Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Odd Jobs

Take pride in being prepared for and capable of solving the unexpected.

Growing up, we would knock on our neighbors’ doors seeking odd jobs to earn a little extra money. Most times we’d be invited to wash windows, mow the lawn or bathe the dog, and we were happy for the work. Being in facilities now, the term “odd jobs” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Our maintenance department personnel are usually subtle experts in the odd job request. I like to think of most of our maintenance technicians as brilliant free thinkers. I’ve written before that we are usually the problem-solvers for the campus community. Not for academic questions, budgeting and long-range planning, though we are also really good at most of that as well, but for the random and sundry things that people simply don’t know who to ask for answers. These are the “What would you do if…” or “How do I...” type calls. I won’t give an example because everyone reading this already has an idea of the types of calls to which I refer. The point is that people come to us, and we wear the problem-solver label as a badge of honor.

We touch so many different things in the course of our normal workday, and the great majority of those are routine as our personnel grind through their work orders. However, the technicians light up when they get the odd-job work order or random request for assistance or input.

Responding to the Unexpected

The odd requests are sure to get the attention of the work control coordinator and supervisor. Many times the requestors doesn’t even know exactly what they are trying to ask and oftentimes when they describe it, they don’t realize what they are asking is out of the ordinary. These odd requests can range from a simple “find the annoying squeak near my office” to “change the belts on the 1942 whatchamacallit in the lab.” We don’t get too excited with these because we are mechanical types and we think methodically, almost always looking deeper than is necessary into any issue. Who stocks belts for that 1942 piece of equipment? Nobody, but we go on the hunt for them anyway, and usually find them… making sure to buy as many as we think we might need to keep in future inventory!

Then we come to the “interestingly adapted equipment” on our campus. These are pieces of equipment that some well-meaning technician found a way to keep running in spite of the lack of available parts (due to budget constraints, parts out of manufacture, etc…). Many of us know this practice as “MacGyver-ing,” using whatever materials are available at the time, including bubble gum and baling wire. As those creative folks cycle out of the department, new technicians stumble into these so-called fixes and must figure out either how to repair the “MacGyver” or how to correctly affect the repair. As leaders it is our preference that they source the correct parts and fix it right. That’s not always possible, however, so it becomes our job to make sure the alternate repair is safe and functional. We do understand that the parts for that 1942 whatchamacallit are no longer available and we can seek alternates. We are often able to adapt or match from current parts or even try to make certain parts. Either way, our maintenance team will high-five for days over a successful repair of this sort.

Finding a Way to Work

Finally, we often struggle over the hard-to-access or difficult-to-reach repairs. These can vary from high lights over a stairwell or getting the appropriate equipment into a building in order to access these areas. Many times we find buildings designed with form and not function in mind. Examples include alcove and door offsets that do not allow the proper high-lift equipment to get inside a building, lights that cannot be safely changed due to their location, etc. I have attached a list of maintenance-related questions to my plans review list.

I always make sure lights can be safely accessed; appropriate equipment can be brought in (and safely used once inside); and that there is ready and safe access to building equipment such as pumps, motors, air handlers, filters, etc. Early conversations with the design architects and engineers so that they understand how a building will be maintained is very important to help avert the access concern!

Our brilliant, freethinking technicians love a challenge, but will grumble and groan if they get too many of these challenges in spite of their complaints over how routine their daily schedule is. Set your department apart by accepting those odd jobs with a smile, and you too will find your department is seen as the Odd Job Specialists!

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management August 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected].