Carnegie Mellon University

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February 17, 2014

Deep Freeze

FMS Responds to Winter's Wrath

By Kelly Solman

Old Man Winter has reared his ugly head in Pittsburgh, but Carnegie Mellon's Facilities Management Services (FMS) group has helped the university weather the storm.

During the week of Jan. 4 alone, FMS responded to 46 weather-related events that caused significant damage and loss.

The incidents - mostly frozen pipes, some of which ruptured and created flooding - were the result of dangerously cold temperatures not seen in the area for 20 years.

"We had ruptures and breaks from plumbing pipes to sprinkler systems. If something had water in it, it turned solid that week," said Steve Guenther, who directs facilities management operations, including 250 university staff and outside contractors.

A dozen of the events were related to a door or window inadvertently being left open during a mild spell just prior to winter break.

"We are incredibly lucky that we have such a great campus police department who are our eyes and ears after hours," Guenther said. "The university police did an excellent job of letting us know if they heard or saw anything unusual."

Knowing the potential for cold winter weather to cause damage, FMS has personnel on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because of the unusually cold temperatures that had been forecasted, additional staff and managers were on campus around the clock the first week of the year.  

"We wanted to be sure we were in the best position possible to respond, and I'm so glad we made that decision," Guenther said. "We have a great team. We were able to get to problem areas, turn water off, get to the spaces and stop issues in their tracks. A lot of dollars are saved when we can get to issues in time."

Old, New and In-Between

Guenther said what's unique about managing higher education facilities such as those at CMU is that the structures and their technology range from "brand new" to more than 100 years old.

"CMU has building systems that represent every era of technology," Guenther said. "We have the latest and greatest technology in buildings like the Gates and Hillman Center, and then we also have buildings that rely on the same technology that was in use back when the university was Carnegie Tech."

Guenther said that's a very different situation than having all of the systems of the same vintage.

"Our mechanics and our staff are pretty unique people. They have to be," he said. "With the size of a campus like CMU, we don't have the luxury of having a staff dedicated to each building. Every building is unique to Carnegie Mellon, and to be successful, it takes a service team that is really committed to the campus community and has lots of training."

Help Wanted

Guenther, whose team is in the process of hiring new personnel, said the No. 1 quality he looks for in candidates is service-mindedness.

"They need to interact well with everyone from the boiler room to the board room. They've got to want to be part of the broader campus experience," he said.

Qualified candidates also must have an interest in learning about the many systems in use across campus, Guenther said, noting that many FMS staff members have advanced, moving from hourly positions to key leadership roles.

"That's one of the great things about working here at CMU," he said. "There is so much opportunity. Just the range of the diversity of structures and systems on campus creates a great experience for people interested in servicing facilities."

Fix It

FMS encourages students, faculty and staff to keep their eyes open for anything unusual, from dripping water to odd mechanical sounds or open windows and doors. Report concerns to FMS at