Striving for ‘like-new’

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Workload never stops for Facilities Maintenance team

When one thinks Facilities Maintenance, light bulbs and air filters may come to mind. But sometimes those light bulbs are really, really big, and most times it’s not light bulbs but 20-ton diesel generators, new dog kennels, and new offices fashioned from thin air.

In The Colony, the Facilities Maintenance Department falls under the direction of Public Works. Their responsibilities entail exactly what the name implies but not just for one or two buildings – there are more than 20 city facilities in The Colony, all of which are maintained by a full-time staff of four, including longtime Manager Terry Gilman.

Much like a typical IT department, Facilities Maintenance works from a queue of help tickets filed by city staff reporting various needs and repairs for their buildings. The ticket system ensures their work is properly documented from start to finish. Other requests come directly from residents using the facilities.

“We’re a department where you’ve got both internal and external customers,” Supervisor Brian Blythe said. “At the Recreation Center, for example, we get a lot of requests put in by citizens, letting us know something doesn’t work just right or where we can make an improvement to the lighting or painting, etc. There are lots of children utilizing that facility, too. It’s probably our biggest maintenance challenge because of all the traffic.”

The Recreation Center on North Colony Boulevard has seen some major improvements in recent years. Gone are the 10 big air conditioning units that used to hang from the ceiling in the gymnasium. Not only were they aged and increasingly inefficient but they also dripped condensation onto the floor. Now the facility boasts two exterior 20-ton units and brand new spiral duct work in the ceiling, all of which provides cleaner and more consistent temperatures throughout the facility, Blythe said.

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Thanks to the city’s Facilities Maintenance team, The Colony Recreation Center features new lighting in the gymnasium and new air-conditioning throughout the facility.

New lighting was recently installed in the gymnasium as well. Industrial lighting is measured in foot candles. Before the new fixtures, the gym’s foot candle was 11. Now it’s up to 48. To put it another way, “if the lighting is 100 percent now, it was only about 60 percent before,” Blythe said. “It made a big difference right off the bat and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback regarding the new lights.”

The new lighting is not only more efficient but also includes motion sensors so they’ll shut off when the gym is not in use, further reducing energy costs. Other recent upgrades at the Recreation Center include: new paint along the gym’s baseboards; replacement of every single screw in the eastern wall to prevent the corrugated metal from flexing; brand new exit doors in the gym improving both safety and aesthetics; and installation of polished concrete in the floors of two classrooms where an underground water source had been popping out the previous tile-work.

“Whatever the problem may be, we have to assess and find solutions that are both affordable and effective,” Blythe said. “Our goal is to maintain every facility, no matter how old, in a like-new condition.”

Another facility that sees lots of public traffic is the Animal Shelter on Lake Highlands Drive, which now boasts not only a new quarantine facility but also new outdoor kennels for the dogs featuring concrete pads and high-quality Mason-brand structures. The previous mud floors were pitted out and hard to clean.

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These adoptable animals at The Colony Animal Shelter enjoy new Mason-brand kennels with concrete floors that are more spacious and easier to clean. These are just one of several improvements underway at the shelter.

“It has made a big improvement, and we’re not yet finished,” Blythe said. “We still plan to sink some poles and put a metal roof over the kennels with an overhang in the front and back so the dogs will have some protection in the sun and rain.”

Upgrades to the Animal Shelter such as these have been a priority for the Facilities Maintenance Department for some time.

“When people come here to adopt, we want them to feel like they’re in their neighborhood backyard,” Blythe said, adding that plans are in the works for some additional landscaping and fence-work on the back side of the facility to form a buffer between the shelter and the adjacent wastewater treatment plant, which is currently undergoing upgrades of its own.

“We’re just trying to work with what we have and make the best environment for everybody, human and animal alike,” Blythe said.

While much of their work is driven by enhancing the customer experience for residents utilizing city facilities, other projects are driven by city management. Until recently, Customer Services Director Molly Owczar’s office in City Hall was an open cubicle laid out between the outside drive-through window and the customer service counters. This made it difficult for her to engage in private conversations with customers and/or her staff. A directive from the City Manager’s Office changed all that.

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The “before” and “after” look at the new office for the city’s Customer Services Director, constructed in one weekend by the Facilities Maintenance staff.

Over the course of one weekend, Facilities Maintenance staff built two walls and a door frame, and lowered the ceiling to form an actual office space in the same corner Owczar’s cubicle once stood. They had to rewire the electrical fixtures and the sprinkler system, too – again, all in one weekend.

Another recent, big-ticket project was the installation of the new backup generator at City Hall. The project required weeks of preparation and coordination with a handful of different departments. As the new backup for not just the electrical power at City Hall but also in turn the city’s data networks, the Facilities crew worked closely with the IT Department during installation and testing to ensure the computer systems would continue running smoothly as the power feed transitioned between sources.

Gilman said power outages during severe weather in recent years served as a reminder of the need for a reliable back-up system.

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A new 20-ton diesel generator recently went online at City Hall to protect the city’s critical data systems in the event of a power outage.

“We had small batteries that would back-up important systems for a period of hours but we’ve known for a while we needed something that could run much longer and sustain more systems,” he said. “A lot of work went into preparing the site, acquiring the generator and hooking it up. I’m real proud of our team for the job they did.”

So now the lights will stay on the next time there’s a power outage – as will the many critical systems staff members need to keep The Colony running smoothly rain or shine.

Speaking of lights, attendees and television viewers of City Council meetings may have noticed the chambers have been better lit in recent weeks. Facilities Maintenance staff undertook a complete overhaul of the lighting in the room, replacing old incandescent bulbs with LED. Not only is the room brighter but the LED bulbs should last between 17-22 years, depending on usage, Blythe said.

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Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Brian Blythe talks about the new lighting in the City Council Chambers, which illuminate the back-wall logo much better than before.

As if that’s not enough, what else do they do? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • oversaw construction of the custom-built TCFD training yard at 1 Harris Plaza, which has drawn attention from other departments around the region for its unique design and functionality;
  • repainted ornamentation along the bridge on Windhaven Parkway at Plano Parkway in Austin Ranch, a gateway area where development is booming and will require more and more upkeep in the future;
  • routinely apply preventative sealant on pedestrian railings and other outdoor structures to deter graffiti; also clean graffiti if/when city property is tagged;
  • assisted with installation of the new filtration system at the Aquatic Park, ensuring all the electrical equipment was up to code;
  • manage the city’s janitorial contractors;
  • applied white paint to the curbs at the Community Center so patrons can see the step-downs better in the evening; and,
  • installed security cameras at City Hall, the Recreation Center, and Police Headquarters to help protect residents and employees.

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    As part of gateway beautification efforts, Facilities Maintenance staff recently repainted all the ornamentation along the bridge just east of Plano Parkway on Windhaven in Austin Ranch.

Among the more pressing projects in the works are repairs to the bay doors at Fire Station No. 2. There’s also the need for constant preventative maintenance at every facility – such as checking exit signs, changing air filters, conducting perimeter walk-thrus for safety issues, and more.

“You’re never caught up. There’s always something,” Blythe said. “In my four years with The Colony, the closest we’ve been caught up is about four or five tickets. Today it’s 10. The most is about 20. We get help from other departments. Everybody chips in for the benefit of the community.”

Above it all, Gilman credited the City Council and City Manager’s Office for ensuring the necessary resources, both in materials and manpower, are applied to big projects like the new generator and security cameras. It’s all part of the shared goal of providing residents and employees with functional, safe, and comfortable facilities.

“My guys take a lot of pride in their work, and they care deeply about the community they serve,” Gilman said. “We hope the end results reflect that attitude of service.”

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