MTD-Work Center staff

Members of the Facilities Work Center staff include, from left, Pat Barstow, Ashley Tatem, Tony Turner, Jim Miller, Mary Chamberlain, Courtney Thompson and Tina Lenigar.

Photographer: Lauren Pond

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Work Center serves as starting point for all of OHIO’s Facilities needs


Over the course of its more than 210-year history, Ohio University’s Athens Campus has evolved into an institution known not only for its academic excellence but also its aesthetics.

The responsibility of maintaining the grounds and more than 200 buildings on this approximately 1,800-acre campus falls on the roughly 400 individuals employed in the University’s Facilities Department.

The services those individuals provide – from cleaning offices to painting residence hall rooms to maintaining OHIO’s heating plant and utility tunnels to removing ice and snow from the sidewalks and parking lots – touch the lives of every individual on the campus every single day. And while the trades they perform vary, their mission is the same: to ensure that the University operates as effectively and efficiently as possible – all to ensure the success of the entire campus, its employees and its student.

Key to that mission are the nine employees who staff the Facilities Work Center and coordinate routine maintenance and repair requests as well as emergency services. Available to OHIO employees and students 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Work Center acts as the liaison between the OHIO community and the Facilities Department and serves as the initial point of contact for several of the department’s shops.

WHERE THE FACILITIES PROCESS STARTS

The Facilities Management Department’s duties run the gamut from maintenance and operations to recycling and refuse. But no matter what the situation – be it a clogged sink, a pest problem or a utility outage – most of the department’s work requests begin with the Work Center’s four administrative assistants who staff a call center that takes reports regarding facilities and grounds issues on campus.

Administrative assistants Mary Chamberlain, Tina Lenigar, Ashley Tatem and Courtney Thompson staff the Work Center from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Mondays through Fridays year-round, handling reports that come into the center via a growing number of mediums. During the overnight hours, calls that come into the center are transferred to a local paging company that, depending on the urgency of the request, either forwards the information on to the Work Center staff to be handled in the morning or alerts the University maintenance workers to an emergency situation that needs immediate attention.

According to Shari Smith, who manages the Work Center, the center’s staff answered approximately 24,000 calls in 2014 – a number that continues to grow as the campus both expands and ages.

While the majority of the requests the center receives come from phone calls, the Facilities Work Center has implemented a variety of ways for members of the OHIO community to request services from the department’s various shops. This past summer, the Work Center upgraded its computerized maintenance management system, TMA, to be web-based. As a result, the Work Center is now able to receive work order requests by phone, fax, e-mail, online and in person.

“We have the phone ringing, e-mails coming in, our radio system going – it’s a multi-tasking job for sure,” explained Chamberlain who has been employed at the center for more than five years.

“We answer phone calls from customers throughout campus – both employees and students,” added Lenigar, a three-year Work Center employee. “We take those calls and troubleshoot. Sometimes the caller just has a question that needs answered, and sometimes it’s a request that requires a work order.”

No matter how a request is received, if it’s a request that requires a task to be performed, it follows the same process: The Work Center staff drafts a work order and forwards it on to the appropriate Facilities shop or zone. The managers of those shops and zones prioritize those work orders.

“That’s where it can get a little hectic,” noted Tatem, who joined the Work Center staff a little over year ago. “Some customers think we can control that priority, but we don’t. The shop managers prioritize their work. They are the experts.”

Every work order has a corresponding log sheet that documents details of the work that was performed. It is the responsibility of the Work Center staff to process those log sheets – nearly 60,000 of them last year alone – and enter them into the center’s computer system.

“We do a lot of filing and paperwork,” Thompson, the center’s latest hire who joined the staff about three months ago, said. “We have three students working here now, and they are lifesavers. They help us a lot with our log sheets.”

“The members of the Work Center team provide a critical service for Facilities by communicating customer requirements to the rest of our staff,” explained Steve Wood, executive director of Facilities Management. “In doing so, they ensure our customers understand the process and priorities that ensure Facilities’ support of Ohio University’s goals and objectives remains on track. While fulfilling a difficult role for our organization, they are always professional, caring and understanding.”

A NOT-SO-TYPICAL DAY AT THE OFFICE

It’s impossible to predict what a day at the Facilities Work Center will bring.

“We operate in a very unstructured environment,” Smith explained. “We never know what issues we’re going to face on any given day, and you really have to thrive on surprises to be successful and enjoy this type of work.”

A successful Work Center employee also has to be able to weather one of the few constants in this office: complaints.

“We receive complaints from students, from staff, from faculty,” Thompson said. “Even alumni will call if they’re upset about things that have been moved or changed.”

And then there are the complaints from students’ parents.

The Work Center operates under a policy that doesn’t allow staff to take work requests from students’ parents; instead, the students must report the issue themselves – a policy that sometimes doesn’t go over well with a Bobcat mom or dad.

“We certainly understand where these parents are coming from – their child has a particular problem and they’re paying a lot of money to attend this University, and we want to help their child,” said Tatem. “But our process says that work requests must come from students for logistical, safety and security reasons.”

And while the Work Center staff never knows what each day will bring, there is some consistency and patterns to the complaints they receive.

“(Rooms/offices/buildings that are either) too hot or too cold – that’s actually the No. 1 complaint all year long,” Tatem said. “You would think it’s only during winter or the summer, but no way. We get those calls 365 days a year.”

Coming in a close second are issues involving leaky or clogged or overflowing sinks and toilets. Then there are the weather-related calls. And if it’s a Friday night, there could be some tripped breakers, said Pat Barstow, the Work Center’s procurement specialist who spent five years answering the center’s phones before moving into her current position.

“The students have their tablets going, they’ve got their curling irons going, they’ve got hair dryers going – there’s bound to be blown fuses,” she said.

Other complaints can be attributed to certain times of the year. For example, Athens’ annual Halloween celebration as well as the spring fests tend to result in calls for various custodial services.

And then there are the peculiar calls that somehow find their way to the Work Center staff – calls that sometimes help lighten the mood in this very busy office and offer a little comic relief.

Lenigar noted a call she received fall semester from a student who was frantic.

“His Frisbee was stuck on the roof,” she explained. “He thought it was an emergency and he needed that Frisbee ASAP. I was doing everything I could not to laugh.”

While Thompson has only worked at the center a few months, she recalled a conversation she had with a student late one evening.

“He wanted me to order a pizza for him,” she said. “I explained to him that I don’t do that, and he said, ‘Well, I have something here that says you guys take care of my problems, and I need a pizza.’ I finally got through to him that I wasn’t going to order him a pizza, but it was a lengthy conversation.”

CHALLENGING, BUT REWARDING

Working at the Facilities Work Center can be challenging, but the employees there will also tell you it’s equally rewarding.

“Our jobs are all about helping people,” Tatem said. “That’s pretty fulfilling – knowing that you’re helping the campus and that you’re getting things done as quickly as you can. We do try our best, and we take our jobs very seriously.”

“It feels good when you can help someone,” said Jim Miller, assistant manager of the Work Center. “Our callers, they have a problem in their world and they’re looking for help, and it’s nice being here to get them that help.”

“And,” Tatem added, “we get to interact with everyone on this campus – from every building to many positions, whether you’re a dean, a student, or the president’s assistant.”

Barstow noted that another rewarding aspect of staffing the Work Center desk is being able to see the fruits of your labor.

“You see the beginning and you see the end in a very short period of time,” she said.

“I think this job is the most enjoyable when it’s fast-paced, and when you’ve had a successful day, it’s just a good feeling,” said Chamberlain.

Lenigar mentioned the response the center coordinated to a burst water pipe that occurred over Winter Break at Porter Hall.

“When we left the office that day, we knew we had accomplished a lot of work and communicated with each other very well,” she said.

“We all pulled together, like we always do, and made it work,” Chamberlain added.

And that’s a part of the job that they all agreed was among the most enjoyable – the camaraderie and support that is evident not only amongst the Work Center staff, but also with those individuals employed in the various Facilities shops and with supervisors and Facilities managers.

“There’s not one person here who will not stop and help you,” Thompson said. “You have to be a tight-knit group in this kind of work. We have to help each other, and we enjoy helping each other and the entire campus.”

This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world. Future “Making the Difference” articles will feature other employees in Ohio University’s Facilities Department.

Beyond the Work Center’s front desk

The Facilities Work Center staff handles many duties outside of operating the center’s front desk.

“The individuals who are employed at the Work Center wear a lot of hats,” Jim Miller, assistant manager of the Work Center who also tracks and processes most of the University’s utility bills, explained.

For example, in addition to staffing the center’s desk, Tina Lenigar handles attendance and FMLA duties for the Facilities Department, and Mary Chamberlain assists her with attendance responsibilities, helping to track employees’ paid time off.

“The FMLA piece is huge,” Lenigar said. “There’s a lot of interaction with employees. We talk about what FMLA is, explain it in general and help them figure it out.

“It’s part of the job I enjoy most,” she added. “It’s really fulfilling to be able to help them and let them know that their job is going to be secure if they follow proper protocol.”

The Work Center staff also oversees Facilities billing to various University departments, budgeting responsibilities, as well as procurement for various Facilities shops. The center recently hired Amy Simons who is serving as both an accounting specialist and another member of the team that staffs the front desk.

Overseeing procurement operations for the Work Center are procurement specialists Pat Barstow and Tony Turner who are responsible for the ordering, receiving and delivering of parts for Facilities’ Maintenance and Operations, Grounds, and Custodial Services shops. It’s a job that presents its own unique challenges, including an aging campus and workforce.

“Just finding parts can be hard,” Barstow explained. “Some things are not made anymore, so we have to retrofit and sometimes we have to find aftermarket parts from companies that have been out of business for 30 years.”

Barstow credited the Facilities workers with finding creative solutions to many of the procurement struggles.

“The guys are fantastic about retrofitting and combining parts,” she said.

“If it weren’t for the Custodial, Grounds and Maintenance technicians and managers, our job would be a whole lot harder,” added Shari Smith, manager of the Work Center. “They are a great group of people.”

UCM seeks nominations for ‘Making the Difference’ series

The Ohio University community is home to a family of staff and faculty committed to inspired teaching and learning and driven by a desire to make a difference.

In the fall of 2013, University Communications and Marketing (UCM) launched a Compass series, “Making the Difference.” The series focuses on OHIO staff and faculty who are making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the word.

UCM is calling on Bobcat Nation to help us share the stories of the numerous ways in which OHIO staff and faculty are making a difference every day. If you know of an individual or group of individuals who would be ideal candidates for this series, please contact Angela Woodward at woodwara@ohio.edu.