Meet Marcel Williams, Who Gets into Tight Spaces and Enjoys Seeing Projects Come to Life

Visiting a construction site is one of Marcel Williams’ favorite things to do.

Visiting a construction project site is one of Marcel Williams’ favorite things to do on the job.

Williams works in the SFPUC’s Engineering Management Bureau (EMB) as a lead Project Engineer and Structural Designer. He works with a team of engineers to design new structures or structural repairs of various facilities throughout the water enterprises. On any given day, he typically has four or five projects all going at once in various stages of completion from planning stages, to preliminary design, to final design and construction.

“As a Structural Designer, I work with various 2D and 3D design and analysis software to model and analyze buildings,” said Williams. “And as a lead Project Engineer, I am the liaison between the SFPUC’s Water Enterprise, design engineers, and project manager.”

During the project’s design phase, Williams helps keep the project team on schedule and coordinates the design needs from the planning phase through final design. During the construction phase of a project, he gets to see a project being built out and visit some interesting places. This has included going into tight spaces or being lowered into a facility.

During the construction phase of a project, Marcel Williams gets to see a project being built out and visit some interesting places. Photo taken by SFPUC photographer Robin Scheswohl.
Marcel Williams inspecting the interior walls of an auxiliary water supply system cistern located at San Bruno & 25th Street. Photo taken by SFPUC photographer Robin Scheswohl.

“One of my favorite parts of the job is visiting the construction site throughout its various phases,” he shared. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the drawings I helped develop, on paper, evolve into a full-fledged structure.”

In his free time, Williams enjoys photography and visually capturing the interesting places he has visited – this includes site visits for some of his projects. “Although I take a lot of photos of what’s around me and others, I don’t have very many of me while working,” shared Williams. “SFPUC staff photographer Robin Scheswohl did snap a photo of me inside a cistern. That was an overall pretty great experience.”

The San Francisco Fire Department has several cisterns located throughout the City. The cisterns are stand alone water tanks used as a back up water supply in case the City’s water liens are severed during an earthquake event or other natural disaster. Williams and the SFPUC’s EMB Structural team were tasked to investigate several cisterns around the City that were slowly leaking water. Their job was to go down into each one to inspect the floor, walls, and roof slab to determine the potentials causes of the leaks. Most cisterns were equipped with two manholes – one at the center and one along the wall with integrated ladder for access. One cistern, however, was coated with an epoxy paint on coating and there was only one manhole in the center.

Marcel Williams (right) being lowered into a project site.

“We had to be lowered down using the confined space rescue device. I have been rock climbing several times at a local gym, so I had an idea of what I thought it would feel like repelling down into the cistern,” shared Williams. “But the experience was similar yet completely different at the same time. Since the access point was in the center of the cistern, unlike repelling down a wall there was no anchor point for your feet or hands. As I began to descend, I started spinning slowly around in circles and had no way to control it. The feeling of having no control over my decent was a little unnerving.”

Williams reminisced that being lowered into the cistern turned into a trust exercise with the equipment he was connected to and the operator above cranking him down. “I was relieved when my feet hit the floor and I could once again have control of my movements,” he shared. “The way back up I knew what to expect and it was actually kind of fun to be cranked up while freely spinning around. I even took the opportunity to tell the operator to stop for a second while I was suspended to take better photos while I was closer to the roof area.”

Two recent projects that he worked on have stood out the most to him – the Sunol Yard Project and the Golden Gate Park Reservoir and Pump Station that is currently under construction.

The Sunol Yard Project is currently in close out phase. The entire yard was rebuilt, which included a new administration building, four new shops, gas station, roadwork, and landscaping. “Seeing the buildings going up day by day was amazing to see but the most interesting part is what we found underground,” said Williams.

He shared that the Sunol Yard was built on the Native American Muwekma Ohlone tribal land. Some portions were parts of the village and others were used as burial grounds. “During all the underground work we had both an archaeologist and a tribal representative on site during digging operations,” he said. “If we encountered a burial or fire pit we had to stop work in that area and allow the archaeologist do photograph, sketch, and document the area before exhuming the burial. This slowed the typical underground work down, but fortunately through a great working relationship between the construction management team, SJ Amoroso (the general contractor), along with their subs and the Muwekma Tribal representatives, the project was not shut down and we continued to progress the project along.” Out of respect for the tribe and their ancestors, the project team did not take any photos.

The Golden Gate Park Reservoir and Pump Station project is currently under construction. Once completed, the large underground recycled water reservoir will provide irrigation water for a majority of Golden Gate Park. “When designing the project on paper it is hard to get a feel for the scale of everything until you get to see it in person,” said Williams. “I enjoy going on site visits and troubleshooting construction issues with the construction management team and contractors on site in an effort to create the most complete and sound product as we can. With each visit you get to see what was designed on paper unfold in front of your eyes.”

Golden Gate Park Reservoir project. Photo courtesy: Marcel Williams.
The Sunol Yard project. Photo courtesy: Marcel Williams.