What, exactly, does the University of South Carolina’s facilities services department manage?
To put it simply, a lot. Facilities Services handles landscaping, custodial, energy, water, trash and recycling across 13 million square feet of educational and general buildings on the Columbia campus. On average, the team responds to nearly 100 calls per day. And the job is getting even bigger as the department strives to improve both its environmental and fiscal stewardship of USC’s buildings and grounds.
We spoke with Jason Lambert, associate vice president of facilities services, to learn more about what’s happening on campus and what we can expect to see in the future.
You started full time in July of 2022. What have you seen since you came on board?
We have an amazing campus and an amazing team. Many of our most important changes and innovations were in process when I got here. This year, we have focused on getting them to the finish line. Some of these efforts have been years in the making, and it has truly taken the efforts of many individuals to pull of some of the transformations.
Supporting the mission of USC takes the talent, technical skills and hard work of a large team. Most of what we do, if we do it right, means that no one knows we’ve been there. One example is turning on your office or classroom lights. We assume that it will always happen. What we don’t often think about is that the USC team manages the electricity all the way from the power substation down to the light switch.
In essence, we run an entire city, complete with multiple utility generation stations (steam and chilled water) as well as everything from fixing the roofs to mopping the floors. With over 130 buildings on the Columbia campus, this is a huge undertaking. However, the university Facilities Services team has really stepped up this year as we work to modernize, streamline and optimize how we support the mission and our most important customers — our students.
The greener landscaping is one change that has been made since your arrival. Another has been LED conversion. Could you give us an update on buildings that have been converted and what that means to our university?
I am extremely proud of the Facilities Services team for innovating in many of our sectors of responsibility. One of the lowest-hanging fruits – yet both very impactful projects – is our ongoing effort to upgrade to LED lighting both inside and outside of buildings. Over the summer, we completed one of the largest LED upgrades ever on our campus at Thomas Cooper Library.
The library had an antiquated T8 fluorescent lighting system that is now 100 percent LED. We converted 10,500 bulbs into LED lights. The new lighting is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but it also significantly reduced the maintenance burden, as the LED lighting should last between three and four times longer than the standard bulb. Moreover, the lighting is much more energy efficient, and we will save over 1.2 million kilowatt hours of power every year. Finally, I’m very pleased to say that we did this all with zero waste sent to the landfill. Every component of the old lights as well as the packaging for the new lights was fully recycled.
Over the fall break, we began converting the lighting in Correll Hall. We are utilizing several amazing student interns from the College of Engineering to conduct field surveys of other buildings to help us plan the next renewals.
What about some outdoor lighting projects Facilities Services has completed?
Our campus is pedestrian-centric and operates at all hours of the day, so creating a safe, welcoming and well-lit campus at night is important. Over the last year, with input from the campus community, we upgraded the LED lighting on the Horseshoe. We have also added LED lighting around many of our parking garages, in the Colonial Life Arena parking lots and near Bates House as well as conducted our annual campus night inspections.
We are currently working to add LED lighting around McMaster, along Sumter Steet, and are collaborating with Parking and Transportation Services to upgrade several of the parking garages, with the first major upgrade to occur in the Bull Street Garage over the Thanksgiving break. As with the indoor projects, this will be an ongoing process.
What differences has our community seen this fall?
In addition to the many lighting changes, we have been working on several other efforts across campus. For example, we are testing six solar charging stations. The three standing stations have been installed on Davis Field, near Currell College and near the Colloquium. Three more solar-powered charging stations have been installed at Close-Hipp, the Nursing School and at Swearingen in October.
Our exterior building and structure cleaning program was very active all summer, and we completed a tremendous amount of deep cleaning both inside and out. We’ve also been installing bottle-filling water fountains in many buildings. One might also see – but not hear – our new all-electric “green monster” mower and hand tools being used on the Horseshoe and surrounding areas. This year is the first year of a phased roll out of much quieter and environmentally-friendly groundskeeping equipment.
Finally, we have created a horticultural team dedicated to the creation and upkeep of all of the special places on campus, from the rose garden to the annual color beds at the main gateways to campus.
You’ve also piloted a program with the Arnold School of Public Health to reduce plastic waste. How has that gone so far?
Every time we empty a trash can, we must change the liner. Well, what if we didn’t have as many trash cans to empty? Working with the Arnold School of Public Health, we identified that several of the college buildings have hundreds of individual trash cans, translating into tens of thousands of liners being sent to the dump every year. We are working with the college to eliminate deskside collection in favor of larger regional collection points on each building floor. This also tends to influence the amount of recycling, as we have recycling cans located next to every regional trash can.
It’s a lot easier to do the right thing and recycle when it is made easy to do so. We intend to continue to expand this effort on campus over the next few years.
Are there other future projects that you think our community should be aware of?
Facilities Services is actively engaged in a major initiative called Green and Garnet. We have studied our largest and most energy-inefficient buildings as part of this initiative, and over the next few years we will be working with our partner Siemens to implement projects that will not only reduce our energy consumption but also work to make the buildings much more comfortable for the occupants. The first phase of the buildings includes Thomas Cooper Library, Close-Hipp, Swearingen, Jones Physical Science Center and 1600 Hampton.
We also are working on a systematic replacement of the temporary tables and chairs placed around campus during the COVID years with permanent and durable outdoor furniture. That includes tables with solar-powered chargers as well as retrofitted solar-powered umbrellas to go on existing tables, which provide a convenient way for our campus community to charge their electronic devices while enjoying the beautiful outdoor spaces.