Q & A - Building a bigger, better
Meredith Mack has been associate vice president for Facilities Services
since 1999, overseeing more than $500 million in new construction,
Chicago’s largest-ever building campaign. Facilities Services
supports the University in campus planning and construction. It
operates and maintains 119 campus teaching, administrative, and
research facilities and cultivates and maintains campus gardens
and lawns. Facilities also manages outsourced projects such as custodial
services and specialized construction and repair.
Before joining the University, Mack—who
holds a B.A. from Stanford and an M.P.P. from Harvard’s Kennedy
School of Government—was the budget director and chief administrative
officer for the Chicago Park District. As this issue went to press,
Mack announced that she would be leaving the University on June
30 to take a similar post at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here’s
what her successor can expect.
Can you bring
us up to date on the University’s current building projects?
The Ratner Athletic Center is scheduled to open fall 2003, the Graduate
School of Business building opens fall 2004, and the Interdivisional
Research Building (IRB) opens summer 2005. Comer Children’s
Hospital, which is not part of our budget, will open fall 2004.
We also have a huge project this summer in the quads: updating electrical
utilities, installing a chiller line, installing a steam line for
the IRB, and repairing a crumbling tunnel. We start the day after
convocation and will be done and landscaped when school starts.
What is a
typical day like for you?
My days aren’t very typical because Facilities manages a range
of things from new construction to the daily operations of all the
buildings—making sure the heat’s working, making sure
they’re cleaned by the custodians—parking, and safety,
which means environmental health and safety issues. So depending
on what is happening, I might be going to budget meetings or I might
be dealing with an emergency.
Today I’m meeting with a group
that’s figuring out our cost of doing business so we can look
at our rates for charging departments. We charge for services over
and above the standard level, such as getting an office repainted
sooner than the Facilities budget allows. We charge on a flat hourly
basis to recover our costs. We need to be sure that we recover our
full costs but we don’t run a profit on these projects.
Describe one hidden and particularly
hairy aspect of your job.
Environmental safety, or how the University
manages the purchase, storage, and disposal of chemical and radiation
waste. We have a whole department dedicated to that, and it goes
very smoothly, but it is very time- and effort-consuming.
thing is parking. Everyone is concerned about parking. Everyone
needs parking. There’s not enough parking. That’s true
on all urban campuses. The situation got much better in January
2001 when we opened the 55th Street parking structure, which
added a net 500 parking spots. But that structure is almost full
now, and there’s never parking on the streets. So we’re
about to be back in the position we were in three years ago, needing
more parking. We’ll never be able to guarantee everyone a
parking spot, but I suspect we’ll build more parking eventually.
the lion’s share of Facilities Services’ energies—and
Most of our energies go into daily operations. Overall we have 200
staff, 150 of whom manage buildings, run the steam plant, and do
tradeswork like carpentry, electrical, and landscaping and grounds.
Neck-in-neck with operations is utilities. The Facilities operating
budget for the campus overall in 2003 was $48 million, including
about $14.5 million for daily operations and $27 million for utilities.
is most exciting in terms of its campus impact?
The Interdivisional Research Building is a very big building that
is going to have a huge impact on research. Many of our science
buildings are more than 30 years old, and you can’t do modern
science in those labs without spending quite a bit of money. The
IRB will replace a number of these labs. Then there’s the
athletic center. It’s a striking building, and it will make
a big difference in the day-to-day lives of students, faculty, and
Has the downturn
in the economy slowed campus construction?
It hasn’t. We’re completing all the buildings that we
designed and planned on. It’s a good time to be building for
a major institution. What had been a problem was the building boom
across the city. It took longer than anyone anticipated to get building
permits. The city recently overhauled its permitting process, and
we just got our permit for the IRB a month ahead of projections.
The fast turnaround is due to both the city’s improved process
and a slow-down in the building boom. With the construction slow-down
our bids also came in lower on the IRB. During a boom construction
firms have plenty of work and bids are high. Now we’re a big
builder in the city at a time when others are canceling projects.
We’re moving ahead, and that has worked to our advantage.
What do you
say to alumni and others who lament what they perceive to be “ugly”
People still stop me in Hyde Park to tell me that about Max Palevsky.
But you can’t really measure the impact of architecture in
the first months after it goes up. You have to give it a few years.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings were unpopular when they first
went up. Max is something new and different for the campus—there
aren’t a lot of orange-brick buildings with pink and yellow
trim. Students love living there. That was the goal, to make a building
that felt like a home on campus.
One of the best things to come out
of this building campaign is the new Bartlett quad. There are three
radically different buildings on the site surrounding it, which
is hard to do and make it feel right. But with Palevsky, Bartlett,
and Regenstein, it works, and students have loved it from Day One.
The master plan recognizes that
the campus is laid out in collegiate gothic style: buildings created
around quads. We’ve tried to honor that. So while new styles
of architecture are used, the resulting quads have proportion and
scale similar to those on the original campus. We’re very
careful to respect that tradition.