Facilities That Are Leading The Way

In 2021, facilities teams gained their footing in an evolving landscape created by the pandemic

By Anne Cosgrove
From the February 2022 Issue

This past year was a one of rebalancing and moving forward after a tough and unpredictable 2020 for most everyone around the world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the important role of facility management has been moved front and center. Many of those outside the facilities and real estate industries (and even some within) have gained a new awareness of the pivotal role facilities teams play in the operations of the buildings society works, learns, lives, and plays in.

Buildings of all shapes and sizes, facilitating a variety of activities, are front and center of this task. Offices, schools, healthcare, senior living, hospitality, retail, houses of worship—all commercial and institutional facilities have moved to protect people as well as property throughout the pandemic, and as we may be moving toward an endemic state, facilities professionals continue to improve and update their buildings and sites to meet the new normal, whatever that may look like for their organization. Facility Executive takes a look at several impactful projects facilities teams worked to put in place during 2021. As the work continues, please share your stories—send an email to acosgrove@groupc.com to start the conversation.

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Convention Center Supports COVID-19 Community Efforts

At the TCF Center in Detroit, MI, Al Vasquez, manager of engineering services, is the recipient of four national and state awards honoring his work on the on-site temporary alternate care facility, the TCF Regional Care Center. (In December 2021, The TCF Center was renamed Huntington Place after the two namesake banks merged, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and Huntington National Bank.)

Greg DeSandy, interim general manager of TCF Center/ASM Global, was pleased to announce these awards bestowed upon Vasquez. Three awards and medals include: a Challenge Coin awarded by the Michigan National Guard; the Legion of Merit medal awarded by the State of Michigan; a Challenge Coin awarded by Keith Kroupfreiter on behalf of the United States Army Corp of Engineers; and a Challenge Coin awarded from Dr. David Strong, Medical Lead on-site at the TCF Regional Care Center.

“Al exemplifies the best of TCF Center,” said Patrick Bero, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority (DRCFA.) “His diligence and dedication, all hours of the day and night, exceeds customer expectations and inspires all of our staff and management. We are happy for this professional recognition of his talent.”

As manager of engineering services, Vasquez is responsible for directing and managing the maintenance of the buildings, grounds, equipment, and utilities within the venue. He keeps the facility compliant with local building codes and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and assists customers with their facilities requirements.

Vasquez has been with TCF Center since 2009, coming with facilities management experience with Johnson Controls, Inc., St. Joseph Mercy Health System, and the University of Michigan. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Ferris State University and is a Certified Energy Manager (CEM.)

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, on March 30, 2020, TCF Center was designated by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, State of Michigan, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a temporary alternate care facility in Detroit.

Construction was performed by the TCF Center workforce and union labor in nine days and became a model for alternate care facility construction across the country.

The temporary site was designed to relieve the burden on local hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, equipped with patient oxygen supply and negative air pressure to accommodate healing.

With guidance from FEMA and other officials, the site was designed in the most efficient way possible in order to allow the convention center to resume normal operations when possible.

In January 2021, TCF Center became a designated vaccination distribution site for the City of Detroit.

Environmental air quality in the garage is monitored in real-time by Vasquez and his team for CO levels in the garage with 48 sensor readings that signal the team to turn on the required sequence of 17 variable-speed exhaust fans. A 12-foot by 10-foot video monitor with mapped locations of all CO sensors and exhaust fans is located in the engineering control room and watched by team members.

Smart Factory Achieves LEED Gold

In April 2021, the Ericsson USA 5G Smart Factory achieved LEED Gold certification, representing the first of the company’s factory globally to achieve this designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. In an article on FacilityExecutive.com, Bhushan Joshi, Head of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility for Ericsson in Market Area North America, wrote about the motivation and process of building the factory and achieving LEED Gold.

He wrote, “To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 50 percent between 2020 and 2030, and by another 50 percent each decade thereafter to reach net zero carbon by 2050. For its part, Ericsson as a company has set a goal for operations to be carbon neutral by 2030, meaning that carbon emissions from Ericsson’s fleet vehicles and energy usage from facilities will be net zero by 2030.”

“Ericsson’s commitment has been integrated into the design of the 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas,” continued Joshi, “which is not only the company’s first highly automated smart factory in the United States, producing 5G and Advanced Antenna System (AAS) radios to accelerate 5G deployments in North America, but also integrates sustainability in all aspects of its building design, construction and operations. “

He added, “The 300,000 square foot concrete building was originally designed as a fulfillment center, and turning it into a high-performance, automated and sustainable electronics manufacturing facility took a concerted and creative effort. Ericsson’s team examined every possible technology such as fuel cells and microgrids to reach our sustainability goals. The design team also adapted to the realities of the site—for example, rooftop solar would have required major structural upgrades, so bifacial solar panels were used on the ground as well as on a covered parking garage. Ericsson plans to pursue LEED Zero Carbon certification for the factory by addressing emissions from natural gas, other fuels and employee transportation.”

In a follow up, Facility Executive asked Joshi about finishing the project during the pandemic: This Lewisville, TX plant opened in early 2020. What impact did the pandemic have on the project schedule or elements of the facility?

Joshi replied, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been unlike any challenge we have experienced before. As society came to a grinding halt, network connectivity became profoundly important for all Americans… The project team at the 5G Smart Factory worked closely with construction teams to implement CDC guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19 on the project site. We implemented strict protocols that included not allowing visitors to the project site and regular temperature checks. All these precautions helped Ericsson complete the project without any significant delays. Also, Ericsson leveraged the Industry 4.0 and rapid technology development capabilities to implement COVID safety protocols, including the ability to inspect for face masks and smart badges that track if employees have been too close for too long. Instead of having technicians fly in from outside the country to fix an issue, we had Ericsson technicians use a HoloLens and get remote guidance to fix problems.”

Cost-Effective School Build

For the Natomas Unified School District just outside of Sacramento, CA a collaborative approach to construction gave the district a higher value project, despite challenges during the pandemic. The district built the new Paso Verde K-8 School—four classroom buildings, an administration and classroom building, and a multi-purpose building housing the gym, locker rooms, stage, music and arts, and foodservice, and along the way saved millions of dollars. The project was built under California’s lease/leaseback statute that allows a school district to lease property it owns to a developer, who in turn builds a school facility on the property and leases the facility back to the school district. The benefit of this arrangement is that the school district can select the builder on multiple factors and is able to work with them in a collaborative manner.

facilities teams
The new Paso Verde K-8 School was built under California’s recently introduced lease/leaseback statute. (PHOTO: THE BOLDT COMPANY)

According to Jennifer Mellor, the director of facilities for the Natomas Unified School District, the agreement is a preferred delivery method for larger-dollar contracts. “Usually if a project is hard bid, the architect designs the building, it is submitted to the state for approval, we bid out the project, the contractor builds according to the plans and that’s it,” she said. “With the lease/leaseback provision the contractor comes in early, and we build a collaborative team where we meet together to review design and work the process.”

The school opened in 2021, after breaking ground in May 2019. The district hired the The Boldt Company, a construction management firm headquartered in Appleton, WI, for the project from concept through operation and maintenance. In total, the project team was able to work collaboratively to reduce the budget $5 million on a $60 million project without having to sacrifice functionality or look of the new school campus.

“You really need knowledge on the construction side,” Mellor said. “Boldt has an extensive self-performing labor department and that helps to control costs in labor on the job and materials.” She adds that during the construction process, estimates showed the project would not be within budget and that is when the construction and design team provided options for bottom line savings. Changes that helped to save costs related to weather barrier materials, hardscape materials, and more.

During construction, the impact of COVID took the form of major disruptions to the supply chain for building materials and halted typical communication on the job site. The project supply chain was impacted by shutdowns in manufacturing plants and transportation delays as supplies were re-routed to combat COVID. The cement shortage in Northern California significantly slowed down concrete installation on site. Manufacturing delays affected windows, roofing, flooring, and casework. Flooring that was manufactured in South Korea had to be re-sourced, and materials manufactured in California had to be shifted to manufacturing facilities in Texas and Kentucky.

Construction crews were impacted by new COVID safety protocols and absences due to COVID exposure. Although construction was impacted the building was originally designed for collaborative learning and used extensive outdoor classrooms and spaces for instruction, so no changes were needed to comply with social distancing.

All services were delivered in a collaborative arrangement that the school district credits for reducing costs and adding value. Even through a historically challenged year, the project team was able to navigate through the challenges together. “One of the biggest advantages was the pre-construction services in a lease/leaseback agreement,” Mellor said. “Boldt was able to see the plans early, identify the cost and time savings and those are services you don’t get with a hard bid.”

Senior Living Portfolio Does WELL

Senior living provider Enlivant has become the first senior living provider to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management for its entire portfolio of 215 senior living communities. The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) rating recognizes Enlivant’s commitment to promoting a safer and healthier environment for its employees and residents.

“We are proud to be the first senior living portfolio recognized for our ongoing commitment to providing healthy and safe environments where our employees and residents can thrive,” said Enlivant CEO Dan Guill. “Due to our vaccination and safety programs, our communities are among the most protected against COVID- 19 in assisted living and memory care, and we’re thrilled to receive this validation of our leadership from IWBI.”

The WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all new and existing building and space types focusing on operational policies and maintenance protocols to address health and safety challenges during COVID-19 and beyond.

Enlivant has implemented several programs and initiatives to promote healthier environments in its communities. These efforts include a vaccination program with nearly 95% of employees and residents vaccinated against COVID-19, enhanced cleaning and sanitization efforts, robust emergency preparedness programs, and health service resources to support the physical and mental well-being of their people.

“Our seniors, their families and the care-giving community that surrounds them all deserve spaces that protect their health and well-being,” said IWBI President and CEO Rachel Hodgdon. “Enlivant’s achievement of the WELL Health-Safety Rating for its entire portfolio of senior housing sets a high bar that gives confidence to their residents and employees alike, and we applaud their leadership.”

Convention Center Supports COVID-19 Community Efforts

In July 2021, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center embarked on an innovative plan to upgrade an already award-winning employee culture by placing ownership of the plan referred to as “the Culture Project,” in the hands of employees.

The Innovation Lab is the culmination of a collaborative effort between trepwise, a local growth consulting firm, and the convention center for employees to develop a culture fueled by accountability and collaboration, and then driven by employee engagement, feedback, and recognition.

facilities teams
In its Culture Project, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is empowering employees to further facility success. (PHOTO: MATTFRYOU, CC BY-SA 4.0 VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

To ensure the success of the Culture Project, Convention Center employees are tasked with setting goals, providing timelines, and ownership of all aspects of this plan. Through inclusive employee engagement and collaborative ideation, trepwise engaged employees in a design process with the goal of creating a culture that rewards creativity, accountability, and risk-taking. Trepwise coached Culture Project Design Teams in designing solutions to reach these goals using a human-centered approach called “Design Thinking.”

Out of this process came the Innovation Lab, which consists of three teams: Belief Biologists, Communication Chemists, and Recognition Researchers. The project leads were selected from front line employees and mid-level management positions and provides an opportunity for them to grow their skills. A fourth group, Test Technicians, is a group of impartial employees who will pilot new software and processes created by the other laboratory members. The employees will drive the timeline of implementation with a “sense of urgency,” but sufficient time will be allowed for demonstrating results.

“By letting our employees steer the ship on this project, they find better ways to collaborate and communicate, which will create better feedback tools we can use to reward innovation, creativity, and risk taking,” said Convention Center President Michael J. Sawaya. “In the long term, this will improve customer satisfaction in a hypercompetitive environment, supporting our vision to be a leading-edge organization known for innovative delivery of exceptional event experiences in a world-class destination,” Sawaya concluded.

This past December, Sawaya was recognized as a leader helping to drive the greater New Orleans economy. He came to the city in 2018 and has been a shepherd of the New Orleans events industry, embarking on a $557-million five-year capital improvement plan. He has also been the guiding force in getting the organization and the facility back to business following Hurricane Ida and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the convention center was selected as one of the city’s “Best Places to Work” by New Orleans CityBusiness and received a “New Orleans Top Workplaces” Award from The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. The NOENMCC was also named as a National Top Workplace for 2021, the only convention center in America to hold that title.

Anne CosgroveCosgrove is Editorial Director of Facility Executive.

Have a success story from 2021 to share? Or, one that’s in progress to be complete in 2022? Send your project stories or questions about submitting materials to acosgrove@groupc.com. You are also welcome to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.