Building Trust and Team Support in Public School Facility Management

Brian Gregory [00:00:01]:
Hi everybody. This is your host Brian for the Beyond Buildings podcast, where we meet with innovative and inspiring facilities leaders from across the country. Today I chat with Burke Jones, who is the Director of Operations at Derby Public Schools. Burke is fantastic Guy. He also has a background in architecture.

Brian Gregory [00:00:18]:
Where he was a partner and firm.

Brian Gregory [00:00:19]:
For over 20 years. He does have his own podcast called Schools, Facilities and Operations, and they strive to have fantastic conversations with operations and trade partners. Burke really speaks to the importance of building trust and support for your people. And his journey to operations from the architecture background is not normal and he's really learned a lot from that. I think you guys will all gain a lot from it. Let's dive in. Hey Burke, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Brian Gregory [00:00:49]:
Before we get started, just want you to give us some background on what you're currently doing and how you got there.

Burke Jones [00:00:54]:
Sure. So I am the director of operations for Derby Public Schools, which is a town, it's really a suburb of Wichita, Kansas, kind of smack dab in the middle of Kansas. We have twelve school buildings. We have nine elementaries, two middle schools and one high school. And I've been doing this for, gosh, almost four years on the dot. Before that, I was an architect for 26 years, was a partner in a firm, and it's been a great journey to kind of take that experience and move it over. I also, I guess I'll go ahead and pitch my podcast since I'm on your podcast, Brian, but I have a podcast called School Facilities and operations. We have just good conversations with other operation guys and also some trade partners that kind of come on and tell us what we need to know as operations guys.

Burke Jones [00:01:43]:
So you can find that on any of your podcast networks.

Brian Gregory [00:01:46]:
Great. Thanks, Burke. Going back to your background as an mean, my background was on the consulting engineering side and prior to starting our episode today, kind of mentioned that maybe we could be frenemies. For those of you that aren't aware, like architects and engineers typically work together constructing new schools and other projects. But when you're on the architecture side, Burke, did you construct K-12 facilities or what sort of projects did you work on?

Burke Jones [00:02:09]:
Yeah, our office was really diverse. I worked on schools. I did senior living projects for a number of years. I did tons of hotels all over the country. And yeah, you're right. Like architects design rooms that are way too small for the mechanical equipment that you guys need to put in them. So yeah, we are kind of frenemies, right? Yeah.

Brian Gregory [00:02:30]:
If it was up to an engineer, we'd have like 7000 square foot mechanical rooms and 1000 square foot classrooms. And forget.

Burke Jones [00:02:38]:
I have huge appreciation when you walk into a mechanical room and the conduits are all straight and lined up and the piping is organized. I mean, that's just a thing of beauty.

Brian Gregory [00:02:50]:
It is. And it's funny. You take those things for granted, right. I mean, I think really, you dive into any sort of topic that seems mundane at the surface and there really is just a lot of complexity and interesting things that make things work. And certainly when you think about a K twelve school building, all the things that you see, for everything that you see, there's like five things that you don't see that make that space effective for teaching kiddos.

Burke Jones [00:03:12]:
Yeah, I always think, and I just had this conversation recently with my superintendent, it's like people know when they don't feel comfortable in a space, but they're not sure why. Right. But when you're in a space that you feel comfortable in, you don't necessarily think about it. You're just, this is awesome, man. I'm getting good work done or the kids are learning or whatever, but we know when we're uncomfortable.

Brian Gregory [00:03:36]:
That's right.

Burke Jones [00:03:36]:
Yeah, it stands out, I think, when we're in a space that doesn't make us feel good.

Brian Gregory [00:03:40]:
So. Yeah. Just thinking about the pivot, Burke, that you made from being a partner in an architecture firm, obviously, that's a very prestigious position. I'm sure it took you a long time to get there. And then coming over to public education into your current role. I guess, first of all, what motivated that change? And then have you had any surprises going from the private sector into the public sector?

Burke Jones [00:04:02]:
Lots of surprises. So I think I reached a point where. Well, I don't think. I know. I reached a point where I did not want to do architecture for quite honestly, like another day. I think we all reach those inflection. I mean, not all of us probably, but a lot of us reach those inflection points in our careers where we're like, this isn't what I want to do. I was like 51 years old and the thought of doing architecture for another 15 till retirement was just like, can't do it.

Burke Jones [00:04:33]:
So I left there and then I took kind of an in between job. Like, I knew it wasn't going to be forever, but I worked for a contractor that was interesting. It was actually owned by a native american Eskimo tribe in Alaska. And they got all of these like eight a set aside contracts. They were international, they did everything right. They did computer stuff. They did construction. So I worked on an air force base here in Wichita, McConnell Air Force Base, for a few months and ran some projects for them, which was fun to see the construction side a little bit.

Burke Jones [00:05:06]:
And then this opportunity came available, and I'm like, that's exactly what I want to do. So I'm over transportation, food service, maintenance, and custodial and grounds, and I had no experience with food service or transportation. But I'm like, I can learn. But really, when I started here, we were about halfway through $114,000,000 bond issue. So lots of construction. So really, three fourth my day, every day when I started was just knee deep in managing those construction projects, which was an easy move for me because I understood it. And now I was on the owner side, which was really cool, but I understood how it should flow. I knew the architects we were working with.

Burke Jones [00:05:50]:
I mean, it was just a lot of fun.

Brian Gregory [00:05:52]:
Was that a good thing for the architects or a bad thing?

Burke Jones [00:05:55]:
I have no idea. I won't want to answer. I think in general, it was really helpful for the contractor and architect to have someone who understood how it should go. Right. Understands that construction is a messy business and it's not perfect, and there's going to be change orders, and there's going to be discrepancies and all of that. So just how we work through those. So I think we had an excellent team. We had a lot of fun.

Burke Jones [00:06:19]:
That's wrapping up now after I'm about four years. Been doing that for four years. But I think it was a great opportunity for me coming into this role because most of my time was handling those bond projects. And so I could just spend some time watching my department and not feel like I had to come in here and do a whole bunch of stuff. So for a couple of years, there was just a lot of watching what everybody's doing. I had a big document where I kept ideas and questions, and I wonder why they do it that way. Or maybe we could look at changing it to some other way. But I didn't feel like I had to come in and implement a whole bunch of stuff right off the bat.

Burke Jones [00:07:00]:
A couple of big, I think, surprises coming from the private sector to the public sector. No beers at 04:00 on Friday in the office. Some of those social aspects that I think are really great for team building and getting to know people, we have to do differently now.

Brian Gregory [00:07:20]:
Yeah, that's a good point. I mean, just not to interrupt you, but I will have you brought any of those? Have you tried to find replacements for that? Because obviously beers at 04:00 in the office on a Friday sounds pretty darn good. What is the replacement?

Burke Jones [00:07:36]:
My assistant is very creative, and so she implements a lot of, I'll call it, like, potlucks or like, all the guys will cook hamburgers and then we'll bring in some side dishes. She always has us play some stupid game of some sort, which is really funny because our department is male dominated. And so she has us. We play cool stuff, too, like cornhole, but we've also done some really stupid games with her that she'd invented. But it really builds that kind of fun and we get to know people. And one time we did goat yoga, so we cleared the shop out, and you have a bunch of maintenance guys trying to do yoga. The yoga instructor was very nice and only did really easy things, but one of our guys has a bunch of baby goats, and so he brought them in and we did goat yoga.

Brian Gregory [00:08:29]:
Yeah, yoga is hard enough by itself.

Brian Gregory [00:08:31]:

Brian Gregory [00:08:32]:
I volunteered to do yoga with my wife one time, thinking it would be like an easy recovery. No, not so much. And with a goat on your back, I can only imagine.

Burke Jones [00:08:41]:
Yeah. And goats are like rabbits. Like, they poop everywhere. I wouldn't recommend it.

Brian Gregory [00:08:50]:

Burke Jones [00:08:51]:
But we just try to do stuff like that that's just out of the normal and just do some fun things. And food always gets people around and gets people talking, and we have a chance to talk about stuff that's not work related. I think that's the most important thing is just getting to know everybody about their kids and their wives and what do they like to do outside of work and just really build those relationships and build that trust. It takes a long time to build trust as a director with your people, and I think those kind of things help.

Brian Gregory [00:09:20]:
Right. And people can see through it if you're just doing it to check a box versus actually doing it to care about them.

Burke Jones [00:09:26]:
Right, right, absolutely.

Brian Gregory [00:09:28]:
When you think about maybe some of the challenges that you faced, we don't want to take this down, like, this dark, negative path, but I'm sure there have been challenges. So maybe talk about that. What are some of the challenges that you have faced or that you're facing now?

Burke Jones [00:09:40]:
I can think of one, like, on our custodial side, we really wanted to implement a different way of cleaning, and so we found this excellent program that really focused on team cleaning. So if you don't know much about cleaning, there's a couple of different ways to do it. There's zone cleaning, where basically a custodian has, let's say, a wing of the building, and they clean everything in that wing. The floors, the classrooms, the restrooms, they do it all. We really wanted to move to more of a team cleaning concept, where you have a team of four people that moves through the building kind of together, and everybody has an independent job. We tried and tried and tried and tried to make that work at a school. We just could not get it to work. And I think there's a lot of reasons we didn't have a big enough bench of trained subs, I guess, is what I would say.

Burke Jones [00:10:27]:
I don't think the people liked it. I think they are proud of having their own area. I think they liked putting their headphones on and working. What we ended up doing was our head custodian was like, I have a great idea. Let's use all of the systems, the chemicals, the tools, all of that. Let everybody have a zone. But every week they move to a new zone. So we have like four custodians, we have four zones, and every week they move to a new zone of the building.

Burke Jones [00:10:56]:
And so it gives us some of the benefits of a team that people don't get comfortable in their area, they don't start catering to the most vocal teacher in the area, lets everybody see the whole building, and it's worked really effectively, but it was a long journey to get there.

Brian Gregory [00:11:14]:
Yeah, that's interesting. One of the things I was going to ask, too, and a lot of the folks I've talked to, transportation is typically something I think one person told me they used to be like 6'2, 200 pounds, and after taking on transportation, they're like 5'7 and 150 because it just beat them down so much and weathered them. So how has your experience been with taking on transportation?

Burke Jones [00:11:36]:
So I think one of the great things I have is I have a supervisor for every department, and I have a great team. So I have a food service supervisor, transportation supervisor, maintenance, custodial, and then grounds, and so I have a great transportation supervisor. I think our biggest challenge on transportation is just finding drivers. We do a unique thing every year that gets us a lot of tv time. The news all comes out. All three news stations come out usually and do a story. We have a try it out days where we have buses in one of our middle school parking lot. That's big.

Burke Jones [00:12:09]:
And we just invite the public to come drive a bus. And I do it every year, but my first year, I'm like, I've never driven a bus. I'm going to go try this.

Brian Gregory [00:12:17]:
Yeah, I've never tried it.

Burke Jones [00:12:18]:
And so every year we hire, I mean, not like tons of people, but I bet we get two or three people that we hire from that event. And it's just a lot of fun because you get to drive a bus around a parking lot. A lot of people would just come by just to do that with no intention of driving a bus. But it does get our name out there a lot in the media. It's kind of one of those stories that they look for every year to come back, and they're looking for news all the time. And so when you have something like that, it's unique. And they come out and one of their reporters drives a bus and we get some good airtime. But I think that's our biggest challenge is finding drivers, right?

Brian Gregory [00:12:55]:
Obviously, that's a huge challenge because that's the primary teammate. And I've seen drivers from all walks of life. But recently I've got five year old twins. They're been in preschool for a while. They're now they've started kindergarten. I've seen a lot of bus drivers that have done this as a retirement job just because they know there's a need for it. Maybe they have a grandkid in school or whatever. And it's really awesome because for a lot of kiddos, one of their foundational experiences is their bus driver.

Burke Jones [00:13:25]:
Oh, yeah. We do have a significant amount of retired people, a lot of veterans, and then kind of the other end, we have, like, young moms and dads, but we let them bring their young children with them on the bus if they want. So they'll strap the car seat in or the small child just rides there with them. If they're a bus aide or a bus driver, they can do that.

Brian Gregory [00:13:47]:
That's huge. I don't know if I've heard that before. Is that a common thing or is that something that you guys.

Burke Jones [00:13:52]:
I think it is around here? I know a couple of other districts that allow that as well. If their kids go to school in our district, they can bring them to the bus barn and then they can ride the bus that's going to that school. So we have some perks like that. That's nice. And I'll tell you, it's a fun place to be in the mornings because there's always a bunch of guys and ladies over there after the route. They all sit around and have coffee and shoot the breeze. It's fun.

Brian Gregory [00:14:17]:
That's awesome. All right, so we talked about the challenges maybe just if you want to talk a little bit about what is next for you guys, what are some of the successes or initiatives that you're working on?

Burke Jones [00:14:27]:
I think the big one for me is we always are working on a five year strategic plan and our last one just wrapped up. But one of the items on there was developing kind of a ten year look ahead for capital outlay expenditures. For me, I think that's key. I don't want to just save everything up and then have to use bond issue money to take care of things that are deferred maintenance. Basically, I want to use our capital outlay wisely. And so I worked with a mechanical engineer in the area and we put together, we did like an assessment of all of our mechanical units district wide and then began to look at that on kind of a ten year look ahead along with roofing, paving, like all of our parking lot stuff and then flooring. So I kind of looked at those areas. So HVAC roofing, flooring and parking lots and kind of built that out based on about how much capital outlay I get every year to see if we had.

Burke Jones [00:15:26]:
And there was like there was going to be a couple of years where we were going to be in huge trouble and so I could start to move things around. I'm a few years into that ten year plan and it works. You always have to make some adjustments and some of my initial budgeting wasn't as good as it probably should have. You know, there's some adjustments there, but I think I want to be able to tell our voters when we go for our next bond issue in some year in the future that we've done our best to maintain what we have.

Brian Gregory [00:15:55]:
Yeah. Well, Burke, I think that definitely pulls from your experience as an architect. You probably did master plans and that sort of thing in the past. That's awesome. Do you guys do facility condition assessments or do you have any opinions on that front?

Burke Jones [00:16:08]:
So not yet. And it's something that I've started reading more about and kind of getting a handle on. Kind of the only thing we've done is the HVAC condition assessment but not kind of facility wide.

Brian Gregory [00:16:24]:
Yeah, that makes sense. All right, this one might be a tougher question to answer just because there's so many options, but if you had a magic wand and you could fix one problem right now, what would it be?

Burke Jones [00:16:36]:
One problem right now? I would say I would fix our entire HVAC system at our high school. And some of it is just because of the age. I think the building was built in 93. And so it really needs, we're talking like a 2000 kid high school. So it's a big building. It just needs a lot of older equipment replaced.

Brian Gregory [00:16:59]:
Yeah. And what challenges does that building place on your team? Either from a bandwidth standpoint, but also a morale standpoint, potentially.

Burke Jones [00:17:07]:
I think it's twofold when you have a building that does generate a lot of, I guess, complaints is the right word. I mean, it's inconsistent. I think when you get to a certain age of equipment, it just becomes more inconsistent. And I think people are used to HVAC systems designed in the age that we live in now, almost 30 years ago.

Brian Gregory [00:17:28]:
Well, one of the things you mentioned before, right. Is we notice when things are not comfortable, we don't really notice. We don't ever send in a work order saying, hey, everything's great. I feel perfect today.

Burke Jones [00:17:40]:

Brian Gregory [00:17:41]:
Something isn't right. Right. Radars go up.

Burke Jones [00:17:45]:
Yeah. There's just a lot of challenges there. The coils have been cleaned so many times. There's just so much. You can't necessarily do a great job cleaning them anymore. Spaces have changed uses, and the system doesn't work as great for what the room is being used for now compared to what it used to be used for. So I think there's just a lot of that. I would love just to wave a wand and fix, but that's a massive undertaking.

Brian Gregory [00:18:10]:
Sure. It's always good to think about that, though. And everybody has their own item that kind of keeps them up at night. Right. I do want to be respectful of time, but I like to end every episode just with advice. Everybody has their own experience, their own path to being a facilities leader. And if you're on this podcast, you're definitely a strong leader. So what advice would you have for others looking to join the facility management field?

Burke Jones [00:18:36]:
I would say don't be an island, like, get out. Meet other people either in the industry you work in or outside of. Like, I have a lot of relationship with school facility guys, but I'm also an IFMA, and we have a good chapter here in Wichita that I'm a member of that has facility managers from other industries. So there's a lot of good kind of networking and support in that kind of organization as well. I think more than anything, just be present with your people and build trust with your guys that are out there on the rooftop fixing units, and they need to feel supported. And you don't have to know at all. I just know how to ask questions and have them explain it to me in layperson terms. But I think just build trust with those guys and those people and support them.

Burke Jones [00:19:27]:
They're doing it every day.

Brian Gregory [00:19:29]:
Well, Brooke, thanks for your time today, man. I really appreciate it. Look forward to talking more in the future.

Creators and Guests

Brian Gregory
Brian Gregory
Brian is the founder and CEO of FMX, a leading provider of facilities and maintenance management software.
Burke Jones
Burke Jones
Burke Jones is the Director of Operations at Derby Public Schools and operates his own podcast called Schools, Facilities, and Operations.
Building Trust and Team Support in Public School Facility Management
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