Interview with longtime private school Facilities Manager

Interview with Vernon, former Facilities Director at a faith-based private school (3 years) and large Catholic School (11 years), both in greater Atlanta area.  Vernon recently took a new job with a manufacturing company following 14 years in the private school sector.

Main Points:

  • Communicating with the Facilities Manager will make the Admissions Director’s job dramatically easier and allow your team to work as one cohesive unit.  
  • The activity he enjoyed least was being left out of the planning loop. He was not informed about the whole realm of the school.
  • Facilities crew were the first responders to security issues, spills, and clean up on the campus.  Their whole purpose was to provide a safe environment for students, staff, and faculty.
  • For the Facilities Manager to work most efficiently, he needed to be emailed a calendar of scheduled tours.  
  • The biggest gap between administration and facilities managers is communication.
  • Vernon recommends having a clear system of work orders and work requests.  He asked the teachers to give him a 24 hour turnaround on projects once they emailed him an issue.
  • A lot of administrators think turning off the A/C completely during a school holiday saves money, but in the long run they are not.  
  • Vernon loved his job, firmly believed in the mission of the school, and took it to heart educating the students was job number one.  

As we study the enrollment blitz, a key component to the success of the marketing and selling of your school to prospective families is the facilities director.   Communicating with him/her will make the Admissions Director’s job dramatically easier and allow your team to work as one cohesive unit.  

As the school year is ending what do you wish all teachers would do to help make your summer easier?

Vernon wishes teachers would pack up all of their personal items before they leave for the summer.  If personal items are left, there is a chance they can get broken as he is in the midst of summer projects.  To protect the personal items and keep him from getting the blame, he really wanted teachers to take home their personal property.  

Why do you feel the facility director position is so vital to the success of the school?

His position involved making sure the whole campus ran smooth from operations, safety, and cleanliness of the school.  He was in charge of opening the school in the early morning to closing the facilities at night.  He and his facilities crew were the security for the school in the hallway.  They were the first responders to security issues, spills, and clean up on the campus.  His whole purpose was to provide a safe environment for students, staff, and faculty.

How do you did you balance summer projects, camps, summer school during the summer?

Communication is key to successful balance. It was often difficult to balance because of the lack of communication he received from administrators.  He would be in the middle of a project and would be surprised when an admissions tour came through as he was painting the halls.   For him to work most efficiently, he needed to be emailed a calendar of scheduled tours.  Even if one was unexpected, he carried around a smart phone and it would be easy to text him about an unplanned tour.  He would then be able to respond , keep in mind they are working on the history hallway or science hallway.  Then if they needed to see a particular area, he could adjust his crew’s work shifts to night so the area would be available during the day.  If communication is not there, he cannot adjust shifts and hallways and keep his staff working well.  The custodian crew cannot be kept idle.  He said the cleaning crew have a routine and structure to their day.  

What do you wish administrators could better understand to make your job easier?

The biggest gap between administration and facilities managers is communication.  In making his job easier, communication is his number one need from administrators.  Having today’s technology, we are beyond post it notes.  He has a smartphone and is on email.  Please email and communicate with him.  Public schools know this but in a private school, the setting is different.  The students and their families are their customers and are paying top dollar to attend the school.  

Vernon recommends having a clear system of work orders and work requests.  He asked the teachers to give him a 24 hour turnaround on projects once they emailed him an issue.  He was self-conscience of teachers complaining to the Headmaster about a maintenance issue before they gave him a chance to fix it.  Sometimes an administrator caused an unintended backlog to facility projects when teachers would email an administrator but the administrator would forget and delay communicating to him the need.  

What ways do you think schools waste money on facilities and don’t realize it?

Lighting was a big money waster in his opinion.  He said too often teachers never turn the lights out in their rooms.  Another money waster was putting off projects which could be quickly fixed. He said the longer projects are put off, they more expensive they become later.  A lot of administrators think turning off the A/C completely during a school holiday saves money, but in the long run they are not.  If you are on spring break and turn the air off on spring break, when you return the building will be close to 90-100 degrees.  Your HVAC will have to work overtime to get the building cool when 400 students and teachers occupy the building.  Your teachers will be irritated and mad if the building is abnormally hot and humid.  It will put more wear and possibly damage your equipment.  It usually caused higher utility bills in the long run.

What was the favorite thing about your job?  What did you enjoy the least?

Favorite thing he did was plumbing.  He knew it was important and it came easy to him. The activity he enjoyed least was being left out of the planning loop. He was not informed about the whole realm of the school.  He firmly believes any time an administrator is having an administrative team meeting, you need to have the facility manager involved.  Once again it helps with communication.  

Did he believe in the mission of the school?  

He firmly believed in the mission of the school and was passionate about keeping the building running.  He worked hard to remove any obstacles like leaks, building issues, etc. from preventing the education of the students.  He always asked, how quick can we get this project done to get the students back to being educated.  In a private school, often times he would be a “one man show.”  He would have part-time cleaners and part-time lawn crew but often the main projects fell to him.  He worked hard because of his belief and passion in the mission of the school.  

What advice could you give headmasters & administrators reading this article regarding facility management?

Realize facility managers are people and even if they do not have a college education, their work is essential to the success of the school.  Treat them fairly and trust they can do their job well.  Like teachers need applause and encouragement, give the facilities crew compliments and acknowledgment they are doing a great job too.  Provide the facilities team the tools, parts, and equipment they need to complete projects.  If they don’t have these, do not blame them when the project cannot be completed.  

Vernon loved his job, firmly believed in the mission of the school, and took it to heart educating the students was job number one.  

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