By Tom Cruse, January 2010.
Twenty years ago where would you go to seek information about facilities management, design and construction? Twenty-two years ago my career began at a higher education institution and this was a considerable change from my former pursuits. In many respects this became a challenge and a new endeavor which presented unusual, but always interesting projects. What most individuals seek is both information and those knowledgeable in the field who can advise the novice in past experiences of what works and what doesn't. No one wants to repeat the same mistake some others have already learned the hard way. Similarly, if an individual has a good idea and has put it into practice, why not share that with your colleagues?
The problem was not that there weren't others in the higher education facilities field, but how do you establish a network to share the wealth of knowledge already in existence? A fellow worker invited me to attend a local chapter of IFMA meeting. I enjoyed the program, the company of facility managers, and the camaraderie. From this experience I quickly joined and became a member of the association. However, it became evident that while there were similarities in the topics on building maintenance, housekeeping, etc. the discussion regarding resolution of the issues were not always as relevant to my industry where buildings last forever [no depreciation], maintenance budgets were cut extremely thin, and there were numerous varieties of types of facilities to contend with, not just office space. [Note: University campuses are considered by many to be small cities with streets, residential communities, food operations, sports complexes and performance halls, hotels, in addition to the educational and very sophisticated research component. Some have their own police and fire departments, provide utilities such as chilled water, steam heat and electricity, as well as maintain the distribution network, (tunnels, pipes and cabling). Large telephone networks and data systems are commonplace items on university campuses. Universities are also stewards of large collections of artwork and vast libraries of books and literature.]
Further investigation and communication with IFMA headquarters led to the discovery of councils. These are special interest groups formed around a specific industry or topic related to facilities management, planning, and construction. In the Fall of 1990 the annual convention of IFMA was held in Baltimore, MD. A reception was held outdoors in front of the Aquarium which was also reserved for the event. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it was bitterly cold which moved the event indoors into the aquarium. While meeting some of my fellow Cincinnati chapter members, the real opportunity for me came from meeting some of the other representatives of universities. For example, one individual was from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, another was the university architect at the major western university and a third was from a community college in the Midwest. It was through this interaction that the real benefit of IFMA came home to me. By meeting and discussing topics related to university facilities the trip was more than paid for from the exchange of great ideas, in essence, networking.
Upon returning home, once again contact was made with IFMA headquarter to investigate the possibility of forming a council. At that time the requirement to form a council was to solicit letters of support from at least 25 IFMA members. This required searching the membership data base for individuals who listed an academic institution for their place of employment. A letter was sent to those members outlining my desire to form a council and requesting a letter of support.
It did not take long to obtain the necessary letters. To my surprise and to further the "International" in IFMA I received a letter of support from a member from a university in the Netherlands. With this necessary documentation in hand the next step was to pull a group together, assign/elect officers and duties, and quickly put together a strategic plan for future events.
The next annual IFMA conference (this pre-dates the term World Workplace), was to be held in San Diego in the fall of 1991. Having found in the membership list, Boone Hellmann, who was the university architect at the University of California San Diego, I contacted him regarding hosting a meeting on his campus for the new council. Boone had already committed to participate in a sailing regatta the weekend of the IFMA event, but felt this was such an important inaugural event for the council that he agreed (with a little arm-twisting) to host the first meeting of the Academic Facilities Council. Our meeting on November 10th, 1991 at the Price Center on the campus of UCSD began a twenty year long series of programs and tours of universities, community colleges and schools. Several of the IFMA members who signed letters of support attended the first meeting and some became officers. While the program lasted for only a few hours, the enthusiasm and interest in continuing to network throughout the IFMA conference and the desire to hold future meetings ignited the fire that has been kept alive today.
The AFC decided to hold two conferences a year; one of the events would be held in the spring at a location of choice by the membership and the second would be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of IFMA, (now called World Workplace). Our first Spring conference occurred on April 24th and 25th 1992 and was held at the newly opened Beckmann Institute Research Building on the campus of the University of Illinois, hosted by Bruce Marshall who also was our treasurer. [Tragedy later took the life of Bruce in a freak scuba diving accident.]
The AFC has had the fortunate opportunity to visit and tour many unusual facilities not necessarily limited to academic or university ones. From the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, to NASA’s Cape Canaveral, we have climbed inside Disney's EPCOT structures and have been through Boeing's aircraft assembly building in Washington. We have visited countless university buildings and been underground inside a cave used as a library storage facility to the catwalk over the fly loft stage of a theater. We are not afraid to climb on the roof of a utility building or walk through steam and chilled water plants. Presentations on housekeeping, energy management, green and LEED programs, to classroom design and technology provide the members with current information on what's new and is being used on today's campuses. By far and away the real gem of the council is the people who make it come alive through the programs, sharing data, and making the conferences, webinars, etc. a reality. With the cooperation of the council members, (and a lot of effort by the officers), the AFC achieved the Council of the Year Award in 1994. Today we are hosting webinars for those who are unable to attend in person the two conferences held each year. There is a list-serv to discuss contemporary topics and email is used to contact each other regarding specific issues. [Since academic institutions were some of the earliest adopters of technology, the AFC was one of the first groups in IFMA to use email to contact its members and distribute notices of upcoming events and activities.]
Our employers have seen the value of IFMA membership since they are on the receiving end of the knowledge gained from the council meetings and programs. Most attendees at council events say they take home at least one new idea which they will use when they return to their institution.
From our humble beginnings of less than 20 IFMA members at the first meeting in San Diego, the AFC has grown to a current roster of more than 570 representing over 400 post secondary institutions and school boards. Those members come from around the world representing 18 countries which truly makes the AFC an international council.
Also, included in that number are several corporate members from the facilities management industry who provide both support for our programs as well as informational programs on new technologies, products and current trends. Together we have a cohesive blend of experience and a wealth of knowledge that is openly shared among the members.
This fall 2010 marks the twentieth annual meeting of the Academic Facilities Council. It was beyond my wildest dreams that this concept of forming a special interest group for academic facilities would last for twenty years and hopefully continue for twenty more.
It only goes to show that with a common interest and desire to share our experiences with each other, that a group of facilities people can get together and have fun doing it.