Efficiency Fix

Facility Services at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
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California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
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The maintenance shop crew's headquarters are in the basement of the housing complex. The crew includes staff with various areas of expertise.

In one fell, $300 million swoop, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, nearly doubled its housing capacity in the fall of 2008. The nine-building Poly Canyon Village houses 2,600 students in apartment-style living and includes a retail core. What was good for campus life, though, raised considerable challenges for those charged with operating and maintaining it.

For one, Cal Poly needed to keep the rental rate low in order to attract retail occupants while also budgeting sufficient funds both to meet debt service requirements and to keep the facility at a sufficient level to retain tenants. For another, Poly Canyon Village is a mile away from the campus center and separated from it by a major commuter corridor. Making the Facility Services department’s charge even harder was that it was asked to devise a service approach that guaranteed a high level of customer satisfaction and placed a high priority on facilities appearance and condition - all at a funding level less than that deemed necessary for “mediocre” service by APPA, the higher education facility officers association.

The department’s solution flew in the face of its normal operating procedure. Instead of utilizing the usual siloed structure of skill-based trade shops, the department’s leaders opted for dedicated zone maintenance by a multiskilled shop, providing flexibility but with lower staffing costs. The new shop is housed in the basement of one of Poly Canyon Village’s parking structures, which reduces response times.

Dedicated zone maintenance by a multiskilled shop provides flexibility but with lower staffing costs.

“In a lot of ways, it’s easier to maintain a new facility, and only time will tell,” concedes Mark Hunter, executive director of facility services. “But for the current time, we’re well staffed to respond to work orders and fill in on additional projects. A new complex is a prototype, so you’re always shaking out the bugs. There might be unexpected leaks or problems that you have to call back the contractor for, so we’re busy in a way we didn’t expect. But so far, everyone has been really pleased with the outcome.”

According to APPA measurements, the shop has delivered a quality level of “comprehensive stewardship,” the second highest of the group’s five levels, and has done so using just 65 percent of the staffing APPA recommends to achieve this level. The university’s annual cost savings in maintenance salaries alone has been an impressive $400,000.

An additional, if nonquantifiable, benefit has been an improvement in staff morale, according to Hunter. “Folks like being in these mixed shops,” he says. “They enjoy dealing with the housing department, and being given ownership of a smaller and distinct portion of campus has proven [to be] pretty enjoyable.”