If your city or town is planning to construct a new municipal facility, a recommended best practice is to include your facilities director, or similar team member, on your design team, according to Ken Wertz, executive director of the Massachusetts Facilities Administrators’ Association.

Why? Your facilities director has the most interest in the process, as he or she will be the one holding the keys and having access to sophisticated building systems after the ribbon is cut and the design team has moved onto another project.

One of the most popular sessions at the MFAA’s 2022 Annual Fall Conference, Wertz said, focused on the importance of having facilities directors as part of new construction teams.

In many instances, he said, municipal building projects continue to be underrepresented and unsupported by the owner’s facilities team. Communities often form a construction committee that manages new building projects and renovations, he said, but the makeup of these groups often does not include the voice of the person who has the most knowledge of the building being worked on — and who will be responsible for the new facility when it is turned over to the city or town.

What participation looks like
Wertz said real team participation includes giving someone on the facilities team a seat on the committee and the power to make decisions that align with project goals. Providing administrative support, as well as understanding the time commitment needed for active committee participation — such as attending design and construction meetings, visiting other buildings to see proposed design elements in a working municipal environment, and time to review design documents — can bring additional benefits.

Sometimes, a municipality or committee might suggest that an owner’s project manager can cover what the facilities manager would do. Wertz noted, however, that not all projects fund outside services to help manage the project on behalf of the owner.

Even if there is an owner’s project manager, he said, that person or firm is unlikely to come to the table with the same pride of ownership or passion that’s brought by someone from the city or town organization.

Relationships can also make things messy, as an owner’s project manager may have a prior working relationship and/or plans for future projects with the architects and builders, which can complicate negotiations related to errors, omissions and change orders. The facilities manager, meanwhile, isn’t beholden to anyone but the community, so its best interests will always be put forward.

Options exist
In reality, not all communities have a facilities director with the needed skill set or exposure to current design trends and systems, Wertz said. And budgets are a real concern for many communities. But cities and towns are still advised to put systems in place to ensure that they will have proper management of sophisticated building systems.

With new energy and building code requirements, and technological advances in building controls, Wertz said a community’s involvement early in the design process is a huge help, especially if that team member will be the one to manage the new asset.

Options for communities include an outsourced service contract for building systems management, or creating a new position, such as a building operator.

In the end, Wertz said, involving your facilities director in new building projects offers the benefit of their knowledge and expertise, and provides them with an opportunity for professional growth, an increased sense of pride of ownership, and a clear message that they are an important and respected part of the organization.

Written by Joyce McMahon, freelance writer

MIIA has partnered with the MFAA, a community of public facility directors dedicated to improving the performance and operation of public facilities, to enhance its members’ risk management efforts. MIIA members are eligible to receive a free first year of membership to the MFAA by attending 60% of scheduled MFAA trainings between January and June 30, 2023.