Photo: Peter Castanino (right) with his grandson, Brandon, listens to the proclamation from Belmont Board of Selectmen as read by Chair Andy Rojas.
Like many of his days as director of the Belmont Department of Public Works, Peter Castanino had his hands full Friday morning, Nov. 21.
But unlike the usual issues of broken water mains and filling potholes, Castanino was holding his two-year-old grandson, Brandon, in the Belmont Town Hall auditorium.
Since 1932, a Castanino has been on the job for the town of Belmont. That legacy ends this week as Castanino, the architect and first director of the unified Department of Public Works, retires on Nov. 30.
On Friday at a well-attended celebration in Town Hall with residents, town officials and DPW employees, Castanino was feted for 32 years of service to the town.
A receiving line to shake his hand (or squeeze out a hug) and have a few words snaked along the front of the stage; not just officials but employees who worked for Castinano, many for two or three decades.
“Now am going to cry,” joked Castanino after a sustained standing ovation as he stood before the assembled well-wishers.
“I’m humbled and honored. I feel that I had a great opportunity and the confidence the town put into me to run departments,” he said.
Castanino began working in Belmont in September 1981 and would succeed his father, Jimmy, as superintendent of the Highway Department in October 1988.
His best-known achievement came in 2003 when he consolidated the highway, water, sanitary and parks and recreation departments under the umbrella of the Public Works Department. Since that year, he has been the department’s first and only director.
“Creating the department was such a unique opportunity, to build an organization that I thought could have a lasting value to the town,” he said.
“If the consolidation of public works did not benefit the town or the employees, then it would have been a failure,” said Castanino.
“In the public works world, Belmont’s department is known as a first-class, well-run operation and that’s attributed to you,” said Belmont Town Administrator David Kale, a department which is professional, hard working and a place where workers are respectful of their fellow employees.
“In the process to find a new director … it is like replacing (New England Patriots’ Head Coach) Bill Belichick. It’s an unpleasant task,” said Belmont Town Administrator David Kale.
“My record isn’t as good as his,” Castanino said.
His leadership skills were appropriated onto countless town-appointed boards and committees and working with town organizations such as the Belmont Garden Club.
“He set the climate, someone who was willing to work with a bunch of ladies for the benefit of the town,” said the club’s Sherry Jones.
His expertise and institutional knowledge was evident earlier in the day when Castanino was lauded at the groundbreaking celebration of the new Underwood Pool for keeping the 102-year-old facility up and running, his advocacy for a new pool complex while providing advice to the Underwood Pool Building Committee on getting the project into the ground.
And it was Castanino’s colleagues who provided the most insightful comments.
“I will miss his guidance and advice he gives you. He doesn’t tell you what to do, but he gives you advice. No one will replace Peter Castanino,” said Michael Santoro, the head of the Highway Department, who has been Castanino’s assistant for the past quarter century.
While the Highway Department will miss him during snowstorms, “if I know Peter, it’s in his blood, if I make a quick phone call … I’m sure he’ll come back to take a little ride with us,” said Santoro.
Glenn Clancy, the town’s engineer and director of Community Development who met with Castanino on a weekly basis for what one person called “highly-entertaining give-and-takes,” described Castanino as heart of the public works in Belmont.
“All great teams and I consider the municipal employees a great team, has that one person who is the focal point. They are the one person people think about, who their teammates look to for guidance, and to do it right and to do it well,” he said.
“And I firmly believe that when the residents of this community think about the municipal staff, the image they conjure up is [Castanino]. Far and away, his value to this organization has been that very presence … the image,” said Clancy.
For Castanino – who received a Boston rocker, an engraved shovel and a box of fine wines during his sendoff – the praise of what he does should be spread around to many people.
“You talked a lot about what I do but nobody does these things alone. I had lots of help, and I can not forget my public works staff, the greatest staff that I could ask for. They make me look good,” said Castanino.