The Beginning, the End, and the Dash In-Between: An Employee’s Perspective

By Ava Barlow

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“Begin with the End in mind.” Alpha & Omega Group’s tagline appears on our letterhead, business cards, website – all our branding materials. A&O President Ted Bartelt wrote a blog post on what he had in mind with “Begin with the End in mind.”  Our tagline has many different levels of meaning, depending on one’s perspective. Clients see it as a promise that we will fulfill their goals of a given project – a nice greenway bridge for residents to walk or cross on a bicycle; a safe highway bridge to drive across; or efficient stormwater control that will prevent contaminants from getting into our lakes, streams, and drinking water. Ted spoke of how he sees it as having an eternal, spiritual meaning that transcends the here and now. To him the tagline gives him greater responsibility, because in serving clients for the sake of public safety, he is also serving God.

How do A&O employees understand this motto? None of the current employees have been around since the very beginning of A&O, although we have learned the story of how our company began. We certainly want A&O to continue for many years. When considering beginning – end, we are living the dash in-between.

 
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The dash in-between is much more than an insignificant punctuation mark – it is where the rubber meets the road.  Sometimes the dash in-between feels like a dash, or a sprint – when we work hard to meet deadlines and to complete a job with excellence. But rather than a competition, we see the dash as a cooperative, team effort. We support and help each other achieve our goals. The dash in-between is where we, as members of this team, live out all six core values of A&O: relationships, teamwork, trust, servant attitudes, stewardship, and excellence. 

At the beginning of every week, we have a meeting we call “Monday Momentum,” or “Monday Mo,” for short. At this meeting, we discuss values and character traits that are important in the workplace and consider how to apply them to our current workload. Monday Mo inspires us and sets the tone for the coming week. We strive to fulfill these values, not only because our company leaders expect us to, not just because clients expect us to, but we expect it of ourselves.

This is a small company, and we feel like a family. Ted and Glenn Zeblo, our vice president and co-owner, care about us, and we all care about each other.  Whether any of us is facing a health problem, an issue with a family member, or a challenge with our work, they listen and help if they can. They also pray for us. They trust us to do a job well, to use our creative abilities to solve problems. Because of these trusting relationships, we strive to do our best work. While they might not like to be reminded, both Ted and Glenn set an example for the rest of us in their lives and in their work – and we try to live up to the example. In short, Ted and Glenn’s management style makes us better, both as employees and as people.

We are somewhere in the middle of the timeline of A&O – the dash. While we don’t really want to think about the end of A&O, we do want the company to be known for all of those core values mentioned above – they are not just some marketing blather, but have real meaning and importance to us. We want the company to be known as a great place to work, where we all become better at what we do and how we live and interact. We want all those we serve to think of us as a reliable, trustworthy company that can solve a problem with integrity, creativity, efficiency, and excellence. 
 

Establishing a Productive Environment: Step One - Decluttering the Office

 
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In our dynamic world, one thing that remains constant is change. All industries have been affected by changes in technology and how we produce our work in the 21st century. Engineering is no exception. A&O’s leaders, Ted Bartelt, PE, and Glenn Zeblo, PE, have witnessed a transition of reliance on documents, drawings, and bluelines produced and delivered on paper, to digital files that can be delivered electronically, through cloud and file transfer systems.

In the 20 years of A&O history, a lot of clutter has accumulated in our office. Sure, we’ve organized clean-up days, but in general, our office has been filled with an ever-growing collection of file cabinets, drawers, closets, and boxes filled with paper. In the earliest days of transition to digital information, it is easy to understand why it would be necessary to keep paper as a back-up in case electronic systems fail or are accidently erased. But over time, electronic storage capacities have improved and expanded, so now there no need to keep much paper.

However, our files on the computer are not as well-organized as they should be. Company President Ted Bartelt said, “I don’t have any problem getting rid of the paper if I know we have scanned and saved it to the computer. For me, I let things pile up because I wanted to know what direction we are going with our electronic filing system.” He added that often, when he searches for a file on the computer, he is unable to find it, so he ends up recreating it.

Projects, reference documents, marketing material, accounting, human resources, and other digital files are referred to by different names by different people in the company, said Jeff Goodin, IT director. “This leads to a Tower of Babel effect when we go to search for information about the projects,” he pointed out.

To solve the problem of clutter, A&O hired professional organizer Barbara Hemphill, founder of Barbara Hemphill, LLC, based in Raleigh. Barbara’s message on her company’s website is that unnecessary office clutter slows down productivity and creates stress, frustration, and low morale among staff. “Many organizations don’t realize the cost of their unproductive environment,” she said. Because of a lack of organization, clutter can cause staff to spend too much time searching for the things they need, wasting companies time and money.

The first step in the process of decluttering A&O’s office was to meet with Barbara to discuss the plan. She introduced her SYSTEM (Saving You Space, Time, Energy, and Money) strategy to A&O’s staff. To prepare staff for the workday, she asked us to consider the following questions:

  1. What information do we need to keep? 
  2. In what form and where?
  3. For how long?
  4. Who is responsible for filing it?
  5. Who needs access to it?
  6. How do we find it?
  7. How is it backed up?
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Her challenge was to get everyone involved. The following week, Barbara returned for our workday. The main emphasis that day was to dispose of paper. Barbara arrived in the office at 7:30 am and the team worked until 12:30, when we broke for lunch. Our strategy consisted of tossing everything on paper that had been digitalized, then determining whether each piece of paper was necessary to keep, said office administrator Emily Daugherty. “We all started with our own workspaces, and then went through file cabinets, desks, and closets,” she said. “If we needed the paper, we kept it – but ultimately, the goal was to make those items digital and to get rid of all the paper.”

Barbara had us set up three categories of items for the clean-up. The shredding pile was for sensitive documents in which privacy or security is a concern. We decided that because we were limited to a half day, rather than try to decide whether a document fit the sensitive category, we would simply shred all the paper that needed to be disposed of. The next pile was “trash to treasure” for items that people no longer wanted, but thought someone else might like to have, and the third pile was a staging area for items that we were unsure what to do with.

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At the beginning of the morning, some staff had work to complete and were not involved in the clean-up, but by the end of the morning, everyone was participating. “It’s a team-building experience,” said Barbara. “Many hands make light work, and by the time we finished, the team was working quite well together.”

Emily agreed. “We had a lot of fun. We found a lot of interesting old documents. I learned what a blueline is,” she said, referring to the old technology of reproducing engineering drawings with ammonia vapor.

Emily said decluttering the office of paper improved the atmosphere of the office. “Even just walking in the next day, it felt lighter.”

“It’s a big relief for me,” said Jeff. It uncluttered a lot. Now there is less distraction of the white noise of all that paper.”

The next step in the process will be to better organize computer files. Someone will be assigned to each area of the network drives to reorganize files according to a naming convention that will be standardized among each area, making files more searchable. In naming computer documents and files, said Barbara, it is important to consider all the ways a person might look a project up. Project numbers, dates, key words, or clients may all be important in this consideration, she said.

Throughout the process of becoming better organized, we will improve our efficiency and productivity, enabling us to serve our clients better. Our work environment will be cleaner and more relaxed, which will mean less stress for each of us. “Learning to create and sustain a productive environment means you control the things you can control,” said Barbara, “so you can better cope with the things you can’t.”

A&O 20th Anniversary – The Encouraging Message of Jeremiah 29:11

By Ted Bartelt, PE

 
 

After opening the doors of Alpha & Omega Group in 1998, I found a meaningful Bible verse in a Christian book store, nicely framed so I could place it on my desk. The framed verse was Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I needed a reminder on my desk of God’s promise that He had my best interest in mind as I stepped out in faith to honor Him through this new company.

As I reflected on the verse, I also re-read the book of Jeremiah and reminded myself of the significance of what God was saying through the prophet Jeremiah. The nation of Judah had been overtaken by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon. Their situation appeared hopeless as they were being taken to live and die in a foreign, unfamiliar land. God’s message was that no matter how dire their situation appeared, God still loved them and would even make them prosper in a land they knew nothing about, let alone how to do business there.

Throughout our 20 years, there have been significant times when I have needed that reminder on my desk. Initially, I needed it when I began to hire employees and had the responsibility of taking care of those employees (with families) by finding work and paying bills. Often, I wondered if I would have enough money to make payroll!

Another time the verse helped me was after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many businesses struggled to keep their doors open, and some were not able to do so. A few years later came the 2008 stock market crash and Great Recession. I had lived through the recessions of 1973-1975, 1980-1983, 1990-1991, and 2001, but this was of a magnitude I had never seen. The engineering, architecture, and landscape architecture industries saw reductions of work of 50 percent or more and firms shrank to a third of their original size, if they were able to remain in business.

It can be a challenge to navigate a Christian company in a world that is fraught with economic, social, and political conflict, as ours is today. Isaiah 29:11 reminds me that even though I am in a foreign land, I can rely on the promises of God as I conduct business every day. It also reminds me to thank God every day for all the blessings He has provided to A&O through the years! Thank you, God, for your unconditional love that accepts me as I am with all my scars created by sin, and for blessing me in ways that I cannot comprehend.
 

A&0 20th Anniversary - What Does Our Motto Mean?

By Ted Bartelt, PE

If you know Alpha & Omega Group, you have most likely heard our motto –Begin with the End in Mind.”

If this phrase sounds familiar, it is because the phrase was first coined by Stephen Covey as the second habit of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” published in 1988. I was first introduced to Covey’s 7 habits in the late 1980s in my profession. As an engineer and a problem solver, “begin with the end in mind” fits my nature and the ability to see the end solution to the problem at hand.

 
 

This principal sounds simple; however, it takes good communication to determine what the end result should be. To be able to solve a problem for a client, you must first understand your client’s needs. As discussions develop with a client for a particular project, a picture begins to form. Questions help paint the picture - Why is this project being built? What problem is it solving? How will it be used by the public or customer? How will it impact the community? What materials will be used to build it? What will be the expected service life of the project? What is the budget for the project? How long will it take to build the project? How will construction impact the community? These questions and other inquiries shape the picture so that the End is clear and well-defined for you and the client.

The motto also fits well with the name of this company and its reference to God. God reveals himself in Revelation 22:13 - “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”. As the creator of all things, God showed us this principle through God’s word. The Bible was written over a 1500-year period, showing God’s plan of love and redemption through his son Jesus Christ. All the prophesies of the Old Testament point to the Lamb of God who would come, live, and die to save us from our sin. The End that God has revealed to us is a new heaven and a new earth and the opportunity to spend eternity with Jesus. Our ultimate goal, in everything we do, begins with the End - eternity -  in mind!

A&O 20th Anniversary – Why A&O?

A&O President Ted Bartelt, PE, at the end of a long week of Bridge Inspection in 2000

By Ted Bartelt, PE, President

Last month, as Christmas approached, it was hard to believe that Alpha & Omega Group would be celebrating its 20 year anniversary in 2018.  It seemed so recent that I started the company with the help of my friend and former co-worker Glenn Zeblo and my wife, Beth, to begin a new journey. Since then, many people have come through our doors over the years to begin their engineering careers, transition from other companies, or move into different careers that they felt called to. 

Throughout our 20 years, many have asked “why did you start the company in the first place?” If you look for the origin of the company name “Alpha & Omega Group” you may have some clue as to why I started it.  Alpha & Omega comes from the book of Revelation in the New Testament “I am theAlpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Glenn and I wanted to honor the Lord with the business. But it really started before 1998 and with the struggles that impacted my life. 

The “Why” question has its origins in my marriage with Beth, leading up to 1994 After struggling with infertility for several years, we reached a point where we both felt uncomfortable continuing with fertility treatments. Beth and I took the step to stop relying on doctors and start relying on God and praying for a child.  

That initial step of faith immediately led us to meetings and situations that were more than coincidental. Friends led us to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). I was amazed when I saw that more than 500 men signed up for the study, with dozens of men that I knew. The real sign that I knew I was in the right place was when I sat down, a gentleman sat down beside me and introduced himself as Johnny Evans. I immediately knew who he was – the star NCSU quarterback who led the Wolfpack while I was enrolled at NC State.  So many things fell in place in the summer of 1994 that Beth and I knew our lives were changing. 

 Bible on a chair in room set up for Bible study

In September, Beth and I began the study of Moses, and our eyes opened to the true meaning of the word of God. Before this, all the stories I knew as a kid – the burning bush, the plagues, the parting of the red sea, the Passover – were just that to me, stories. I had no idea how those stories were related to Jesus, but I quickly began to understand how the Passover pointed to Christ shedding his blood for us as atonement for my sin. I knew I was a sinner and fell short of the glory of God. 

I also knew I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I went to buy a Bible for BSF. The gentleman in the Christian book store asked if I needed help in finding something and I told him that I was looking for a New International Version translation of the Bible. He pointed me to a men’s devotional bible and said to let him know if I had any questions.  

I looked through the Bible and one thing jumped out at me. I innocently asked the gentleman what the words in red are in the Bible 

 “The red words are the words that Jesus spoke,he said, smiling. 

“Oh, I said, and foolishly smiled back at him. At that point he asked me if I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I knew that deep in my soul I had accepted Jesus and told him so. I had an inner peace that is indescribable. I no longer questioned what happens after death. I knew I would be spending eternity in heaven with Jesus and fellow believers. In September 1994, my life changed forever. 

A&O Vice President, Glenn Zeblo, PE, at a job site in 2002

As I studied, I met with fellow believers and conversed with Beth, thinking about my calling in life. God gifted me with many talents, including engineering, the ability to connect with people, and the ability to think creatively. These talents had led me to leadership positions for the companies that I had worked for. God also placed me with a co-worker, Glenn Zeblo, who worked with me, side by side, since we were fresh out of college. I knew Glenn was a believer and observed his ability to talk to people about Jesus and the truths that originated from the Gospel. He was a strong witness to me in his faith and his work ethic. We both felt called to the engineering profession and our strengths complemented each other’s. 

I observed many people begin businesses and run them as strictly business. There appeared to be no thought of integrating ones faith and profession. As a new Christian, I questioned how can one separate faith from work? How is it possible to run a company, dealing with people every day in the workplace, while keeping faith strictly personal and separate? This is still a prevalent philosophy today! 

As God’s providence would have it, the opportunity presented itself in 1997 to start a company that honored God. The company I had worked for and was part owner of was acquired by a national firm, which allowed me to step out and begin A&O. The acquisition was completed in December 1997, and January 1, 1998 began a new journey in my life. From Revelation 21:6,  "He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'"

Next week – How our motto, "Begin with the End in mind," came about. 

 

A&O Welcomes New NBIS Team Leader

 Project Manager Matthew J. Moyer, PE, will manage bridge inspections for A&O.

Project Manager Matthew J. Moyer, PE, will manage bridge inspections for A&O.

Alpha & Omega Group is pleased to announce the addition of a new project manager, Matthew J. Moyer, PE, to manage bridge inspections. Matthew is focused on NBIS bridge inspections, condition assessments, bridge repairs, rehabilitation, and bridge preservation.

With 17 years of experience as a professional engineer, Matthew has been certified as an NBIS (National Bridge Inspection Standards) team leader since 2009. He has inspected more than 1,000 highway bridges, 1,000 railroad bridges, and 400 signal poles. He has conducted 49 bridge rehabilitation projects, three tunnel rehabilitation projects and 50 in-depth condition assessments for bridges.  In addition to bridge preservation Matthew has also designed steel, prestressed concrete and cored slab bridges.

“To save our clients' money over a long period of time”, says Matthew, “the goal is to begin with preservation in mind. By providing inspections, condition assessments, maintenance and rehabilitation solutions, the life of bridges can be substantially extended.”

We are very excited to have Matthew on our team as we continue to serve state, municipal, and county clients throughout North Carolina.

Welcome to the team, Matthew!

Hidden Treasure

treasure

by Ted Bartelt
 

Occasionally, an opportunity comes along in my engineering career to be a part of a truly inspirational project, a structure that sparks my creative energy and offers something special and unique to the people who will use it. These projects capture my imagination from the beginning and hold a place in my memory long after they are completed.

Ebenezer Chapel is one of those projects. It was born of my friend Mark Boone's vision to build a chapel on his property in Raleigh, NC. This is not simply a sweet gazebo or family chapel with a basic seating and floor plan. Mark’s vision is to create this chapel completely underneath a massive granite outcropping that will last thousands of years. Think of the pyramids of Egypt, but with a focus on sharing history, worship and peace.   

Ebenezer Chapel, bird's-eye view - architect's rendering

Architect's rendering of the entrance to Ebenezer Chapel

Ebenezer Chapel interior, 80 feet below ground - architect's rendering

The chapel will be 80 feet below the ground with an 800-foot entrance ramp at a 5% grade on a small triangular piece of property. Building this chapel will require expert mining techniques, an understanding of the granite, and the will to take it on.

Honestly, I'm in awe of the various elements and skills sets Mark has brought to this venture. The chapel, as a start, is being called a mine. And this brings up interesting and unique challenges that make me wonder about the ways ancient structures - now relics - were built.

Recently, I have been fascinated by “The Curse of Oak Island” series on the History Channel. Who would go to the extent to hide treasure with cryptic clues and booby traps, considering the engineering involved?

Who would think of digging a pit, hundreds of feet below the surface, installing oak platforms at 10-foot levels, placing a coded message on a stone tablet 90 feet below, creating flooding tunnels to the shore, and going to a depth of more than 200 feet with very basic tools? As an engineer, I have been captivated, because this is work! I imagine what it would take and shake my head.

People have been trying to unearth this treasure for more than 200 years. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once took part as a curious treasure hunter. More recently, seekers have used modern equipment and scientific methods to try to "crack the code" and get their hands on this elusive prize. Millions of dollars have been spent with no results. 

 President Franklin D. Roosevelt is thought to have explored the money pit on Oak Island with friends in 1909.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is thought to have explored the money pit on Oak Island with friends in 1909.

So what is it? And why bother?
There are rumors that it is treasure from the famous Captain Kidd. And there are rumors that it's a collection of religious artifacts that that pre-date Christopher Columbus, brought from Europe by the Knights Templar and hidden away for safe-keeping.

As a student of the Bible, the possibility of this secret bounty turning out to be King Solomon’s treasure or the lost Ark of the Covenant adds even more intrigue to the  mystery. It also leads me to other thoughts about hidden treasure and the need to search for something of value.

There are earthly treasures and there are heavenly treasures. Earthly treasures are fleeting and temporary, but heavenly ones are eternal. 

The Bible is a Christian's map filled with clues and prophesies regarding the treasure in heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." (Matt 13:44) The whole Bible points to the Messiah who came to this earth in the human flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the key that opens the door to heaven’s treasure. Seek him. Knock, and the door will be opened.

As an engineer for Ebenezer Chapel, my hope is that it will lead people to discover God’s eternal treasure for the next thousands of years.

The project is in its infancy and a key milestone is on the horizon. Coring the rock is needed to determine the quality of granite on the site. Once the quality and depth of sound granite are known, we will know how deep to set the chapel floor. 

Stay tuned as the project unfolds. We hope to give you the perspective from the engineers and architects point of view as we unravel the challenges of designing and constructing the Ebenezer Chapel within a mass of granite to last for 3,000 years or more!

Ted Barelt, PE, is founder, president and structural engineering principal of Alpha & Omega Group. 


 

 

Ebenezer Chapel-A Stone of Help

 architect drawing of the underground Ebenezer chapel to be built along the Richland Creek greenway near Ebenezer church road

architect drawing of the underground Ebenezer chapel to be built along the Richland Creek greenway near Ebenezer church road

Alpha & Omega Group is thrilled to be part of the engineering team for an exciting project in North Raleigh – an underground chapel, cut from a deep layer of granite. Ebenezer Chapel is the dream of project developer Mark Boone, who believes that God works miracles. He ponders the future and loves to study history. As the founder of the Raleigh-based Markus Group, Ltd., a contract manufacturer of medical and consumer goods, he has more than 40 years of business experience and traveling the world.

The underground Ebenezer Chapel will be on Ebenezer Church Road in Raleigh, along the proposed Richland Creek greenway trail. "Ebenezer" means "stone of help," as referenced from 1 Samuel 7:12.

Xavier Vilalta, of Vilalta Arquitectura, is the lead designer. As a distinguished international architect, he specializes in combining technology with local resources and culture to create contemporary designs that suit their environment. His design for the walkway into the chapel spirals downward, "like the cochlea of a human ear," descending into granite and leading to a space that can hold 250 people. "We want visitors to breathe in, find places to stop and think, pray and feel closer to God," reads the text on the project website
 
Mr. Boone's hope is that the chapel will endure for thousands of years. Alpha and Omega Group typically designs bridges that we hope will last 100 years, so we are inspired and awed to consider a structure being built in the 21st century that will stand the test of time like the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or the oldest cathedrals of Europe. When we look at those structures now, we consider the people who designed and built them. We ponder their culture and marvel at their creativity and their advanced engineering abilities. We speculate about their motivations. Similarly, Mr. Boone wants to leave something for people 3,000 years from now to understand us.

  • What mattered to us?
  • What was important day to day, generation to generation?
  • How were we similar despite the plurality of "us?"
  • What were the things that took up our time, inspired us, worried us, fueled our creativity and touched our humanity?
  • People in 5016 are likely to know us just as we know those who lived 3000 years ago: by studying the architecture that remains.     

Bringing the Ebenezer Chapel from dream to reality will require the creativity and skills of many people of different disciplines. Pastors, architects, sociologists, artists, lighting experts, and horticulturalists will be involved. Alpha & Omega Group will support the project by providing structural engineering services. The plan is being developed, but funding is needed. To learn more about the vision for this project, we invite you to visit the website

 

History of Transportation Infrastructure Maintenance Needs

Construction of a Federal Aid Road Act bridge in about 1920 in Person County, NC

The earliest half of the twentieth century in the United States ushered great growth in technology and transportation. Newly constructed highways and bridges, built under the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916, allowed people and goods to cross the nation with unprecedented speed and efficiency. Later, President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration and President Eisenhower's  Interstate Highway System expanded our transportation infrastructure even more. Eventually, however, new construction slowed, and existing structures began to age. With fatal infrastructure catastrophes such as the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse in West Virginia and the 1983 Mianus River Bridge collapse in Connecticut,  public concern grew over the safety of our nation's bridges, tunnels, dams and other structures.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation, following the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inspection Standards, has implemented an aggressive inspection program, employing private engineering firms around the state to assess the structural stability of our transportation infrastructure and to make recommendations for needed repairs.

An A&O bridge inspector “sounds the element,” tapping lightly against the bridge structure to identify deficiencies in the concrete. 

Each of North Carolina's 18,000 bridges and culverts of 20 feet or longer must be inspected every two years. If the inspectors discover a safety concern, the NCDOT  may  post a weight limit, make repairs, or even close a bridge until repairs can be made. Regular inspections help the NCDOT prioritize the urgency of repairs and to manage the cost to taxpayers.  (To be continued)