You’ve Got a Friend: Partner With the Facility Manager

By Jeff Gavin | Feb 15, 2020




A seat at the table isn’t assured when integrated design is more idea than practice. Certainly, an electrical contractor’s presence can help to facilitate project goals early in a project design. Partnering with the facility manager (FM) could add that practical voice offering a ground-level viewpoint to ensure project success. In fact, the facility manager could be the EC’s new best friend to ensure electrical and power goals work for the space or entire building.

There have always been informal relationships between the EC and FM. The facility manager may even have a go-to contractor. Inviting the facility manager into the planning stages of a retrofit can pay off, especially when you have high-performance objectives such as rigorous energy or water efficiency, overall sustainably, resiliency or occupant health goals. You advocate for them and they advocate for you.

“We really feel bringing the facility manager to the design table is a no-brainer,” said Gordon Rogers, who serves as program director within Kitchell’s Capital Expenditure Managers Inc., Phoenix. Kitchell is an employee-owned construction management firm that provides engineering, architecture and other services including facilities management.

“The facility manager knows their own capability and their staff, how the building operates or with a new design attuned to high performance, health, safety and so on,” Rogers said. “I think they could be a real partner for ECs to seek out and bring to the table. For instance, the facility manager knows switchgear needs and sees how the building can adapt to smart HVAC or lighting design. The facility manager will catch when equipment is being ill-placed in a design, so you don’t have to open a ceiling to get to and maintain equipment. We will bring our facility manager to design reviews if the client doesn’t have one to offer an operations and maintenance perspective.”

“In building design, there is still a traditional mindset with people working in silo when it comes to design and operation,” said Jeffrey Johnson, executive director of government affairs at the International Facility Management Association, Houston. The IFMA serves more than 23,000 members in more than 100 countries.

“People are not seeing a clear connect between them. With building performance now integral to design, we are seeing a shift where the facility manager is being consulted. We always felt the person who runs the buildings [the FM] must be involved in the design and planning process. It’s a welcome change at the end of the day having an facility manager providing practical-minded solutions,” he said.

Rogers shared findings of an informal three-year study conducted by Kitchell that looked at a building manager’s involvement early in design and the financial impact.

“We estimate FMs getting involved sooner during the design phase of [a] project can result in a 3-to-1 investment advantage [and] avoiding costly rework when designs aren’t practical to the operation of the building,” Rogers said.

IFMA has historically been a resource to the building industry. It is a member of the High-Performance Building Coalition, a collection of some 200 organizations that provide guidance and support the House of Representatives High Performance Building Caucus. The legislation and policies promote, in part, innovative building technologies, energy and water efficiency, sustainable and resilient communities, and private-sector standards, codes and guidelines that address these concerns.

IFMA’s certification programs, including its Certified Facility Manager and Sustainability Facility Professional, are worth noting when seeking out credentialed facility managers. Beyond IFMA, the BIT Building program and credential provides best practices for real estate and facility managers pursuing high-performance building operation. BIT is managed by the Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta.

Advice that works both ways

Laurie Gilmer is vice president and chief operating officer at Facility Engineering Associates P.C., Fairfax, Va. The firm provides support to owners and managers of existing facilities, including facility managers, with a goal of maximizing the life of a building. To Gilmer, the value of partnership between the EC and facility manager is clear.

“The electrical contractor can advise the facility manager who may be charged with making sure a building meets ambitious energy efficiency or other goals,” Gilmer said. “Meanwhile, the facility manager gathers all the data for what needs to be done to the physical environment. Questions might arise: such as do I need to increase my service size or add a panel. The EC can confirm or remediate the design to get to the desired results. I see partnership working well between the facility manager and the EC.”

Gilmer does see instances of the facility manager being brought into a building redesign team, notably in bigger organizations. That relationship between the EC and the facility manager can jump-start an integrated team outlook.

Rogers concurs and has seen this partnership happen with FMs who recommend established contractors that they have successfully worked with in the past.

“We visited a client preparing for a large project,” Rogers said. “Working with our engineers, we gave them some ideas for electrical and HVAC. The client then sought out their electrical contractors and MEPs who liked the design and the project proceeded. This was one example of a partnership between the EC, the facility manager and us.”

Avoiding problems

In her FEA role, Gilmer has seen her share of building design mistakes that could have been avoided with guidance from the FM.

“Facility managers are charged with not just maintenance but performance of the building. That could include the look and feel of the space or power needs, including appropriate lighting be it an office, retail space or other use,” she said. “It’s important to recognize how jobs function in the space. Without an FM’s input, problems can arise in design. Maybe lighting isn’t located in a way that makes for easy maintenance. There are a lot of horror stories in that regard.”

Gilmer cited a lighting design that used beautiful, suspended lighting fixtures to grace the elevator bank of a three-story retail space. Unfortunately, this made accessing to the fixtures very difficult because they were placed so high. The designer’s suggested solution was building scaffolding to reach the lights when maintenance was needed.

“The facility manager could have pointed out this problem in the design discussion stage, if he was brought to the table,” Gilmer said. “A facility manager doesn’t want to build scaffolding or take a scissor lift to maintain lighting. It’s time-intensive and disruptive. Also, while an LED fixture might have a professed 20-year life, usage and dirt can promote failure long before 20 years. Use a facility manager to spot the practical things and advise in the design before definite design commitments are made. Good design must factor in more than just how everything will look.”

Gilmer shared that the facility manager knows how the existing space is used or will be in a remodel. They know where quiet rooms in an office space should be placed so they are not located next to elevators, high-traffic areas or other loud areas. They know the best spot for collaborative areas. The facility manager knows what lighting quality is needed and how lights should be programmed based on room use.

“In a rather funny case, occupancy sensors were installed throughout the office to manage lighting, but their placement also continuously triggered touchless Purell dispensers in a conference room,” Gilmer said.

A partner in digitization

The growth in technology and the digitization of building operations such as where LED lighting can serve as a conduit to an internet of things architecture, or simply provide smarter building control with an array of sensors—is fusing in a new skill set or familiarization.

“In the private sector, I see a lot of interest in digitizing building operation,” Rogers said. “FMs and other building managers are experimenting and trying technology to see if it works in a particular space. If it does, they may roll it out to other buildings. We’ve seen this with lighting systems that include motion sensors and smart LED lighting that can read and control building operation. We are seeing a lot of interest in creating a green building footprint.”

Rogers added that FMs are also being exposed to building designs that make occupants health a priority. That might include working with daylighting and circadian lighting packages.

“Having the resources to get up to speed on the latest and greatest building operation technologies is important to the FM,” he said.

And though digitized building operation can seem formidable, Johnson says FMs should embrace the challenge.

Such new building operational complexity is yet another opportunity for an EC and FM partnership.

“The EC is very often involved in the implementation of systems and putting the infrastructure and electrical systems in place,” Gilmer said. “Here is an opportunity for the EC to be that service contractor to make sure what’s installed runs well for the FM. You are building a relationship, too.”

What the facility manager community is working to achieve in representation during the early phases of building design parallels similar efforts by ECs. Another commonality is an aging workforce and a challenge to attracting new talent.

“We need more facility managers,” Johnson said. “A lot of people in the profession are retiring. It continues to be a struggle.”

In total, Rogers says the facility manager is an invaluable knowledge source waiting to be tapped.

“The EC and the facility manager can be good advocates for each other,” he said. “There are a lot of connector points where the two can advise and work together.”

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected].





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