Employees in the physical plant departments of most commercial and institutional facilities work behind the scenes, accomplishing tasks out of sight from building occupants.
But if there is one type of organization in which maintenance and engineering directors, supervisors, and front-line staff are more visible and work more closely with occupants, it is higher education. Much of that visibility is because students are a driving force behind a growing number of building projects and retrofits designed to foster sustainability — a hot topic in classrooms and on campuses nationwide.
John Eaddy, associate director of physical plant with San Diego State University, has witnessed the power of a unified student body focused on green building goals. Students are joining the university's physical plant staff in conducting research for lighting retrofits that aim to reduce the maintenance workload, cut utility costs, and create a more environmentally conscious campus.
"Some of what we do is driven by department request, and we'll go in there and make the necessary upgrades and improvements," Eaddy says. "But a lot of it is driven by the student organizations, which gets a lot of traction because (students) are our No. 1 customers."
Eaddy and physical plant staff are responsible for maintaining more than 60 buildings with a total of 2.8 million square feet. When tackling lighting retrofits on a campus that large, it can be difficult for technicians to get a handle on the magnitude of the project, specifically the number of fixtures.
So Eaddy has tapped into motivated student organizations — primarily the Green Campus group — to conduct a lighting survey.
"They're taking a count of the fixtures and trying to capture the use of those particular areas," he says. "If the whole building is metered, they are taking some of that raw data, and they're collecting data from individual rooms. They are looking at the use of that particular area and (determining) if that's the use that facility was originally designed for."
The lighting survey and data collection are part of a larger energy-conservation initiative on campus that includes a focus on HVAC systems.
"What the plan is (for) that lighting survey is to do an engineering study of the systems to create a larger energy project here at the university," Eaddy says. "With that being said, the students know we're not going to tie up, delay, or push their projects aside, as we're putting together the processes for implementing the HVAC component with this.
"We're using them for all of the legwork. They have lots of energy. They're extremely proficient with technology and data collection."
Eaddy also is working closely with the university's faculty and its industrial technology services group, which has a key role in developing the university's smart classrooms — spaces with multimedia capabilities controlled from a podium at the front of the room.
"We couldn't accomplish it sitting behind closed doors, saying, ‘This is what we're going to do,' without their valuable input," Eaddy says.
Aside from creating a more interactive environment for faculty and students, the physical plant also is trying to improve the educational experience by specifying advanced lighting and lighting control for classroom spaces.
"As we've adapted to the changing use of our facilities, the technologies have helped us to meet the needs of the students, while maintaining our ever-dwindling resources to support them," Eaddy says.
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