Facilities Services Comes Into Its Own

July 28, 2003

Nick Marinello
Phone: (504) 865-5714

To paraphrase an automotive company's slogan, "This is not your father's physical plant." Indeed, it isn't "physical plant" at all.

inside0701_facilitiesThe Department of Facilities Services shucked that name three years ago when it began to reinvent itself into an interactive, high-tech, proactive organization. And now its administrators want the Tulane community to know about the transition.

"It is important to us that there is an understanding out there that we are not simply a maintenance organization," says Rick Jones, senior associate vice president for facilities and auxiliary services. "We are an organization that is collaborating with the university's students, faculty and staff."

"At one time I think we were viewed kind of as the Maytag repairmen, waiting around for something to break," says Sylvester Johnson, associate vice president for facilities services. "Now we are not only repairing what needs to be fixed, but we also are making improvements to the infrastructure."

Jones and Johnson credit the turnaround to both a reinvigorated departmental culture and an entrepreneurial embrace of technology. One of the first things Jones did when he took the helm of facilities services in 2000 was to license a management-maintenance software from TMA Systems.

The software allows facilities services to track all ongoing work on the uptown campus' four work zones. Workers, who never leave their geographically specified zone, can receive orders through the system and then input their own feedback when the job is completed.

Furthermore, the system has been greatly "facilitated" by the department's use of wireless communication, say Jones and Johnson. Using Tulane's wireless capabilities, the department has issued wireless, handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants) to each of its workers. Workers, in turn, receive job orders and submit their evaluation of the job without ever leaving the work zone. This has allowed the department to reduce the number of maintenance vehicles by five and the number of carts and small utility vehicles by 20.

More important, says Jones, workers who go to their work zone in the morning and walk to nearby job sites throughout the day build a good relationship with clients and develop pride in their own work. Facilities services' implementation of the software has been so successful, say Jones and Johnson, that the company has designated Tulane as an educational research site and will use the department as a model program.

"On top of that," says Johnson, "if another institution or university comes to us to learn how to use wireless technology with the TMA system, then there is a revenue-sharing component for us."

Jones, who points to the fact that his department now answers three times as many calls as it did three years ago (up from 22,000 requests in 2000 to 34,022 requests in 2002), says that new mobility and efficiency have allowed the department to expand its mission.

"We are doing our best to improve the student experience at Tulane," he says. "We now sit on the Campus Planning Executive Committee and the Campus Design Committee and regularly collaborate with people in housing and residence life, as well as technology services and other departments in working out the university's infrastructure."

This year, a partnership of facilities services, student affairs and housing and residence life has led to a five-year plan for facility improvements to residences using a combination of funding sources from each department's budget. Jones cites several ongoing projects this summer that are collaborations between facilities services and other departments.

"With housing and residence life we are installing keyless entries, sprinkler systems and HVAC systems at several residence halls," he says. Facilities services is also playing key roles in the construction of the Zemurray residence hall, the business school addition and the University Center renovation, as well as "bringing the campus infrastructure to them."

"It is important that we work together with departments on capital projects so that we can get a better quality product at a lower cost," says Jones. "We no longer want to be the physical plant that brings utilities within five feet of your building. We think it is better if everyone is involved from start to finish. We are now involved in the central campus planning effort. We know what's happening and can supply our resources and support."

Nick Marinello can be reached at

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