Gatepost Interview: Warren Fairbanks, associate vice president of facilities and capital planning

Can you briefly describe your resume and educational background?

I took my undergraduate degree in engineering from WPI – that’s Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester. Then, I went to work and went to night school for an MBA at Anna Maria [College]. And then, about seven years after graduating from WPI, I was able to get my Massachusetts Professional Engineer’s License, and that was a major step in my career. So I worked in private practice – I was a consulting engineer for about 10 years – and then I had one of those life-changing moments where I decided that I didn’t want to travel the country and commute to Cambridge, and I took a job with the state college system as a regional engineer, and I’ve been working in higher education since then.

What’s the best part of your job at FSU?

The best part of my job? Well, I love to work on a college campus. There’s a lot of activity and excitement and a broad range of people. And the best part of my job personally is that I get to interact with everyone on campus. This position seems to put you in that spot. I talk to students. I talk to faculty. I talk to administrators. I talk to staff. I talk to the president and the vice presidents. And I usually do it all in one day. It keeps you sharp and I enjoy it.

What are some of the challenges of your job?

The challenges? There are no challenges to my job. You know, it’s a big campus – the biggest challenge, I guess, is that we want to provide the services so that the teaching and learning can continue without being interrupted. That’s what we strive for every day. But I have a fantastic staff of dedicated directors, and tradesmen, and custodians, and drivers, and grounds crew, and campus events, and shuttle drivers and power plant operators. And every single one of them has that same goal, and they work hard at it.

Do you have any hobbies? 

Yes. I try to play golf. I ride a bicycle – I’m an avid cyclist. And I like to fish for striped bass on surf-casting. Those are my three passions. And I read a lot. I’m a history buff.

Can you tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments?

I don’t measure myself by my accomplishments. I think looking back at your accomplishments doesn’t keep you motivated, so I don’t really measure myself by that at all. I feel I have a good day when I can finish the job at the end of the day, and look back and just be at peace with myself.

Are you currently working on any projects?

(Laughs). Yeah, yeah. We have a lot going on. We’ve been very fortunate to have great funding. The senior administration has done a great job of securing funding for the university. So it’s my priority job. And the capital planning component of my job is to spend that money. And that’s a lot of fun. We’re working on Hemenway Hall, as you know. We’re building a new parking lot on property we purchased on Salem End Road. We’re completely renovating the Athletic Fields on Maple Street. We are doing additional work at the power plant, which has been an ongoing project. We’re in the design phase for a new residence hall, which will start in this winter of 2015. We have initiated a building study for the library to look at – in a comprehensive fashion – the future of the library. We’re going to undertake the transition of O’Connor Hall into an academic and office building. We’ve started the study again on the renovation of Crocker Hall. We have been having conversations with the art department about improvements and relocations of studio spaces for the art department. We have annual maintenance and deferred maintenance projects that we do every summer in the residence halls, so we’re planning those right now for next summer. We’re actively pursuing additional land for additional parking. We understand parking is always an issue on campus, so we’re always keeping our eyes open for that. Those are the major things we’re talking about. And then on the facilities side of the department, we just try to keep the place running and clean and safe, and that requires constant daily maintenance and response to maintenance requests that come in from the students and the staff. So we’re always doing something on that – stuff always breaks. We’re 1.2 million square feet of buildings.

What would students be surprised to know about you?

That’s a good question. I’m pretty much an open book – I don’t have too many secrets. Probably that I’m a real history buff. It kind of counteracts the engineering side of me. I actually got a minor in history. And so I like to read about modern history primarily.

What was your favorite course in college and why?

My favorite course? … Well at WPI, they required us to complete two major projects before we graduated. So my favorite course was the project that took me to Jamaica for three weeks, where I took soil samples in the mountains of Jamaica, trying to understand why, when they had earthquakes, everything would slide down the mountains. And it was due to a phenomenon called liquefaction. And at that point in time, that was a fairly new item in soil mechanics that was being studied. So being involved with that, and being in Jamaica for three weeks, living embedded in the mountain culture, left a pretty big impression on me.

What advice would you give to students? 

That’s a loaded question. I don’t know. I suppose my advice to students would be my advice to anyone – it would be more or less the same: learn how to make your own decisions, set some goals and seek out and use all the resources that we have here on campus. There are brilliant people that work here on campus, and if you’ve got questions or problems or challenges that you have to overcome, there are people here that push you along, and pull you along, and help you out. But you have to learn how to make your own decisions and take responsibility for them.

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