Facilities Directors Speak Out

Facilities Directors Speak Out

Four respected campus facilities leaders share their thoughts on the changing role of facilities directors and their departments.
By:

Joseph D. Rubertone is associate vice president for Facilities Administration at

Quinnipiac University (Conn.), a private institution of 5,400 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students located next to Sleeping Giant Mountain in Hamden, about 90 minutes from New York City. Its two campuses sit on 446 acres; most main campus buildings are less than 20 years old. Rubertone has been with Quinnipiac for 34 years. In the past, he has served as vice president of information services for APPA and as president of Eastern Region APPA, and he has received the APPA Meritorious Service Award. www.quinnipiac.edu/x52.xml

Richard Pifer is associate vice president for University Facilities and Services at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. The main campus, with 85 acres, is located along a river about two miles from downtown Rochester, and the institution has a total of 600 acres. Pifer joined the private university in 1999 as director of facilities, after serving in the facilities department at Georgetown University (D.C.) since 1990 and in the U.S. Army, where he worked in facilities support for overseas and U.S. military operations. www.facilities.rochester.edu

Tony Valenzuela has served as associate vice president of Facilities, Development, and Operations at San Jos? State University (Calif.) since 2002. He is president-elect of the Pacific Coast Association of APPA. Before joining SJSU, he worked at the California State University Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach, and as an energy analysis consultant for campus facilities managers. The main campus of SJSU, a public research university, features more than 50 major buildings on 19 city blocks in downtown San Jos?, including a new jointly-owned and operated city/university library. www.sjsu.edu/fdo

Douglas Christensen is advocate in the Office of Administrative Services for Physical Facilities at Brigham Young University (Utah), located on a 560-acre campus in the city of Provo, about 45 miles from Salt Lake City and at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. Christensen was recently honored by APPA with a Fellow Award and has received the APPA President's Award for his development of the Facility Management Evaluation Program, used by APPA members to check the efficiency and effectiveness of their facility operations. http://plantwo.byu.edu/x52.xml

Today's campus facilities directors are called upon to serve their institutions in myriad ways. Daily challenges include everything from fielding "too hot" or "too cold" complaints to ensuring their campuses are clean, safe, and attractive. And there are always short- and long-term projects to plan and execute, from the construction of new buildings to the maintenance and modernization of existing ones.

For this virtual roundtable discussion, University Business caught up with four top facilities directors to ask them about their evolving roles. Read on to learn more about their experiences and perspectives related to competition among institutions, safety and security, succession planning, customer service, outsourcing, and total cost of ownership approaches to facilities management. The participants share how they're dealing with these issues, which affect all who work, study, and live in every corner of nearly any campus.

JosEph Rubertone: In the last 10 years, the competition among universities and colleges has increased. Once the decision is made to build a facility, that's seen both as an improvement to the quality of life as well as a potential leg up on the competition. [Institutional leaders] want them, and they want them yesterday.

When you need land use commission approval, it adds four to six months to the process. Quinnipiac is a major traffic generator, so if any of the improvements involve parking we need to go to the State Traffic Commission in addition to the local commissions.

Richard Pifer: I agree the competition for good students is more intense than ever. From a facilities perspective, that is a good thing. More faculty and senior staff are aware of the impact [of facilities] on prospective students and their parents. Classrooms, athletic facilities, residence halls, grounds, parking, and security all receive more attention. [There is] lots of pressure to raise standards, but also [there are] more opportunities to garner support for more resources.

Tony Valenzuela: Our department's role, providing and enabling a learning and research environment, is also challenged by the competition for faculty and staff. The capacity to implement the needed improvements is tempered by the realities of limited resources, both financial and personnel. [Despite investments in capital improvements, deferred maintenance and capital renewal, and energy conservation measures,] there is still a lot of work ahead for us as we continue to improve our asset base to attract students, faculty, and staff.

Douglas Christensen: We are trying to get the best students we can, rather than increase the number of students. We take pride in providing an environment for students to learn in and for faculty to teach in. We focus a lot on the idea that we don't want to be a disruption to the learning process. We don't want anything campuswide or buildingwide that would distract from students' ability to learn. We take pride in all of the campus buildings being kept at a very high standard.

"We focus a lot on the idea that we don't want to be a disruption to the learning process." -Douglas Christensen, Brigham Young University

Rubertone: Education consumers are very security conscious. They're interested in fire protection in residence halls, security phones in the parking lot, escort services, and busing programs. It sometimes forces universities to offer these services. And they are utilized.

The Jeanne Clery Act [originally passed in 1990 and then amended in 1992, 1998, and 2000] certainly raised sensitivities on campuses across the country. And clearly the building codes and the fire codes have caused us to upgrade facilities when we're doing renovations. We've upgraded our lock systems, keeping buildings locked 24 hours, and we have a card access system. The improvements are put together with our capital budget.

Valenzuela: Our new buildings have proximity card readers and camera systems. One of the benefits of our campus is that it is compact-94 acres. Our police department does a great job of providing a safe environment through closely working with the campus. We also benefit from living in San Jos?, one of the safest cities in the country.

Pifer: We find ourselves working more closely with our Environmental Health and Safety staff and our Security staff to address issues ranging from good chemical hygiene and lab safety plans to more emphasis on cameras, access control, and lighting, to the identification of risk factors. Our staff must think more globally and communicate more broadly and more frequently. And we must work more collaboratively to identify and fund appropriate priorities.

Christensen: [Mandates have] cost a lot of extra money. We think most of the changes are needed, and that most of them, especially the safety requirements, will just pay off in the long run. Security is not under our department. We do support the security police. We've got a pretty low rating in terms of crime statistics.

Pifer: For us, good planning is the key. We develop our capital plans and work to incorporate near- and mid-term safety and security needs. We divide the big requirements into fundable chunks, put them in the plan, and execute them over time. We reserve a contingency to address immediate and unforeseen needs.

Christensen: We do a good job of keeping a certain amount of funding available each year to get ahead of the mandated and compliance issues. We track by line item the needs from new laws, directions, or compliance issues and prioritize annually. We fund accordingly and get as much done as we can. We'll never have enough money to do them all.

We try and keep these kinds of issues in their own category so that they're not infringing upon the other needs of the institution. Sometimes because of the sheer cost they do bleed over, but our goal is to try and manage them within their own boundaries.

What challenges do you see in preparing the next generation of facilities department leaders? Are you grooming promising yet less experienced staff for leadership roles?

Christensen: That's the biggest challenge. I'll put in the word ''qualified" leaders. Every campus is unique. So it's probably inherent for facilities leaders on every campus to find their own succession plan and their own direction. The one thing we're noticing future leaders need to have that in the past we could get by without is not only management skills but leadership skills. They've got to learn to deal with people, as well as change, just as they do the buildings and facilities. I often say we are really in the people business and not in the facilities business.

[With BYU's] student Facilities Management degree program, we watch graduates, see the experience they get, and keep them in mind for opportunities we have. We'll never have the ability to bring a lot of extra people in to succeed people. It's who we know and how prepared they are that matter most.

Pifer: The facilities world has evolved over the past 20 plus years from being seen and treated as a "seat of your pants operation" to an area recognized by faculty and senior administrators as worthy of continued investment. The next generation will have to be better versed in a broader spectrum of university operations than were their predecessors. Finance, planning and project management, automation, sustainability, human resource management, communication, public relations, and all the other facets of a facilities job will require comprehensive knowledge.

Our young superstars will have to move from one organization to another to climb the ladder with any degree of speed. They will need excellent formal education supplemented with broad-based experience that will be difficult to obtain at one school or through supplementary education offered by NACUBO, APPA, International Facility Management Association, or participation in any of the many excellent seminars now available. We need to help those superstars develop a personalized professional development plan. We have to fund it and, more importantly, be willing to help them obtain the experience that will be a critical part of their success.

Valenzuela: We have made employee development and succession planning a key strategic initiative for Facilities, Development, and Operations here at SJSU and have made significant investment in employee development over the last two years. [It's] the ultimate leverage of a successful organization, since employees are the only nondepreciating asset that needs cultivation, encouragement, challenge, and a sense of accomplishment. We also strive to foster employees and leaders who can forge collaborative decisions through a honed set of listening skills and continuous relationships building. We are on a track to develop leaders who can clearly direct and subsequently measure the progress of the organization and individuals as we strive to reach the critical mission goals.

"Employees are the only nondepreciating asset that needs cultivation, encouragement, challenge, and a sense of accomplishment." -Tony Valenzuela, San Jos? State University

Rubertone: We haven't got a formal succession plan, but I am conscious that the department is going to go through some retirements within the next three to eight years, me included. We hire people with an eye to the future and [try] to allow people to work across the width and breadth of the department.

Rubertone: There's great focus on the customer being faculty/staff as well as the student. Most of my counterparts are measuring their customer service at some point during the year. We've never done a formal survey; we do informal stuff, just talking to other colleagues. We're active on committees within the university, so we do have contact with the academic side. We do many things with student organizations, too, so we have a lot of day-to-day contact. Finding a way to voice a complaint is not an issue. Of course, if students don't think they're getting listened to, you very soon hear from parents. We have very educated consumers that go to college today who expect and demand service.

Pifer: Fortunately, I inherited an organization that has a long and well-deserved reputation of attention to customer service. At the University of Rochester, the entire Administration and Finance group focuses on our dual role of customer service and stewardship. Each year we report on successes enjoyed, areas where we can improve, and new initiatives that we will implement. It is a topic of emphasis and discussion throughout the year.

Valenzuela: We have integrated the customer focus element into our Quality Improvement program by having strategic goals, measurements, targets, and initiatives for the customer service element of a five-element balanced scorecard. We also have point-of-service feedback mechanisms and surveys for us to gauge our customer satisfaction level.

Christensen: We really define ourselves in two areas-one is a support role, meaning there are certain funds given to us to support certain standards; those are held and delivered by the administration. We see ourselves in a support role; they become the customers. The second area covers services we can perform for departments that can pay for the services, such as if they want to remodel their space [before it becomes a university priority]. That's where we build a lot of customer relationships in how well we do our work.

Christensen: Some of the basic skills we have in-house, but we do outsource almost all of our construction and all of our design and maintenance things that need to have specialists in. We also do a lot of our own maintenance. I think we're pretty satisfied with our standard and our costs.

The need for outsourcing has changed a lot over the years. Money is tight, plus you can't have the same expertise on your staff at all times. You have to export certain expertise in order to have it. That's where outsourcing's really grown.

Some issues have been driving outsourcing, such as costs and lack of labor. In some cases it's easier to get that kind of money, to outsource, rather than to get money to hire people.

Pifer: My charge from trustees and senior administration is to extract the best value from the marketplace. Outsourcing is not a dirty word and not something to be feared. In many instances we outsource a task that is seasonal or that has wildly fluctuating requirements. In other instances it makes economic sense to outsource.

Valenzuela: The challenge of hiring and retaining employees due to the high cost of living and relatively low employment rate here in the Silicon Valley has driven us to outsource various aspects of our services. We currently outsource a percentage of our custodial service, fire/life safety device testing, and elevator maintenance, and we contract out many of our minor tenant improvements and building repairs.

Rubertone: We are reasonably self-sufficient, except for short-term peaks of work and specialized areas. We'll outsource snow removal for the large parking areas. We outsource our fertilization/weed control. And we do supplement some contract cleaning in the residence halls during the summer.

Christensen: Since 1980 we've been living under that concept, funding all three of the major cost groups-birth and burial, maintenance operations, and recapitalization (renovating, improving, and retrofitting facilities as their lifecycle requires-some people call it capital renewal). If you can spend money upfront, you can save it on the other end.

I was a primary researcher on the book Buildings: The Gifts That Keep on Taking (to be published next month by APPA). Many operations can get money to build and even maintain but very little funds to do the recapitalization.

Pifer: We spend a lot of time and effort to explain the project process to all involved. Documents spell out the various roles and responsibilities. Design reviews are serious meetings that generate, at times, intense debate. Sustainability, 50-year buildings versus commercial-grade buildings and associated infrastructure, code compliance, energy efficiency, life-cycle costs, and projected operating costs are terms understood by virtually everyone associated with a particular project. When we make a tradeoff between quality and cost (first-time cost or life-cycle cost), it is a decision accompanied by discussion about the impact on how we will maintain that structure over time and when it will require additional investment or renovation.

Valenzuela: We believe and subscribe to the notion that capital improvements need to be viewed with a total cost of ownership prism, which in many cases results in a sustainable benefit to us. As an example, we consciously paid more for materials and systems in our 2,200 bed, $200 million housing complex in order to lower our ongoing operational costs.

Rubertone: We use the term "return on investment." We are certainly looking to build with the most maintenance-free and the most sustainable elements with the most energy-efficient products. We're very conscious of keeping, almost eliminating, deferred maintenance. We always try to design in things that will help the building look good for a long period of time, and it will also be easier for maintenance.

Christensen: You have to teach them the principle of reinvestment and make sure they understand there is a total cost of ownership. Many like the idea of getting a building built and then maintaining it and thinking that's it.

"Outsourcing is not a dirty word and not something to be feared." -Richard Pifer, University of Rochester

When we present a new building to BYU leadership, we'll show them the estimated maintenance and estimated replacement costs over the next 75 years. That's built credibility and interest-now they are very interested in what and how they are saving, and in what we're doing to our newer buildings to make them last longer.

Pifer: We have been moving away from the traditional reliance on the Facilities Condition Index to tell the facilities story. We developed a tool we call the Integrated Facility Assessment that quantifies not only our deferred maintenance and capital renewal needs, but also those needs associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act, asbestos/lead abatement, other code compliance issues, fire protection, and security. The IFA is one of the tools we use in telling our story to trustees, the president, development staff, and leaders on each of our campuses. It has been useful in developing mid- and long-range plans, in prioritizing near- and mid-term projects, and perhaps most importantly, in quantifying the total needs of our facilities and associated infrastructure so that our senior decision makers can make informed choices about how we spend scarce resources.

Valenzuela: SJSU senior-level administrators are very engaged in our facility improvements and have a clear understanding of the benefit of long-term investment decisions. We consistently review and reprioritize our project improvements to maximize resources over the long term.

Rubertone: The senior-level people I work for truly recognize the value of the plant and see a well-maintained, quality plant as really the first step in the admission process: Get them to a beautiful campus [and] make them feel safe and comfortable when they're there. Then the strength of the academic programs takes over.

Most of the issues raised in this article were explored in depth last spring at APPA's first annual Thought Leaders Summit, during which about 20 higher education leaders participated in a discussion about critical facilities issues. The subsequent report, "Thought Leaders 2006: University Facilities Respond to the Changing Landscape of Higher Education," is available as a free downloadable PDF at www.appa.org

/applications/publications.

Richard Pifer is associate vice president for University Facilities and Services at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. The main campus, with 85 acres, is located along a river about two miles from downtown Rochester, and the institution has a total of 600 acres. Pifer joined the private university in 1999 as director of facilities, after serving in the facilities department at Georgetown University (D.C.) since 1990 and in the U.S. Army, where he worked in facilities support for overseas and U.S. military operations. www.facilities.rochester.edu

Tony Valenzuela has served as associate vice president of Facilities, Development, and Operations at San Jos? State University (Calif.) since 2002. He is president-elect of the Pacific Coast Association of APPA. Before joining SJSU, he worked at the California State University Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach, and as an energy analysis consultant for campus facilities managers. The main campus of SJSU, a public research university, features more than 50 major buildings on 19 city blocks in downtown San Jos?, including a new jointly-owned and operated city/university library. www.sjsu.edu/fdo

Douglas Christensen is advocate in the Office of Administrative Services for Physical Facilities at Brigham Young University (Utah), located on a 560-acre campus in the city of Provo, about 45 miles from Salt Lake City and at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. Christensen was recently honored by APPA with a Fellow Award and has received the APPA President's Award for his development of the Facility Management Evaluation Program, used by APPA members to check the efficiency and effectiveness of their facility operations. http://plantwo.byu.edu


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