By Kim Siebert MacPhail
The day after his birthday, Facilities Director Richard Jones will pack up his desk and head for Maine, this time to stay put rather than commute to Bedford for his work week. On that day—Thursday, January 9th—Jones will retire as the town’s second Facilities Manager. Because his job includes both “school-side” and “town-side” responsibilities, Jones has two bosses— the Superintendent of Schools and the Town Manager—an organizational structure more communities are adopting because it provides greater attention to building maintenance and the use and procurement of energy.
By the time Jones arrived in here in 2003, he had held a variety of jobs, all of which have come to bear on his job as Bedford’s Facilities Director. For five years, he was Town Manager in Greenbush, Maine; and he then served twice as a full-time technician in the National Guard. Later, Jones worked as Facilities Director for the school system of Portland, Maine and for the Providence, Rhode Island School Department through Sodexho Marriott. Just before coming to Bedford, he was the first Facilities Manager in Ipswich.
“I’ve always done facilities,” Jones said. “I know about town government; I understand the budgeting part of things; I understand the limitations of Town Meeting; I know all of that kind of thing. I’m not an engineer, I’m just a manager— but I had some engineering training through the military and in practical experience. [Facilities management is about] leadership. Management skills have gotten me where I am.
“The interesting thing about this job is that you can be very creative in some ways with this work,” Jones added. “Every day is different. It’s creative problem solving and critical thinking. I have people here who are good at fixing individual problems—the nuts and bolts, like how do I get the place painted today. But you also have to look at bigger things, like capital asset management, long-term budgeting and the organization of the department.”
As a manager, Jones says that he has made it a point to provide professional development opportunities for his staff. “I’m a firm believer in training people well. It makes them better employees,” Jones said. “We have very good technicians here. The staff is very skilled. They’re very knowledgeable. Even when service for things like elevators is contracted out, [Facilities staff] need [to] make sure that contractors are doing what they say they’re going to do.”
Jones feels that his department and the town are in a strong place right now. Looking ahead, however, he emphasized the need to keep close track of assets like the town’s buildings that have been rebuilt or renovated in the last 20 years.
“It’s a matter of doing update work periodically and putting it in the capital budget schedule to make the changes over time before you run into a crisis situation. Every department should look at its program on a ten-year cycle—maybe there are no changes, maybe there are a lot of changes. But the buildings support the program. If you’re thinking about changing your program, it impacts the space—or the space impacts the program,” Jones said.
“It’s hard because you know today what you need to support the program, but given the budget cycle, it could take several years to make space changes. So that means you have to be thinking five years out at a time in order to get that space created by the time you need it. That’s hard to do. I don’t care how good you are at visioning where you’re going, it’s hard to do.
“That’s a challenge I think the town has. You have to have a plan for how to maintain your assets and then how to budget for it. What pot does the funding come out of? How much [of a project] is actually bought, how much is tax levy, how much is Community Preservation, how much is Chapter 90, how much is grants? ” Jones asked.
Besides regular attention to building systems, building maintenance and space needs, another part of Jones’ legacy is energy efficiency. During his tenure, energy reductions and proactive energy procurement have saved the town many thousands of dollars. Jones says that the installation of School Dude—a software program that tracks building management and energy use in real time—is a major reason the town now has a firmer handle before the bills come in on the amount of electricity and natural gas being used.
“We fix things before they become problems,” Jones said. “We do regular checks on things like compressors and generators and find problems before they become major. We don’t get a lot of ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’ complaints. We have the sequence of control programmed so we can tell when a valve is stuck or a damper is open. We arrive at a building already knowing what the problem is.”
Jones applauded the work of the Energy Task Force and Town Meeting’s approval of the Green Community Act adding, “If we hadn’t done all these energy efficiencies—in the last three years especially—our costs would be a lot worse. Our reduction of energy use has been helpful; even though it may go up from a budgeting standpoint it’s going to up less.
“Next year is going to be a pinch in our costs [due to rising electricity costs] for the first time in a number of years—the price of electricity has been coming down or steady for a while. I think future opportunities for energy reduction will come from moving toward renewable energy or from better use of the tools we already have.”
With so many systems to monitor and assets to protect, Jones is looking forward in his retirement when he won’t have to make so many decisions every day. He and his wife, a retired Methodist minister, will travel to Japan, Croatia, and Tunisia. The Jones’ will also go to Nicaragua for a couple of months each winter. While there, they will work to establish a fair trade connection for hand-crafted items for export to the States and elsewhere to benefit women and the local economy. When they’re back in Maine, they’ll plant a garden and spend more time with their three grandchildren, ages 2, 4, and 7.
“A lot of people ask me what I’m going to do in retirement. The biggest change for me is not to have to worry about solving problems. I’m serious about that. For me, it’s about not having to come into the office to find out something is broken and then find a way to fix it,” Jones concluded.