12/31/08 — Facilities director sets sights on savings

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Facilities director sets sights on savings

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 31, 2008 3:19 PM

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Sue Farmer, the county's new facilities services director, looks over some plans in her office. The county, she said, is taking a more proactive approach to preventative maintenance of county property.

There is no such thing as a typical day for Sue Farmer, the county's new facilities services director, and her staff -- particularly in light of today's economy.

They could be cutting keys one minute and working on a boiler system the next.

The daily routine of maintenance is still there, but Ms. Farmer sees the county taking more of an active approach to preventive maintenance and energy savings.

"I think we are taking a somewhat different approach," she said. "I think a couple of years ago we would have looked more at maintaining where now we are taking a lot more preventive maintenance approach to things. We are trying to be more proactive instead of reactive."

Those efforts dovetail with the county's four-day workweek and other cost-reduction programs, she said.

The county has some 450 properties. Some do not require a lot of attention while others with large buildings are time-consuming, she said.

"We are doing a lot of renovation work trying to maintain a lot of existing pre-1940 and '50 structures in the county to maintain that historic flavor as to what is in the city and county," she said.

One of the first projects to be tackled in the new year will be assessing all systems on a building-by-building basis.

"We are looking at energy efficiencies," she said. "We are looking at ways we can improve systems we are going to need to replace and timeframe those out over the next several years and determine how we can transition into energy-efficient systems."

As much as possible, that effort will be done in-house, she said.

"North Carolina State University will do an energy analysis for free and we will take advantage of that," she said.

Progress Energy offers some programs that can be utilized as well.

"We will look at our energy bill, consumption times and rates and see how we can adjust that for peak demand," she said. "There is a lot of free stuff out there. It is just a matter of knowing where to find it and how to get in touch with somebody and utilizing it to do what best suits what you are trying to do."

Ms. Farmer is finding those programs by research. She said she also is trying to do "a lot of networking with state and national agencies and organizations."

"It (economy) has affected us," she said. "We have made a conscious effort to inventory everything we have in-house to reuse as much equipment as possible. If we take something out and replace it we will save it and there may be a part on it we can use somewhere else."

In the long run it can be more costly to the county should it fail to maintain facilities, she said.

"We are putting in a computer system to monitor our boiler system at the courthouse, Jeffreys Building some other different locations," she said. "We will expand on that as the budget year comes around."

As for the $800,000 Jeffreys Building renovation project, contractor D.S. Simmons "is right on target" in terms of schedule and the work should be completed by May 1, Ms. Farmer said.

The project was already under way when Ms. Farmer was hired in mid-September.

The second floor of the 1950s-era building was renovated in 2004 and currently houses emergency management.

The current project is focused on the first and third floors. Once completed, the county's human resources and inspections offices will relocate there.

In addition, the building will serve as an EMS station and an ambulance will be stationed there.

Another renovation project, this one at the Sullivan Building (the old tax building) should get under way after the first of the year.

The building has the only remaining shaft-driven elevator in the county. It will be replaced with a modern elevator system. The cost is expected to be about $57,000 for the elevator and some additional renovations.

The renovation projects are part of the county's plans to shift offices from the courthouse to free up space there without expensive building projects.

Ms. Farmer's department also will be responsible for doing the preliminary design development on the old Masons department store property on North William Street and the Belk building in Mount Olive.

The county purchased the properties last month.

The old Masons property could one day house the Health Department and Services on Aging. The Belk building will be the new home for Steele Memorial Library.

The courthouse will receive added attention as well.

"We are looking at putting a lot more emphasis on the block the courthouse sits on for next year," Ms. Farmer said. "We want to spend a lot of time and effort improving the looks both from curb appeal and interior aesthetics.

"We want to redo some landscaping and are looking do some things in the lobby atrium making for a more pleasing aesthetic environment."

Another project concerns the old paupers' cemetery near National Welders.

Leadership Wayne is spearheading improvements to the old cemetery. Once completed, the county will maintain the cemetery, she said.

Ms. Farmer, 45, said the job has probably been a little more than what she thought it would be, but that she is enjoying every minute of it.

"There is no typical day," she said. "I start around 7 a.m. and normally I am here until 6 p.m."

Her job involves numerous meetings and serving as a representative of the county.

"We have an excellent staff of carpenters, roofers, electrician, plumber and heating and air," she said. "We can pretty much tackle anything without having to interject a subcontractor or having to sub out a lot. We are managing to handle a lot of that in-house ourselves. It is in our major system replacements when we have to get into a subcontractor or contract it out."

Her department of nearly 40 employees also handles the housekeeping for the county.

Ms. Farmer said she is working to build ties with other agencies.

"We work closely with city and its planning department," she said.

A native of Greene County, Ms. Farmer has a two-year degree in architectural drafting from Pitt Community College. She was enrolled in the historic preservation program at East Carolina University when the university discontinued the program.

She has earned a professional residential design certificate.

"That is equivalent to an architect's degree except you earn it by working and time," she said.

She worked in architectural drafting for more than 10 years.

"I got stagnant and got tired of being in an office setting and sitting behind a drawing board day in day out," she said

After leaving the drafting field, Ms. Farmer said she wanted to do something different.

A fire and emergency services worker since the early 1980s, Ms. Farmer took a job as member of a transport team at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

She later joined the Wayne County EMS before becoming manager of Wayne NET for about a year.

"Then the opportunity arose here (facilities department) and I have come full circle... back to where I started," she said.

In her spare time, she raises Jack Russell terriers. She currently has about 25 of the small dogs. She participates in training the dogs, field trials and animal rescue.