Physical plant manages circuits, playgrounds, energy consumption

Keeping 13 buildings on 180 acres running smoothly is no easy task and one that often goes unnoticed by the Westminster community. Each time anything from a single lighting fixture to the circuits of an entire building malfunctions, the physical-plant staff moves into action.

Located not too far from Adams Gate, the physical plant is a large building that most Wildcats drive by without a second glance every day. Inside, a staff of administrators and a variety of specialized workers keep each of Westminster’s buildings running smoothly each day.

“We take care of all the HVAC systems and electrical needs, carpentry, locksmithing, plumbing—the whole nine yards,” said resident electrician Jeffery Wooley. “It’s some of everything, on a small scale.”

For each type of job, an individual has charge over the entire campus.

“I handle all of the electrical jobs on campus,” said Wooley. “It’s only if, for some reason, there’s a big job requiring more than one or two guys that we’ll hire a contractor to do it.”

The team functions under a work-order system, keeping each person busy and each operation running smoothly.

“I prioritize the work orders,” said Wooley. “I try to handle the most important ones affecting the students in the classrooms first.”

For example, if a lighting fixture or circuit in a classroom breaks, the teacher will first phone in the problem and a work-order form, basically a slip of paper, is sent to the maintenance department. Wooley would then receive the order, go to the problem, fix it, and turn back in the completed form. This is the day-to-day process of a maintenance worker.

Often, these employees are working around the clock, arriving at school before students and faculty and staying well after hours in order to maximize the educational experience.

Wooley also works closely with the junior class each year in preparation for prom, a favorite event of his and opportunity to connect with students.

“I love prom. I love assisting the students with the vision they have for decorations and helping them make it look just the way they want it to,” he said. “When they’re satisfied and happy, and you can see the smiles on their faces, that’s rewarding for me.”

On a more large-scale basis, other physical-plant workers work with the administration to improve the quality of buildings and, ultimately, campus life. William Broome is the director of facilities on campus.

“My job is planning major projects and dealing with the surprise problems that come up,” said Broome. “We are constantly monitoring problems on campus to see where things are wearing out and need to be replaced or upgraded.”

The 2012 summer is brimming with new projects and changes for Westminster.

Over only ten weeks, Broome and his colleagues are installing an Energy Recovery Unit (ERU) in Askew, paving the back entrance road, upgrading the HVAC controls in Broyles, renovating the softball field, enlarging the Love Hall kitchen, making some renovations to classrooms in Love, and installing swings on the upper playground at Love as well.

These projects have been planned for the past five years. A facility meeting brainstormed the ideas in 2007, and then a project plan was written. The project that will affect high school students the most directly going forward will be the ERU in Askew, a building known for its unpredictable climates.

“It’s very hard to control the humidity in Askew Hall. We have to run the boiler and the chiller at the same time. But once the Energy Recovery Unit is in place, we will be able to cut back on the boiler usage and won’t have to run the chiller as much and we’ll have significant energy savings,” said Broome, “It’s very rewarding to see the energy costs go down.”

To prepare for this project, Broome has worked with an engineer, a general contractor, and HVAC controls companies.

Being the director of facilities allows Broome to work directly with the administration and the board of trustees, as well as dealing directly with funding for all these projects.

“The most challenging part of my job,” said Broome, “is definitely managing all the projects within the allocated funds that we have.”

While many projects are done behind the scenes in the physical plant, Broome and Wooley agree that the most rewarding are those that address directly the Westminster community.

“I love seeing the satisfied customer when we complete a project,” said Broome.

“I think that Westminster is a family-oriented environment. The faculty and the staff, the students, everyone appears to be polite and happy. Everyone is really purpose-driven, looking toward the same goal,” said Wooley. “I learn from it every day, and it helps keep my morale up and keeps me motivated. People like Dr. Clarkson speak [to me] and know my name. It’s a very happy environment and I love being here.”

On into the summer, the facilities staff will work like a duck’s feet beneath the water, moving continuously and speedily behind the scenes to keep the Westminster community running smoothly and comfortably.