Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physcial Plant)

Working While Occupied

In recent columns I have briefly touched on the necessity of working in and around occupied spaces, including offices, classrooms and especially in common areas such as corridors and lobbies. I’d like to drill down a bit deeper into how we can get that work done efficiently and safely.

Our campuses are busy places, often running full speed even in evening hours. We are in the business of education; maintenance and operations departments are tasked with directly supporting the educational mission. We recognize that we do not operate in a perfect world and we often must work in busy and occupied spaces if we are to stand half a chance of keeping up with the work required of us.

There must be a process for how we perform our duties in these areas, and we need to note a few things before we get started. Safety is our utmost concern, followed closely by clear communications; the maintenance needs of the campus do not supersede the educational mission, save for an emergency. We cannot disrupt an important lecture or critical test, and finally, we must be fully prepared to work when we arrive and then leave the space in better condition than when we found it.

Put Safety First

In preparing to perform maintenance in an occupied or heavily traveled area, always put safety first. Our first thought is often to work quickly so we are out of the way quickly, but speed should be third after safety and efficiency. Our employees should think through the project (as with every work order) to ensure they are aware of potential safety concerns, and then work to address them ahead of time. These could be anything from making sure occupants are kept away from under a working ladder or platform to ensuring that electrical work is made safe, or that materials are properly stored and not impeding access to a corridor or exit.

Communicating to faculty or staff the need to work in their area is paramount. There is nothing worse than for a technician to show up, mumble something like, “I need you to move so I can adjust this widget,” and then buffalo his way into your space! If they know we are coming, they will be prepared for us by planning to work in an alternate space or knowing that they’ll be working or teaching alongside the work being performed. If the work is urgent or an emergency, however, then the facility becomes a priority. Otherwise, take the time to explain what needs to be done, approximately how long it will take and ask if this is a good time to perform the work.

Be Prepared

The maintenance needs of the facility should be considered on par with the educational mission of the school, as both have a direct correlation to the long-term success of the school. However, since education is our primary focus, our maintenance and repair activities should not interfere with the educational process. Most educators appreciate the work we do and recognize that we have a very important interdependence and synergy. As a matter of fact, much of the work we do inside offices and classrooms is requested by the faculty or staff member as an improvement to their teaching or administrating function, so they are more than happy to allow us access to their space.

When our technicians show up, they must be fully prepared to complete the task at hand. Again, this is no different than any other work order, but if we show up unprepared to work and there is a class or activity happening and we then leave several times to collect parts and supplies or get additional assistance, the fact we were un- or underprepared will be more glaring as the technician has an audience, with the added problem of causing a greater interference to the ongoing class. This is much different than working alone in the chiller plant. Come fully prepared and eliminate the performance anxiety!

Finally, be sure we leave the area in better condition than when we found it. Resetting furniture that was moved during the work, replacing cover plates and properly seating ceiling tiles, dusting and vacuuming up any mess we made, or simply cleaning our fingerprints off the surface we were working on will make a significant impact in how our work is perceived. If follow-up repairs are required to complete the job, enter those work requests and follow up with that trade to ensure the repairs are completed in a timely fashion.

It is understood that much of the work we perform is accomplished in occupied and heavily traveled areas. It is our job to ensure that this work is done safely and effectively.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.

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