Unsung heroes

Behind the scenes with Facilities Management Services

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A. Sue Weisler

Jeremy Mosman has spent 10 years as an RIT groundskeeper.

As he sits back, staring out from a garage window at the gray skies hovering over the campus, it’s easy for anyone from the Rochester region to relate with how Jeremy Mosman’s been feeling.

“It’s been a long winter,” he says. “It can be grueling when you’re out there.”

Nearly 130 inches of snowfall this past season translated into a lot of early mornings for Mosman—out in the elements plowing roads and shoveling steps and walkways. “You’re just tired from the constant call-ins, even on the weekends. That drags after a while.”

But he gets it done. And truth be told, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Mosman, who has spent 10 years working as a groundskeeper at RIT, helps manage about 300 acres of the campus landscape—keeping it operational and looking its best.

“I like being outside,” he explains, “and I like the physical aspect that goes with it. I mean, I’m always out there using my hands, getting some fresh air. I’ve always loved that.”

Mosman is among nearly 250 RIT staff members who make up Facilities Management Services. Individually, the members of FMS bring a diverse set of skills that, when woven together, provide the foundation for the day-to-day operation of the university. Broad functions within the department include maintenance services; planning, design and construction services; engineering support; parking and transportation; and administrative, financial and support services.

According to Jan Reich, interim director of FMS, the team’s mission is to create a comfortable and cost-effective campus environment that ultimately provides an atmosphere for students to learn effectively. He admits their efforts rarely generate fanfare.

“We often go unnoticed, working behind the scenes,” says Reich. “That’s the nature of our work.”

But the results of their work get noticed, particularly this time of year. RIT hosts more visitors on campus during May than any other month annually. It begins with Imagine RIT, extends through commencement, and concludes with the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge. Newcomers are often struck by the beauty of the outdoor landscape before moving inside to discover facilities that are clean and well managed.

“We know that during any of the events that showcase the campus, it is extremely important that we put our best foot forward,” says Terry Walker, building services manager.

With 5 million square feet of building space on campus, nearly half of the FMS team is devoted to custodial services. Walker says RIT adheres to the International Sanitary Supply Association standards of cleanliness while mandating a “green cleaning program” that is both effective and environmentally friendly.

“People don’t have to worry about the space being clean and I think that’s extremely important.”

Nor does anyone have to worry about comfort. Over recent years, RIT has invested $30 million to upgrade its heating and cooling infrastructure. By using an Internet-based system, the FMS engineering controls staff closely regulates the internal climate—monitoring heating, cooling and ventilation inside facilities across campus and responding to changes with a few keystrokes.

Rich Stein, engineering controls manager, says commencement weekend is a particularly busy time for his staff. Large assemblies inside the Gordon Field House and Ritter Ice Arena, combined with the potential for changeable weather conditions outdoors, make it more challenging to maintain consistency to the climate inside the two key venues.

“There’s always someone keeping an eye on things from either on campus or off site,” says Stein. “That way we can stay on top of the HVAC systems in the event something does go wrong and keep it as invisible as we can to our visitors.”

But even with internal conditions firmly under control, FMS still finds itself at the mercy of the Rochester weather when it comes to preparing the outdoors. For the 15-member RIT grounds crew, this year’s late snowmelt resulted in a time-compressed run-up to the busy spring events season.

“In this business, you’re always trying to steal what- ever Mother Nature will give you because you only have so much time,” explains Chris Furnare, grounds crew foreman.

In spring, the grounds crew devotes much of its efforts to mulch—1,400 yards of mulch spread across three acres of campus—and widespread repairs warranted by winter’s disregard for the landscape.

Perennials provide much of the early color on campus. Furnare says more attention is placed on planting bulbs later in the growing season so that less time is focused on planting flowers in the spring. The results are commonly met with rave reviews.

Despite their widespread successes in managing the diversity of campus operations, members of the FMS team are always exploring new ways to enhance their performance. Mosman, for one, admits he rarely takes time from his responsibilities on the grounds crew to smell the roses, so to speak.

“You don’t always stop and take a look from another person’s perspective,” he reflects. “You’re always critiquing. You’re always looking at it wondering how to make it better.”

Facilities Management Services By The Numbers

  • 150 acres of grass mowed annually
  • 800 tons of ice-melting products consumed each winter
  • 1,700 special events supported annually
  • 2,473 tons of trash generated and 1,483 tons of recyclable material collected in 2010
  • 25,000 light bulbs replaced annually
  • 23,600 square feet of steps shoveled each time it snows
  • 1,400 tons of bark mulch used for more than 3 acres of shrub beds