Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
The last thing Paul Pogorzelski dreamed that he would be doing is sitting in an office, managing the day-to-day affairs of Hopewell Township as the township administrator.
He knew, as a young boy, that he did not want to sit behind a desk. He wanted to be like his father – a union carpenter, who the youngster sometimes followed around on job sites – and work outdoors.
Yet at the end of this month, Pogorzelski will wrap up a 38-year career as a civil engineer – the last 10 of those years spent as the Hopewell Township administrator and township engineer.
“I never thought I would be an administrator in my life,” Pogorzelski said, with a tinge of amazement. And especially in the town that he grew up in, said Pogorzelski, who graduated from Hopewell Valley Central High School in 1975.
Spurred by his desire to avoid becoming a desk jockey, Pogorzelski decided he wanted to be a civil engineer. He figured that by becoming an engineer, it would give him a chance to be out of doors, he said.
After high school, Pogorzelski earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Fairleigh Dickinson University and then embarked on a career as a civil engineer. He worked as a consulting engineer in Hopewell Township for many years, representing applicants before the zoning and planning boards.
“I didn’t realize that being a civil engineer meant going to a lot of night meetings. What drew me was not being at a desk. You grow into (the profession) and you start to represent clients,” he said.
Pogorzelski worked his way up to become a partner in an engineering firm, and spent his time “running around” New Jersey and Pennsylvania taking care of clients. So when Hopewell Township officials offered him the top administrative post, he readily accepted it.
“I felt like coming to Hopewell Township (to become the township administrator) would bring some stability to my life. I could slow down a bit and focus on the township. But that didn’t happen,” he said.
Instead, Pogorzelski has been busier than ever.
“It is a job that requires constant attention. It is relentless. The issues never stop. You get every challenge you could ever imagine. I never realized how much energy is required for the job,” he said.
There are some misconceptions about what it is like to work in government, and what the people who work in government are really like.
“I learned after my first month on the job that the people who work in government are limitless in their energy. They like to help people,” he said.
Pogorzelski also quickly learned that “everything we do is so complex. You really worry about the decisions you make. You have to be a contingency planner – what could happen (and how it can be resolved). The challenges can be overwhelming, but so rewarding.”
Asked about his achievements in his decade at the township’s helm, Pogozelski rattled off a list of accomplishments – from the development of the former Twin Pines Airport into the Twin Pines athletic fields, to the ongoing construction of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail.
Turning the former airport, which was a grass runway, into an athletic field complex was challenging, said Pogorzelski, who is a licensed pilot. But there was a growing demand for athletic fields, and the project became a joint venture among Hopewell Township, Pennington Borough and Lawrence Township.
“It was a challenge for me, as a pilot. I had to meet with the owners and the other pilots. They felt like it was the end for them. It was sad for them and for me to see the airport go away,” he said.
The Lawrence Hopewell Trail, of which Pogorzelski is equally proud, is a 20-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that links the two townships. It was a “worthy concept,” he said. It has been in the works since 2001, and sections have gradually been added.
“We were able to bring it to life and to bring more life to the community,” Pogorzelski said. “It’s great to see people enjoying the trail and having fun, and it’s something you had a hand in creating.”
Looking back, Pogorzelski said that serving as the township administrator was enjoyable because so many of the people he worked with had also attended Hopewell Valley Central High School with him.
“It was like a family,” Pogorzelski said.
Lea Kahn, Staff Writer