“Academically and technically, I did not have a problem. I was confident in my capabilities and what I could do. The biggest challenge was just learning the American way because it’s so different from where I am from,” explains SFPUC’s Construction Management Bureau (CMB) Manager Algynon ‘Algy’ Collymore.
Like many transplants to the Bay Area, Collymore has gone through an inspiring physical, mental, and emotional journey, triumphing over challenges with dedication, hard work and the influence of his father.
Born on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, Collymore moved to Barbados at age 17 to study math and science at the University of the West Indies. A few years into his studies he moved to the Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Civil Environmental Engineering. Later hear earned a master’s degree in Civil Engineering and Project Management from the University of Maryland College Park.
“I am a first-generation American. Most of my family stayed in St. Lucia when I moved here,” Collymore reflects. “When I moved in 1997 it was just my dad and me. He dropped me off at Howard and about an hour later, he was gone because he had to work.” His dad’s dedication to being a good father and providing for his family was always significant to Collymore.
Beyond leaving the beautiful weather of the Caribbean for the frigid temperatures of DC, the transition was one of a fish in new waters. He had to acclimate to a new culture, different pace of life, and struggled, at times, to being misunderstood because of his accent.
“The primary challenge was building or finding a community. Life is all about the support of the people around you. If you don’t have that, you have to build it or find it,” he points out. In the end, it all paid off. “Over the four years at Howard, I was building that community. I graduated 21 years ago and some of those people are still my best friends to this day.”
Originally on a path to becoming an electrical engineer, he admits he was drawn to civil engineering because of his circle of friends. After college, Collymore gained experience in vertical construction working on a project for Dulles Airport in Virginia and tunneling with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
He eventually landed at DC Water, first with a consulting firm and then with a position working directly for the agency. He was with DC Water for 11 years, where he worked on some major projects such as implementing their largest Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant on the East Coast, Blue Plains.
His easy-going attitude has been an asset throughout his life and work. “I tend not to stress about stuff because it doesn’t get you anything. It doesn’t make life go better, it doesn’t help, so why
stress. I tell myself that every day is an opportunity to fix what went wrong the day before.” Collymore moved to the Bay Area in 2019 to work on the SFPUC’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), the multi-billion-dollar investment to upgrade our City’s aging sewer system infrastructure. For over two years he was the Project Manager of the Programmatic Construction Management Team for the over $3 billion investments underway at the Southeast Treatment Plant.
In October of last year, he was hired to lead the SFPUC’s Construction Management Bureau (CMB), overseeing all the agency’s water, wastewater, and power construction projects from San Francisco to Hetch Hetchy. Collymore sees his role as ensuring the next generation of construction management professionals can continue to successfully execute the SFPUC’s Capital Improvement Programs.
“We have the opportunity to build a team for the future,” he says with pride. “The CMB group is strong, but we need more early-career engineers and construction management professionals, who will take the agency into the next 15-20 years. That is my focus here, getting new fresh minds to give us new fresh ideas on how we approach the problems that we will face going forward. Our diversity is our strength at the SFPUC.”
For those looking to get into civil engineering and construction management, he advises, “Be patient; it takes time to get to where you are trying to go. Whether it’s the level of responsibility on a fantastic project or the compensation you think you deserve, just be patient. The rewards are long-term and it starts out slowly.” But it’s all worth it, he reasons with a smile.
“What I’d like to leave behind is an agency poised for the future,” he says. “Well resourced, good leadership and able to meet whatever demands the City places on it for implementing the CIP programs. Going forward it will be in great hands if we are able to bring in the next generation of leaders as soon as possible.”