Fred Smith has been a critical figure in the transformation of campus
Fred Smith joined Marietta College as the Director of Physical Plant in 1999, just as a building boom was getting under way on campus.
Under his leadership, the College has benefited from many successful construction and renovation projects that have improved the overall infrastructure and appearance of campus.
Smith’s responsibility is enormous. He is currently the College’s lead person with the construction company that is doing the renovation project at Don Drumm Stadium. But Smith is quick to point out that it’s the small projects that also bring him great pride, including a burgeoning recycling program.
Recently, a member of College Relations spoke with him about his time on campus.
Since you arrived at Marietta College, the campus has gone through a major overhaul. There are new buildings, improvements to the landscaping and a concerted effort has been made to environmentally sound practices. Can you discuss some of your proudest accomplishments at Marietta?
I’m in the fortunate position to say I’m proud of all of the buildings we have been able to construct or renovate. The pride doesn’t come from the bricks and mortar; the pride comes from working with the campus community to identify program requirements, designers to put the vision on paper and contractors to make better facilities a reality for our students.
You have played an integral role (mainly behind the scenes) in the construction of facilities such as the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center, Rickey Science Center, Legacy Library and Anderson Hancock Planetarium, to name a few. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced that many people wouldn't realize take place during the construction of such large facilities?
Construction is just one facet of the Physical Plant’s Project Management responsibility. Behind the scenes we are working to gain neighbor and city of Marietta support, procuring academic and administrative furnishings and equipment, working with Information Technology and Campus Police meeting the needs for their systems, and ultimately marshalling all toward a completion dates tied to the academic calendar.
I must say I’m very fortunate to have very proactive Physical Plant supervisors and staff who are not bashful about “over-the-shoulder review” constructive comments geared toward improving operations and maintenance efficiencies. It takes the department to keep me out of trouble and sometimes remedy the trouble of my own creation.
Projects that have required the temporary relocation of faculty and staff provide the biggest challenge. Relocating the Athletics Department to the Timblin residence hall while the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center was constructed and relocating the Library and Petroleum Departments to Mills Hall during their construction and renovations respectively were logistically the most challenging but also most rewarding because of the close faculty and staff relationships you develop planning their interim facilities and the extra moves.
With a campus approximately 90 acres in size, that has to present a number of challenges, especially since there are a couple of facilities that are not attached to the main campus. How difficult is it to maintain such a large area?
Even though the college occupies 90 acres, we have a relatively small footprint. Our challenge is that the average age of our facilities is greater than 50 years. With age there you could argue there is a near infinite backlog of work orders and deferred maintenance competing for finite operating funds. Every day, Physical Plant staff is making immediate decisions on daily work priorities as well as doing longer range planning around seasons, academic schedules and budget realities.
During your time at Marietta you have also witnessed some destruction of campus, especially during the Flood of 2004. What type of challenges do moments like that pose as compared to your normal work?
Assuming we have some warning, matching the timing and resources put into facility “flood proofing” with the expected timing and height of the crest is most challenging. The work hours for everyone in Physical Plant are long and stress filled. What got us through the challenges of the two significant flood events was the “can do” spirit and help of the students, staff and faculty; they were our single most significant resource during flood preparation, clean up and recovery.
Before you came to Marietta most of your work experience came during your time in the United States Navy. Can you describe how your time in the military prepared you for the work you do now?
For 21 years I was a Naval Facilities Officer responsible for constructing and operating shore facilities that supported our fleet and their families. In addition to the port facilities, most of the military installations I worked at provide the same physical plant services you find on a residential campus like Marietta College albeit on a much larger scale.
You have a degree in engineering. How has having that knowledge based served you throughout your career?
The knowledge base has helped me plan and accomplish facilities maintenance and construction. My Navy and engineering experience helped develop my critical thinking skills.
One area you have really helped the campus do a better job is in the area of recycling. When and why did this become such a priority for you?
Recycling for Physical Plant is a priority because it is the right thing to do; it makes good environmental and economic sense to manage the waste stream. To make the effort to recycle is in many respects a personal decision. I need to thank Jeffry White (Assistant Director of Physical Plant), his staff and our recycling interns for making recycling viable and visible and then rallying the campus around the national Recyclemania Competition. Thanks to all the students, faculty and staff who make the extra effort to recycle. And thanks to our students who made the decision during Recyclemania 2010 to go “trayless” in Gilman Dining Hall as part of their food waste minimization initiative.
Anyone who knows you on campus knows you like to ride your bike to work and ride it around the grounds. Can you explain your obsession with riding the bike?
I wouldn’t call it an obsession; it is simply a practical and enjoyable way for me to use my time outside of the office to interact with the campus community and assess how well the Physical Plant team is performing and where we may need more resources. I’m not the only one on a bike. Campus Police donated two older Police bikes to Physical Plant and our staff has started riding too!