know how to change a ballast, but I know which questions to ask my team about that process. I bring the team together so we can decide how to get things done as one unit. For example, we recently installed new chillers at the River Authority Headquarters and had to sit down and formulate a plan of action. We all have different backgrounds, and that is what makes our team great.
Naomi explains how the Facilities Team uses software to control the HVAC system.
Victor: We do everything from HVAC, plumbing, and electrical needs to fixing an ice maker and just keeping up with the buildings themselves. We oversee maintenance for the 16 River Authority buildings throughout Bexar, Karnes, Wilson, and Goliad counties. We also work with different departments. For example, we recently worked with the Watershed and Parks Operations (WPO) crew to remove trees covering the HVAC chillers in preparation for replacing those units.
Roger: Our main job is to keep people comfortable. I spend lots of time with the Utilities Department and work with Travis Krueger, the Utilities Maintenance Superintendent, to keep their facilities and vehicles running. I also manage and maintain the River Authority’s fleet of almost 200 vehicles: from smaller cars to large dump trucks. Really though, in the long run, our connection with the San Antonio River is enabling the employees who work directly with the river the ability to get their job done without having to worry about the behind-the-scenes things. We facilitate and make it so that the experts on the river can get in and do their piece.
Victor: For example, the lab has certain temperatures and parameters to keep their building at so they can run their tests and be accountable to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). In that way, we can see our work as part of the larger team effort.
How about you, Byanka?
Byanka: My main priority is to ensure that every employee has the skills and knowledge to do what they are doing safely. I do this by ensuring employees are aware of and invested in their safety programs, holding essential training sessions, and securing the proper safety equipment. I travel to different sites and join the teams for half of the day to complete tasks with them and perform risk assessments that help me understand how to best serve these teams. I’ll listen to their needs and discussions and then identify areas for risk and safety improvements. Currently, I’m working with employees to create an updated plan for safety when working in confined spaces. If we want to create safe spaces for families to recreate on the river, we must begin with safety within our agency.
River Authority employees complete CPR/First Aid training.
Why do you enjoy working for the River Authority?
Victor: The snacks! Just kidding. Time flies by when you’re committed to your job. You know, loving what I do has really kept me here, as well as the people I work with and the environment. My son has grown up visiting me at work here at the River Authority and has met everybody. It turns into a family thing. At the River Authority, you’re with fellow crew members who will teach you but also want to learn. I’ve learned a lot from Roger and Joaquin. There’s no right or wrong answer; we’re an equal team willing to learn and help each other. You learn from your errors and start respecting the skills and trades everyone else brings.
Joaquin, Victor, and Roger inspect the new HVAC chiller at the Guenther building.
Roger: I’ll put my head together with Joaquin and Victor, and it’s incredible to see what we can accomplish when you have the right team together. I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a place where the other employees are so hungry to learn what I can share with them. For example, when I started at the River Authority, I was the guy going out to help fix lights on the River Walk. Well, in the process, I was teaching the WPO team how to do it. The next thing I knew, they weren’t calling me anymore, and I was asking, “Do we never have broken lights anymore?” No, they had picked up the knowledge and ran with it.
Joaquin: When you love what you do, the day goes by fast. Victor and I often head home from our work location laughing and joking. When you work with someone you like and get along with, it makes work enjoyable.
Naomi: I think that’s really the key, right? Loving what we do. I love Facilities Management and taking care of buildings. It’s been fantastic to do what I do and see some of these buildings and renovations come alive. At the end of the day, I really take pride in my team’s work, and I think we all do.
What is something that most folks might not know about your team?
Anna Lopez and Johnny Craig at the River Authority Headquarters.
Roger: There are a lot of things that our team does behind the scenes that most people don’t see. When River Authority staff moved from the Sheridan building back to the Guenther location, everyone arrived to find their moving boxes in their offices, but how did that happen? That kind of stuff, and then the day-to-day things like showing up to a clean, empty trash can when you arrive at work. Maybe some folks take it for granted, but it’s nice when people say thank you and take notice of what our team is doing.
Naomi: In our field, our recognition often comes when no one says anything because that means we have done our job.
Victor: Right, but it’s something that you take pride in, too. It’s how you get to meet all kinds of people and form those relationships.
Naomi: Every day is an adventure for us—in one form or another. I have only been with the team for two months, but I’m excited about the things this team is accomplishing and the good we are doing.
What is your personal connection with the San Antonio River?
Upper Cibolo Creek—a tributary of the San Antonio River.
Roger: In my growing-up days, we spent time at one of the tributaries of Cibolo Creek that bordered my grandparent’s land. We weren’t thinking about where the creek led at that age, but we really appreciated having clean water. When we went fishing, we would jump in with them! When I got to the River Authority, I started to realize how everything fits together. Whether you’re on the Medina River or on, Cibolo Creek, or the San Antonio River, it all joins together in the same place.
Victor: You realize that what we do on and around our creeks and rivers here in San Antonio doesn’t just affect us. The San Antonio River flows all the way down to Karnes and Goliad counties, too. Farther down these tributaries is their water, and we must do our job in Bexar County so folks further south can do their jobs.
Naomi: I’ve been in San Antonio for 12 years, and my main experience was with the River Walk area. When I applied for the job with the River Authority, I started to do research and realized just how much the agency does to take care of our rivers and our wildlife.
Joaquin: When I get to work in the mornings at the Guenther building, I’ll sit in the breakroom and watch the sunrise over the river, and it’s just quiet and relaxing.
What upcoming projects is your team excited about?
Naomi: The Sheridan project is our next major upcoming project. We’re currently in the design phase and hope it’s a big, beautiful, sustainable, and well-functioning building.
Joaquin: It will be exciting to see the project from the beginning to the end.
Roger: We will also be taking our services on the road and doing WPO field office and Utilities updates throughout the Basin.
Naomi: Our goal is to give the field crews a nice place to come and work at the end of the day when they are filling out reports and doing office work. They need to be able to go to a comfortable and inviting place after working 7-8 hours in the field. Our team is here for all the employees throughout the Basin, not just in Bexar County.
How can we preserve the river for future generations?
Naomi: We need to tackle the litter problem in our rivers. Just like picking up after yourself indoors helps the facilities crew, keeping the river clean by picking up our litter is essential for everyone.
Roger: When I worked at Six Flags, we had a saying: Don’t pass it up. Pick it up.
Joaquin: Take care of your planet and your river!