Red and White Together - Facilities Management

From flowers to floors, the ambiance of Lamar University is the pride of the men and women who work in Facilities Management. The largest department on campus, comprising more than 100 employees and responsible for the grounds, custodial services and overall maintenance of the campus, they work tirelessly to keep their customers - the students, faculty and staff of LU – happy, safe and productive, even during a pandemic.

David Martin, the associate vice president of Facilities Management has worked at LU since May 2016 after retiring from a 30-year career in the Air Force. He manages the department with strong team leaders – Corey Kirkland, the director of landscape and campus services; Dennis Miller, director of custodial services; and Grover Williams, director of maintenance.

“We’re 100% customer service based,” said David. “We try to please the customers and the work ends when we feel we can go home and it doesn’t always end at 5 p.m. Safety and health of our customers is first, so we don’t leave until work is done. If it happens at midnight, we come in and don’t quit. We’re always on call.”

The team has been ever present during the pandemic. Each department took advantage of the empty campus to accomplish tasks not easily achieved when the campus is fully or even partially occupied. The custodial staff deep cleaned classrooms and offices from ceilings to floors. The maintenance group filled potholes on LU streets and in parking lots. Preventive maintenance was completed on air handlers and air conditioning units. Terrazzo floors were honed, which is a tedious, expensive process that is typically outsourced.

“I can’t say enough about the staff and how dedicated they were during this whole ordeal,” said David. “They didn’t bail; they stayed. By and large, most of them are very committed.”

Grover and his small team of maintenance workers, about 18, mostly middle-aged and some with preexisting conditions, worked steadily through the pandemic.

“Right now, I’m most proud of all my guys, the ones who came to work and went out there and kept the campus going and did repairs that needed to be done,” said Grover, who retired and decided he didn’t like it and came to work for LU in 2009.  “Two have been treated for cancer over the last year, and they had no reason to be out there but insisted on staying and helping us out.”

Vital to the campus, maintenance is responsible for keeping the electricity on and the water flowing as well as the carpenters in the key shop supporting the campus needs. Day to day, Grover directs plumbers and electricians to the most critical projects.

“I love the job even though I’m fairly old to be working,” Grover chuckles. “I like being able to satisfy everyone’s needs, take a challenge and get it taken care of.”

David calls Grover “a diamond,” because he steps up and takes care of so many projects relieving the workload from David. “We have projects and a plan but there is always a caveat because something is always happening right now,” said David. “There is a power outage or toilets back up. You just never know what’s in store.”

Like the morning David drove on campus to see a “big mushroom cloud at the substation.” Fortunately, that event was not as bad as it looked and was remedied by midday.

LU has few emergencies, because of facilities management’s preventive tactics, regular maintenance, long and short-range plans for repairs and a small army of custodial staff who are the watchdogs of the campus.

“We train custodial staff, who are all over campus every day, cleaning everything, to be the eyes and ears of the maintenance department,” said Dennis, another former retiree who decided he liked working and came to LU five years ago. “If they see something is out of place, we need to get it back in working condition. They should be able to walk into a building and see what’s out of place.”

As a result, Dennis’ custodial team is the first to notice when a carpet is getting dirty, wax on a floor is worn, a restroom needs a deep clean or a plumber and air conditioning is not cooling an area. “There are so many different aspects of this job and it takes a certain mentality and pride of accomplishment,” said Dennis. “We work hard to keep people motivated and on tasks.”

Motivating custodial staff to clean empty buildings day after day during the pandemic was an added challenge. Dennis and his team conducted a lot of deep cleaning, wiping and rewiping of touchpoints, totally honed the floors of the Setzer Student Center and several other buildings. They also completed a lot of high dusting projects they typically don’t have the time to do between semesters and breaks.

“We are still doing primary functions but also our frequency has increased because of COVID and in reality, in this business, you work off of schedules and routines so once you let something slack it’s hard to catch it back up,” said Dennis. “Everyone took it to the next level, and we couldn’t be in the position we’re in to restart on campus without the work these folks did in everyone’s absence.”

When everyone does return to campus, landscaping will be tidy and trimmed and, if Corey has his way, his nickname will be “Walt.”

“My goal is for the campus to look like Walt Disney World,” said Corey, who came to work for LU in 2016. “I want everything to be clean and in the proper place – trash cans, grass mowed, everything where it’s supposed to be.”

Corey, who previously owned a landscaping and irrigation company, is responsible for everything outside at LU – the grounds, the buildings, sidewalks, cars and carts. Nine people work on his team – seven work on the grounds, one is the fleet mechanic and one conducts pest control. “Every day is different, which is what I love about it,” said Corey. “I don’t have to be in my office every day. Sometimes I’m helping our fleet mechanic work on stuff. It’s always different and that’s what keeps it exciting.”

His goals and visions for the campus keep him excited also. Corey was involved in writing specifications for the greenspace that was formerly the concrete plant. In the last couple of years, he has upgraded the fleet vehicles and installed the planters in front of the library, which is a project that gives him great pride.

“I love those because Ms. Evans had started working on those to make them more presentable and put plants in them that would work,” said Corey. “Now the planters have been painted, have automatic watering and we change the color of the plants in them twice a year. I like that because I can go and say, ‘yea, I helped do that’ and it’s a vision that Ms. Evans had that continues.”

The other continuing project for Corey is The Quad. Irrigation and drainage are a constant challenge due to the immense amount of rain since The Quad was renovated. “It’s the showcase of our campus and should be pristine and our sanctuary,” said Corey. “We’re getting there slowly.”

While keeping a focus on The Quad, Corey also hopes to put landscaping around 12 marquis signs scattered throughout campus, like the one in front of the Reaud Administration Building. “We need simple, minimal landscaping to bring attention to those signs and soften them up,” said Corey. “It’s number one on my list because a lot of pictures are taken there, and it would be nice to have landscaping in front of them.”

During the pandemic, Corey and his team altered their role somewhat. With very few people on campus, there was little trash that needed to be collected and less maintenance overall across the campus. “We still made rounds around campus to keep it clean, but we moved furniture, filled potholes,” said Corey. “My team has been willing, flexible and able to do whatever we need. I have a very good staff.”

After the pandemic, the students, faculty and staff of LU can expect to return to a campus that has been well maintained, is clean, beautifully landscaped and fully operational thanks to Facilities Management.

“It’s very rewarding work because we have staff who are so dedicated, and we’ve developed that culture, so they have a buy in to what’s going on,” said David. “When you know that this campus can’t function without you – if you don’t keep this air handler working or the electricity going or plumbing working, the campus is going to fall down, classes will shut down  - there is a lot riding on you; it’s challenging and gratifying. There are some risks but when it all works out, and you have a team around you that is all giving each other high fives, it all comes in in the end, and it’s good.”