5 questions with the vice president of Facilities Management

John Cal is associate vice president for Facilities Management, so hurricane season poses special concerns for him. When storms threaten, Cal’s 380-strong team undertakes many of the same precautions as everyone else—installing shutters and pulling in outdoor dining furniture—but also sees to the herculean effort of monitoring 120+ buildings over two campuses and several satellite locations both immediately before and after the threat passes.

When not in hurricane mode, Cal focuses on the demands of an aggressive capital construction program—more than $300 million in new buildings in the last five years—while maintaining and upgrading existing structures to meet the needs of a growing research institution.

1. What is key to pulling off FIU’s hurricane preparation?

Critical are two programs carried out well in advance of any storm. First, our landscaping program demands year-round activity as we work with a certified arborist to prune trees so that winds pass through branches. While FIU was not immune to damage—as anyone could see from the debris piles on each campus—it is worth noting how many trees withstood the storm. Second, we systematically inspect each building and its major systems so that we have a clear sense of operational and maintenance needs at any given time. Nothing is left to the last minute. On top of that, every member of the Facilities Management team understands the mission and is empowered to act.

2. Post-hurricane, what are you most concerned about?

Our focus is the safety and security of students and employees. Just prior to a storm, we take photos of existing conditions to provide a baseline for post-storm damage assessments. FIU police are the first to patrol the campuses and provide information on roads, electrical lines, buildings and other structures. We then systematically inspect each area of infrastructure.

3. What are the challenges of new construction on campuses?

Modern construction practices generally make it possible to undertake projects while maintaining existing operations. In our environment, that means building state-of-the-art facilities even as we maintain normal campus activities focused on education and research. Our contractors do a great job of providing safe, secure construction sites that do not expose the campus community to hazards or impact classes and campus events.

4. How has FIU been able to earn distinction as the most energy efficient in the State University System?

We have built sustainability initiatives on two fundamental premises. First, the greenest, cleanest and most renewable form of energy is the energy you never use. Second, everyone can agree on the value of clean air, clean water and clean soil. We orient all our efforts around those foundations. We have achieved the best energy performance as measured by the EPA’s benchmark.

5. How do you view the work of your team as integral to the university’s mission?

We want to enhance education and research. That starts by providing an environment that people enjoy and that focuses on the individual student and researcher. Without a functional and comfortable environment, the learning process is severely challenged.