Recently, I had noticed something different about the administration building here on campus. The doors at the entrance had been given an upgrade and a new entry pad for the handicapped. Instead of needing to push to enter, I saw that now all that was required was a wave of your hand. After thinking about it, I realized that this change does not only help handicapped people in wheelchairs such as myself, but also people who are using crutches and cannot reach to safely push the button, or can just be used by those in a hurry much more smoothly than having to pause and push a button. Seeing that this change had taken place, I became more interested in what exactly the maintenance team does to help keep everything current and up to date on campus. What I found after this investigation was fascinating and brought about new insights to the innerworkings of the maintenance team here at Catawba College and how everything functions behind the scenes, in a way that students may not imagine at first glance.
When I became interested in the innerworkings of the maintenance team here on campus, I reached out in order to try and interview a member of the team. My goal with the interview was to try and get a better feel for how exactly things work. I got the chance to interview Billy White, the Assistant Director of Facilities Operations here on campus. He told me some interesting information that I never would have been aware of if I had not looked into this topic.
One of the first major things that Billy revealed to me was that, what students often think of as the “maintenance” department here on campus, is not just one department, but actually three separate teams. There is a grounds crew, which takes care of the flowers and the look of the outside lawn areas, a housekeeping team, which takes care of keeping the interior of each building clean, and a facilities team which takes care of necessary repairs of everything from broken HVAC units to malfunctioning elevators, and is the team that people usually think of whenever they hear the word “maintenance”.
Upon hearing all that the facilities team does around the campus at large, I asked for a better breakdown of their exact functions around campus. At this point Billy explained to me that more than just dealing with student issues that are brought up through workorders in Catlink, they also deal with some of the behind-the-scenes internals of the systems here on campus that most students are never aware of. He said that one example of such a function was caring for the geothermal HVAC system. The system runs off a total of fourteen different 460ft deep geothermal wells located across the campus. He brought up the fact that these wells are more environmentally friendly than their counterparts which use freon. This is a very important part of the daily structure of campus life that students are quite literally unable to see because each of the wells is so deep underground. After hearing his explanation of this specific portion of campus, I asked him what they would do if one of the wells were to break down. He said when that happens the well in question needs to be dug up and replaced, as was done when four had broken down and required repairs last summer. Seeing how that could be a very expensive process, I asked him how much something like that would cost. He said that the price varied, and he could not truly give me an answer but if I had any other financial questions, I could speak to Lauren Cox Chief financial officer or CFO here at the college. After hearing this, I became more intrigued about how the finances regarding the facilities and other groups on campus function, and thus set up an interview with Cox.
When I asked Cox about the cost of the HVAC system repairs, she said she was unsure the exact cost but that it was definitely a factor in the budget. Intrigued by this response, I asked her exactly how the budget was calculated. She said that each team had its own set amount of money budgeted out to them for expenses over the course of the year. The next thing she said truly shocked me. She told me that the facilities team had been over budget for the past five years in a row.
I was taken aback by this and asked what was being done to address this issue, and how these plans were working so far. She told me that her job was to do her best in order to solve this issue. She said that she had brought in a consultation firm to look closely at the buildings and infrastructure of the campus as a whole. Using this investigation as a basis, the firm would then guide the facilities team to the most important and intense areas of need in order to allow them to better conserve the department’s limited resources and create a budget that at least breaks even, or perhaps even creates a surplus if possible.
Cox then went on to bring up that in order for the team to be able to find the issues here on campus students must also help wherever possible. The main reason the teams need student aid to accomplish their goals is because while they may have investigated the campus, they cannot be here every single day like the students here at Catawba are. With the help of students here on campus, according to Cox the firm is already looking at several students concerns including fixing leaking roofs and a remodel of the school cafeteria. Whether it be through work orders in Catlink or through an idea forum online that Cox is working to create she reminds us all that “if we see something we should say something and do our part to care for our campus”.
Overall, the maintenance division here at Catawba is extremely complex. What students think of as one department is actually three separate divisions. There are things done to keep campus running that many will never see. One thing is clear however, we must all do our part to help keep our campus current.