“We’ve pretty much completely restructured Facilities,” said Mike Irish, who took over as head of the department Jan. 6. “My goal is to build Facilities back up to better meet the needs of the university.”
In order to do that, he says, he had to devise a way to get a revenue stream back into Facilities. The answer was to change in a fundamental way, how Facilities was getting the work done.
“For the past few years, by necessity, Portland State has been contracting out a lot of work that should be done in-house,” he said.
Irish is working with College Housing Northwest to gradually assume maintenance of university-owned buildings over the next five years.
“That allows me to build up my systems crew, my electrical crew,” he said.
“We’ll never get back to full strength, I’m sure,” Irish said. “But we’ll certainly be in a lot better shape for meeting the needs of the university.”
Irish said there also are a lot of things Facilities should be charging for, services Facilities provides that it is not getting paid for.
Irish said there was a meeting in which he listed all the services utilities is providing to outside constituencies. Facilities will start charging, bringing income stream back into Facilities, which helps the department become more solvent.
Under the existing system, if somebody uses the university for a wedding or a party, for example, Facilities crews have to set it up, provide maintenance and tear it back down again. Up to now, that hasn’t been charged for, but Irish feels it should be; that such charges should be part of the event fee.
Some buildings, such as Smith Memorial Student Union and Peter Stott Center, are no longer administered by Facilities but are under auxiliary services. In such cases, Facilities would charge auxiliaries and auxiliaries would charge the people putting on the event.
Another category is that of making moves, which is done with utilities crews. The Facilities office works on a lot of moves. It becomes a major project, for example, when Facilities moves an office out, does a remodel, and then moves the office back in again.
“That needs to be figured in the estimate and charged against the project,” Irish said. Although this doesn’t represent a large amount of revenue, it does represent a positive amount of revenue coming back to Facilities.
“Most of this transition will be a gradual process, but everything needs to be in place by July 1, which is the start of the fiscal year,” Irish said. “Some things will come together faster than others.”
Irish said he has had no arguments about the new policy and that people seem excited about it. It represents, in his view, a totally new way of doing business in Facilities.
Although he doesn’t want to call this the light at the end of the tunnel, he said, “We know there is room out there; that we’re going to get better.”
He feels that since ballot Measure 5 started cutting available funds, Facilities has had to “circle the wagons,” but “this time we’re uncircling the wagons and getting them moving forward.”
The new policy will leave the present outside janitorial services in place. Irish, who has run janitorial services in other jobs, took a look at the cost and concluded the university could not do in-house what the outside service is costing.
However, there will be a contract coordinator working between Facilities and the custodial contractor to make sure the service is living up to the contract. He predicts that will result in an improvement in the final performance.
Whether it’s maintenance or systems or electrical, “we’ve got people who can do it,” Irish said. “We’ve got good people.” He sees no need for contracting out in most cases.
When utilities sustained layoffs last May, the department lost two painters and a supervisor, leaving only one painter. The two painters and the supervisor are back.
There is a difference. The painters, and others in some Facilities jobs, are working on what are called “self-support positions.”
He said the department will have both a work force and a construction work force. The construction work force will be self-supporting. It will charge all its time against specified projects.
Some systems employees also may be hired as part of the self-supporting work force, in order to build the systems function back up. Irish listed such specialists as a refrigeration mechanic, who may be needed on projects and would be self-supporting.
These jobs would be secure, Irish said, “unless the well goes completely dry.
“I don’t see the well going dry for a long time,” he says. “There’s always some money out there for departmental upgrades or deferred maintenance that can keep people busy.”
The personnel buildup will be gradual, he says, as the year unfolds and the department learns what its financial prospects will be.
The total utilities department now numbers about 70 people. It will slowly increase, Irish hopes. He sees an eventual growth in work force of about nine people.
One new development is that the entire architectural engineering staff will become self-supporting. Its work has been self-supporting in some cases, but in other cases workers have not charged for their time. This does not mean higher architectural fees, he says. Architectural fees actually will go down because there will be more work done in-house rather than bringing in consultants. This all will bring back money to help rebuild the department.
Irish says he has run this system elsewhere and it has been very successful.
“I feel real good about it,” he said. “I feel real positive. I didn’t come here to fail and I’m not going to. I think the university and I will both prosper, or if not prosper, at least get better.
“It’s a challenge, but I like challenges.”