Building concerns and growing issues

Colene Vogel
Technical Services Program Manager
APWA Kansas City Office

Some city and county facilities are new and shiny. Others are old and moldy. Some are going up and others are coming down. Some need a good weeding. Others need a good planting. Even if it's just an overflowing toilet, there's always something going on in facilities and grounds management.

Planning a renovation or a new facility? It's long been the practice to bring in fire department staff when planning a new fire station. It's also common practice to invite the entire neighborhood when sketching out a new park. Property managers have learned the best way to keep customers happy is to let them in on the decision making. Just outside of Kansas City, MO, two communities—Lee's Summit and Independence—are working on plans for new animal shelters. Do you suppose they asked the dogs and cats for their input? Not quite. Both cities have invited local animal rescue groups to be in on the planning, though.

Planning a new city hall can be tricky when residents and staff need to be accommodated. This often means several rounds of meetings with many different groups. Consulting a few kids on a skate park or recreation center can have some very positive and entertaining results. Today's facilities are expected to be beyond functional. They must be models of spatial efficiency with every modern convenience.

Facilities are also expected to be environmentally efficient. They must use less energy and discharge fewer pollutants. Recycled materials may be incorporated into the structure or decor. A green roof may be used to capture stormwater. Solar panels may provide some of the building's electricity needs. Older buildings are being retrofitted to include motion sensing lights and higher efficiency HVAC units. Often, the older buildings can be the greatest challenge. Something as simple as bringing in recycling containers for paper and cans can be a struggle when staff don't want to surrender even an inch of space and custodians only see double the trash duty.

The demand for more environmentally sound practices certainly doesn't end at the door. Outside, it's a whole new world. It's a world without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It's a place with disposal bins for pet waste, compost piles, and rain gardens. There are air quality alert days when mowers can't mow. Sprinklers are quickly becoming a thing of the past too, unless there's a gray water reuse system.

But, what was once old is also new again. Native vegetation was once used in landscaping because that was all that was available. Then, large plant farms and greenhouses began trucking material all over the country and landscaped grounds began to all look alike. Native vegetation is back, not only for its water efficiency but for its distinctiveness.

Meeting today's challenges can mean retraining staff or reorganizing duties. It can also mean shifting work hours. Day cleaning is regaining popularity both for security and energy efficiency reasons. Technology offers some assistance. HVAC systems can now be monitored and adjusted from home via a laptop. This can be a great help considering the hours that our public buildings now keep. City halls rarely close up at 5:00 p.m. Many facilities are now playing host to a variety of meetings and activities that can keep the lights burning and the heat humming until 9:00 p.m. or later.

From planning and design to maintenance and sometimes even on to sale or demolition, the management of public property is full of new challenges. All of these issues and many more are tackled by one unique group, APWA's Facilities & Grounds Technical Committee. Members of the committee are: Venu Gupta, P.E., Chair, City of Milwaukee, WI; Al Olson, City of Ankeny, IA; David Fain, City of Haltom City, TX; George Gonzalez, City of Los Angeles, CA; Harry Weed, Village of Rockville Centre, NY; Michele Ohmes, City of Kansas City, MO. The Board Liaison to the committee is At-Large Director Ken Nerland and the Staff Liaison is Colene Vogel. For more information on the committee, go to and select Technical Committees and Facilities & Grounds.

Colene Vogel serves as the liaison to three Technical Committees: Facilities & Grounds, Solid Waste Management and Water Resources Management. She is the author of the APWA publication Will Work for Free: What Volunteers Can Do for Public Works. She can be reached at (816) 595-5221 or