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One’s career path includes many twists and turns before one finds their true niche. You could say that was the case for Dave Groulx, principal and plumbing director of ME Engineers, a mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and telecommunications engineering design firm. It designs building and technology systems for sports venues, commercial developments, higher education and health-care facilities.
Based in Denver, Groulx has worked in the plumbing engineering and design field for only two organizations during his 34-year career. He began his career at Canon Engineering and worked there for 14 years before taking a position at ME Engineers 20 years ago.
He believes his loyalty to these two organizations was an important part of his career’s development. Self-described as goal-oriented, in his current role, his duties include oversight of standards, specifications and project staffing. Yet his main role is project production using the latest technology in Revit to produce his own designs.
Over the years, he has worked on many types of facilities, but he considers arena and stadium design his specialty due to the sheer number of these facilities he has been a part of in the design and construction administration at ME Engineers.
“We love seeing Dave recognized as the Engineering Design & Specifying Professional of the Year not only because it means he’s earned the respect of the engineering community but also because his work showcases the evolution of
ME Engineers,” says CEO and Senior Principal Mike Hart, PE, LEED AP, at ME Engineers. “Dave’s combination of deep technical knowledge and first-rate communication skills reflects the kind of service and value we offer. We’re lucky to have him.”
Read on to learn more about Groulx’s career path in this exclusive interview with Plumbing Engineer.
Plumbing Engineer: Tell us about your career path. How did your first career in the military move you toward your current position?
Dave Groulx: I was in the Navy Seabees — the construction side of the Navy, part of the Civil Engineer Corps. I was a builder working around the world on various project types from pier construction to tilt-up construction during seven years of active duty. As a reservist for the next 14 years, I was an instructor teaching military training and weapons marksmanship. This time gave me experience in both construction and leadership. Plus it showed me the importance of working together as a team to accomplish goals.
Once I got out of active duty, I was framing houses when a friend who worked at a plumbing supply house mentioned that a contractor was losing his head plumber. He was looking for someone to train to take over the role in running his plumbing company. I joined the company, working on residential plumbing and light commercial buildings, which I did for three years.
During that time, I started going to night school for drafting. The owner of a local engineering firm came to the school looking for someone to work the plumbing side. The instructor pointed to me. I got hired as a board drafter and soon we started evolving into using AutoCAD. I was fortunate to be sitting in the right place at the right time and I got my feet on the ground at an engineering firm that started my career.
PE: How has your hands-on work in the field helped you in your current career?
DG: My time working in the field as a plumber allowed me to gain experience that I could have never learned from a textbook. It was a unique opportunity to come into a profession where a lot of people come out of school with only a theory of what plumbing is. Early on, I could picture what the plumbing looked like in a building as I was designing and drawing. Being able to visualize how systems go together allowed me to rapidly grow as a drafter, designer and engineer.
PE: What is your academic background?
DG: I went to high school in Dover, N.H., and went into the military right out of high school. As part of the Navy Seabees, I went to builder “A” School, which taught me the fundamentals of building construction. I also went through several military training and fundamentals of leadership classes as I advanced in rank.
After active duty, I went to night school at Phoenix University to learn drafting and AutoCAD, and received a technical degree from Phoenix College in computer-aided drafting.
PE: What professional organizations have you been involved in?
DG: Over the years I have been a member of both the National Fire Protection Association and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers. ASPE helps to shape the careers of plumbers with the various resources available for its members.
PE: Do any projects stand out to you?
DG: Stadiums and arenas stand out because I can turn on the television on any given day and see a project that I was involved with being enjoyed by millions of people.
My top three projects are Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, because it was my first sports-venue project. I have vivid memories of sitting in the stands on opening day with the local plumbers who worked on the project and seeing over 45,000 people sitting in a venue where I designed the plumbing. It was an amazing feeling.
Then Levi’s Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers play, stands out because it was the first stadium to use recycled water. We used a dual-pipe system that utilized potable water for the lavatories and kitchens, and recycled water provided by the city for the toilets and urinals. Water conservation was a major issue for the client, so it was a huge step for me to design the plumbing systems for a recycled water stadium.
However, my most memorable project is the transformation of Madison Square Garden in New York City. Our firm did the MEP and technology design, and it was a very challenging project. The building was 40 to 50 years old when we started and is an historic venue. Also, because the arena was to remain operational, our work had to be completed over three off-seasons.
PE: What are your top career highlights?
DG: My top highlight would have to be the remodel of Madison Square Garden because it is the most iconic arena in the world.
I am proud to see the path of the plumbing engineers in our firm who start in support roles and then run their own projects and designs.
And finally, I am proud of how our department and company has evolved in the use of Revit software. We have some very smart and talented people who transformed Revit from a basic drafting tool to a powerful program using our proprietary programming and calculation tools for our plumbing designs. It has allowed us to really take our designs to a new level.
PE: Over the years, you’ve been an innovator as well. Tell us about the propriety program you developed.
DG: Stadium and arenas are unique buildings for how they use water. There is no other building type where you get so many people rushing into restroom facilities at the same time.
Early on, we saw the need to better understand the unique flow characteristics of stadiums and arenas. So, we started to use ultrasonic flow meters to monitor how the water flowed during an event.
We took this information from several types of venues and developed a proprietary sizing sheet that shows how water in a stadium or arena will flow throughout the timeline of an event based on the number of seats. Now, before a shovel even goes in the ground, we can show you exactly the dynamics of how the stadium’s going act during the course of an entire event.
To show how accurate this program is, we used it to estimate the peak flow during the Super Bowl 50 halftime at Levi’s Stadium. When we had the actual flow results, our proprietary sizing sheet was 5 gallons/minute off the actual peak flow of the Super Bowl. That’s how close we were. And we’re talking about gpms in the thousands.
PE: You also helped refine ME’s Superflush process. Tell us about this.
DG: The Superflush process was developed at ME Engineers before I joined the company to stress test the plumbing systems of new stadiums. However, over the years, it has been refined and reviewed after every facility was completed.
The process is based on the number of people per restrooms, the number of fixtures flushed and the timing between those flushes to ensure we simulate an above maximum gpm flow for an event. It happens before the venue opens and simulates what’s going to happen when it actually opens. It’s a very organized process that needs to be well-orchestrated to work right and we’re always re-monitoring it.
Other firms have their own methods of doing similar testing, but we feel our method is the most accurate.
PE: How do you think plumbing design has evolved over the years?
DG: There’s no denying that water supplies are falling, so water conservation is a top priority in our field. We strive to be at the forefront of putting low-flow fixtures into our buildings and look at ways to do water reclamation and reuse. The less water you put into a stadium or building, the less water you have to push the waste out of a stadium or building, so there is a challenge on the engineering side to balance how much waste we can remove based on how much water we need to make a building function. It is one of the biggest challenges we face as plumbing engineers.
The other challenge we face is value engineering.
Every system we design is looked at in regards to value engineering. We have designed water reclamation systems that take large tanks, filters and pumps. However, these systems are expensive and almost always get looked at early during the value engineering of a facility.
The challenges of value engineering are that the design and construction team must work together to maintain a budget while balancing important innovative designs, such as water reclamation.
PE: Mentorship is an important topic for the plumbing industry. Have you been a mentor to others?
DG: Mentorship is a very important part of the environment in our firm. Several senior plumbers are very involved in this. As for myself personally, I have mentored many plumbing engineers who focus on sports and entertainment venues. Many of these individuals have gone forward to be the lead designer for these venues.
Part of our mentorship process as a firm is to work with individuals, monitor them and sit on calls with them and make sure they see how the process works before we release them on their own.
PE: Who do you consider your mentor and what have learned from him/her?
DG: When I was hired at ME Engineers, there were three plumbers. The lead plumber was Reggie Nelson. Reggie’s experience in stadium and arena design was the top in the country at the time. I was fortunate that he took me under his wing and worked patiently with me to show me all aspects of the design of these unique facilities. His patience and ability as a mentor was amazing to me.
PE: What are you and your firm doing to get more engineers into the industry?
DG: It’s a real challenge in the industry to find qualified plumbers or even young graduates who want to enter the plumbing field. We do go to universities to represent the firm and get young people to interview and see what we’re all about. Through internships, we brought people into plumbing design, and some have stayed on with us.
However, we see the need to get mechanical engineers in our firm more involved in the plumbing side of engineering.
We are also trying to develop young engineers coming in. We created our own training videos that touch on the plumbing side and the Revit side for people to use as a resource.
We hold a plumbing summit, where all our plumbing engineers come to our headquarters in Denver to talk about challenges, lessons learned and how we can do things better.
PE: How can the industry better recruit and retain young professionals?
DG: Emphasize the career opportunities that are in the plumbing design field. I’m a perfect example. I came in through a different door, but the opportunity has been there through my whole career to go as far as I want — and situations where I was in the right spot at the right time.
There’s such a vast array of what we do in the plumbing industry, and we need to do a better job of promoting that — such as the 3D side of what we’re doing. Building information modeling and Revit are exciting and we are doing some tremendous stuff with that. We need to continuously spread the word about the industry.
PE: What is your advice for someone interested in working in plumbing design and specifying?
DG: I tell people the field of plumbing is both challenging and rewarding. Designing our projects in the 3D world of Revit has changed the way plumbers design and visualize projects. The process keeps evolving so the possibilities for the future are endless. Finally, I emphasize that the opportunities for someone who wants to specialize in the field of plumbing engineering are endless as our firm and the industry are always seeking qualified plumbing engineers and designers.
PE: What professional challenges are you still contending with because of the pandemic?
DG: The entire construction industry is still dealing with the fallout. There are goods and material shortages, and the increasing prices due to the shortage has strained construction budgets.
We’re seeing that for a lot of projects, the initial estimates are over budget, which now pushes value engineering into early phases of the design process. This requires us to work as a design team to provide value engineering to our clients that does not compromise the integrity of the designs.
PE: What is your life like outside of work?
DG: I have always enjoyed traveling and have gone on several cruises with my family. On a very personal note, three years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes brought on by years of an unhealthy diet and an unhealthy lifestyle. It was a huge wake up call. From the moment of my diagnosis, I did a 180 on my life, and changed the way I thought, the way I ate and the way I exercised. As a result, I lost nearly 70 pounds. Now I feel better than I have in 30 years. My A1C went from 13 to 4.6.
I mention this because I, like so many in this industry, put priorities on work and others but tend to ignore taking care of ourselves. You need to take care of yourself. I don’t want anybody to get to the point that I did.
PE: What are you looking forward to in 2023?
DG: Traveling. As a firm, we’ve got some exciting projects opening and exciting projects coming up.
I am also excited about the enthusiasm of some of our younger engineers and designers who want to get involved in some of the biggest work that we do. I look forward to getting our younger staff more involved in some of these bigger projects and watching them grow over the year.
It’s going to be really good year for the industry as a whole.
PE: What does it mean to be named Plumbing Engineer’s Design & Specifying Professional of the Year?
DG: I am honored and humbled to be recognized for the award. My career has been aided by some very talented people here at ME Engineers and by some of the best architects and engineers in the world who make the projects I have been privileged to work on go from concept to reality.
It’s a huge effort to make something such as a stadium or arena come to life. The ability to work on those facilities has propelled my career.
PE: Is there anything you’d like to add?
DG: Hard work is always the key to being successful, but there’s so many people involved along the way. Never forget to recognize that you never get anywhere by yourself. There are people along the path who sometimes push you, sometimes hold you up to get you where you are.
It gave me a different avenue into this field than most people take, and so I can’t think about something like this without thinking about everyone who had a part. And then sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. And I’m thankful for all of that.
As I wind down my career, I look back to some really good people, good projects and the opportunity I’ve had to be in this industry. I hope to leave a little bit of a legacy for people to move forward on some of the things that we able to do here with the production, and the way we look at designs.
Lastly, a sincere thank you to the individuals at ME Engineers who nominated me.