Manager Rises Through Facilities Ranks
Rick Brown's career path started with custodial work for Okemos Public Schools in Michigan, and today, Brown has risen to become the district’s facilities manager.
There is no single way that people enter and move through facilities careers. In fact, there are countless starting points and routes. Some who eventually become managers and directors start in the military, while others have a contractor or even a manufacturing background. Rick Brown's career path started with custodial work for Okemos Public Schools in Michigan, and today, Brown has risen to become the district’s facilities manager.
FacilitiesNet: What did you think your career would be when you graduated from high school?
Brown: As a young married man with small children, my goal was to become a teacher. Instead, in 1990, I found myself employed as a special education job coach for Okemos Public Schools in Michigan. During that period, I was asked by a custodial acquaintance as to whether I had found a good job for summer break that year. I followed up on that idea and soon found myself in a custodial position that lasted for the next three summers.
FacilitiesNet: When and why did you get your first facilities-related job?
Brown: In 1998, I was finally offered a full-time night custodial position, where I remained for the next five years. Following that, I was promoted to day custodian at one of Okemos’ elementary schools. This lasted for another three years. I spent over two decades working in the maintenance and custodial arena. I also functioned as a special education paraprofessional for nearly seven years. During those earlier years, I was also attending Lansing Community College and focusing on elementary education studies, all of which has served me well in this latest position.
FacilitiesNet: What do know about facilities management now that you wish you had known when you entered the profession?
Brown: Since early 2018, I have acted as the sole facilities manager for Holt Public Schools in Holt, Michigan. Quickly learning the realities of district-wide facilities management, I soon discovered that I really had no idea how many balls would have to be juggled at one time.
Holt Public Schools is a large district with eleven school buildings, nearly 5,000 students and around 850 employees.
Like most large districts, it has many moving parts. Not unlike most facilities managers, I oversee everything from grounds to rooftops, including parking lots, athletic fields, and all parts in between. Our department helps to manage and maintain an infinite list of parts and equipment, including HVAC equipment, boilers, playgrounds, carpets and flooring, asphalt paving, athletic field striping, and more. With so many areas of responsibility falling under the oversight of nearly all facilities departments, the work can be infinitely widespread and ever-changing. Flexibility and experience are key factors in achieving a successful outcome overall.
FacilitiesNet: What is the next challenge you face in your facilities?
Brown: With the district currently undertaking a major restructuring of its buildings and upgrades, the goal is to continue creating a more comfortable academic environment, reducing rising energy and operational costs, and replacing outdated systems. The current energy bond has already afforded the opportunity to install LED lighting and dimmer controls, replacing fluorescent tube lighting and ballasts and extending the approximate one-year lifespan of those light sources by at least ten years or more. Moreover, these LED fixtures offer a 10-year full replacement warranty, far exceeding the more typical five-year warranty. Since early 2018, the district’s energy consumption has significantly lowered costs with approximately $450,000 in savings each year since, including the receipt of nearly $800,000 in energy rebates from Consumers Energy’s Energy Savings Plan. The goal is to continue saving from nearly $380,000 to $400,000 per year in energy costs going forward.
In the interest of water conservation, all new bottle fillers, low-flow aerators, and toilet assemblies were installed district-wide, significantly reducing water consumption. Lead-based fixtures were also eliminated and have been replaced district-wide.
Saving money and manhours in the semi-annual replacement of paper air filters in the district, air filters were installed on 100 percent of HVAC units, resulting in a significant improvement in air quality and costs. These new filter systems provide significant savings compared to earlier costs of purchasing and replacing standard, pleated paper filters. These new dynamic filters are a type of air cleaner that uses an electrostatic field to capture airborne particles. They can block up to 97 percent of all airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns, which is said to make them very effective against allergens and pollutants. Air dynamic filters work with most air cleaners and require only that disposable filter pads be replaced periodically. Learning about and keeping up with the new advances in HVAC and clean air technology, and efficient LED lighting, has been a rewarding challenge.
FacilitiesNet: What accomplishment in facilities management are you most proud of?
Brown: Enjoying the opportunity to lead such a hardworking team of custodians, administrative, grounds and maintenance workers, I appreciate that while we are always looking for potential candidates, all combined, our team members represent decades of experience. Some team members have worked in their current positions for more than 15 years.
Much has been accomplished here, and there is much more to do. With the support of my family and our amazing team here at Holt Public Schools, I am proud of what we have managed to do over these past few years. I have appreciated the ongoing support and encouragement of our leadership and our team. We will continue to build and grow our department for the future of our students. They are the reason we are here.
Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management.