It’s a tale as old as time: Steve Courter, a mechanical engineer working at an architectural firm in Detroit, Michigan, realized he needed to begin looking for jobs in Alabama after meeting his future wife, an Alabama native.
One interview and fateful phone call later, and Courter accepted a positon with the Directorate of Public Works as a mechanical engineer designing HVAC systems in 2008. Courter took a position in the Master Planning division in 2013, where he still works now.
For Courter, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the decision to study engineering wasn’t always clear. He had always enjoyed building things and loved the construction industry, but took a few detours through architecture and astronomy before settling on mechanical engineering. When he had the opportunity to take an introductory HVAC class his junior year, Courter knew he had found something that he could make a career in.
“I enjoyed the calculations of how you determine how you’re going to size your heating and cooling systems and buildings,” Courter said. “I enjoyed the piping systems, and I just enjoyed designing with buildings because I loved construction. So that’s how I wound up in the HVAC part of mechanical engineering.”
Now a project manager in the Military Construction branch of DPW, Courter is largely responsible for overseeing large building projects “from cradle to grave,” providing a mechanical engineer’s expertise to every stage of the project beginning at the first inkling of an idea through to the completion of construction. Courter assists the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in various capacities, including ensuring construction projects are aligned with the Army Installation Design Guide, participating in source selection and evaluation boards and coordinating with other disciplines (like electrical and structural groups).
While Courter has been involved in several projects in his 12-plus-year-tenure at DPW, there are a few that stand out as some of the most challenging yet rewarding. One of those was the renovation of buildings 3301, 3303, 3305 and 3307, which happened before he transitioned over to project management. Courter said that this project was particularly challenging because the engineers were tasked with changing these older, classroom-style buildings into offices.
The project required the buildings to be completely gutted and rebuilt, and the engineers ran into several problems while trying to fit the necessary HVAC ductwork, plumbing lines and communication cables while still maintaining the desired ceiling heights.
“I did some research and found fan coil units that fit within the ceiling grid and would fit above the ceiling as long as they were not under beams,” Courter said. “These units eliminated the need for large ducts to be run throughout the building and allowed for better temperature control for the users.”