Unique “Pay for the Project From the Savings” is One For the Books

Imagine for a moment that you are in charge of a public building in one of the most picturesque settings in all of Michigan’s Great Southwest. Your responsibilities include the care and maintenance of that historic and architecturally very pleasing building, but you learn that the infrastructure of your building is rapidly aging itself out. If you are Ren Baldwin, President of the St. Joseph Public Library, the simple worry of where to begin and how much needs to be done is daunting. Fortunately, the Ross family’s “The Crew in Blue” at City Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning continues to revolutionize ways to get the work done and literally pay for the work through the savings brought on by modern technological advancements. It’s honestly a story that is one for the books.

Baldwin says, “Probably five years ago now, the Library Board worked with Abonmarche to do a comprehensive facilities assessment. As many people know our building is owned by the city, but we as a library board are responsible for the maintenance of that building. That facilities assessment showed us that basically we had between one and 1.5-million dollars worth of updates and replacements that needed to be done. Pretty much all of the mechanicals in the building were aging themselves out.”

Baldwin continues, “For us, as a library board, to accomplish the sheer volume of things that needed to be resolved out of just our annual budget would have been an impossible task that would have taken many, many years to accomplish.” Enter, “The Crew in Blue.”

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As Baldwin notes, “Fortunately, Ross Fisher and the folks at City Plumbing and Heating, introduced us to the ABM group and they were able to demonstrate to us how we could basically perform all of the upgrades and replacements needed, literally within the span of a year, and with the ability to pay for those upgrades and replacement costs along with our annual facilities budget by paying out of the savings that would be generated by the engineering technologies they have introduced to us.”  The library will be able to install devices that are energy efficient and allow us to use those savings from utilities and operations to pay it all back. We got everything new in a year’s time span, which was clearly very attractive to our board and that’s where we landed.”

Library Director Stephanie Masin was amazed at the magic of the whole plan. She’ll be the first to tell you, “The building has been hanging over my head from the moment I started as Director. Within the first year we needed a new roof, and we had issues with our windows and the HVAC systems, and all of it for some time. We knew it was going to be an expensive process, so, when Ross from City Plumbing first came to us with the potential of getting all of this work done with the energy efficiency savings paying for a large portion of the work that’s being done, we were very excited about that!”

It’s the type of story that repeats itself in a community like St. Joseph where older institutional buildings and other facilities dredge up worrisome replacement needs. City Plumbing’s Ross Fisher admits, “We’re always frustrated when we’re working with a lot of the facilities in the area. We know what needs to be done, but unfortunately, capital is always the problem. That was the area where we, as a company, were hard-pressed to find a solution.” Once they established the relationship they have developed with ABM Facilities Management, the capital issue gets quickly resolved, eliminating that part of the problem. Fisher says, “It allows us to actually go in and give these enterprises the help that they need and ABM gives us the expertise and the ability to actually capitalize it all within their budgets, allowing them to get the improvements that they need.” He adds, “There are probably 100 buildings in our area that truly need this program.”

ABM’s Tom Hogan loves being able to showcase what technology can do. He says, “It’s a truly great plan, and a great program that’s being done all over the nation, and all over the world, actually. The beauty of it is that it works for probably 90-percent of the clients that we approach.” He’s quick to caution, however, “It doesn’t work for everybody, but in this case we were able to find quite a few savings in both operations and maintenance when we looked at the capital volatility at the Library, what they’d have to spend in the next five years and said, it would be ridiculous not to move forward for them.” Looking back on the robust plan, Hogan says, “It was an excellent fit with us, with City Plumbing and Heating, and the library. It was just a great partnership and a win for everybody.”

The key centers on doing everything collectively and at once rather than piecemealing the work over multiple years, because, as Hogan notes, “You eliminate the budget spikes and the budget stress. It’s like my wife and I who do a budget in January but our car breaks down in June. It blows our budget out of the water. So on these projects we look forward and conduct an in-depth engineering analysis to determine when we project that a piece of equipment might fail, based on things like the age of the equipment, the amount of use, and a lot of other factors many of which can be found in engineering manuals and other resources. So we really look at all of the conditions, and try to project what we’ll face in the next five years in order to foretell those budget spikes and stresses so that in looking at the project through that lens, to see how to eliminate some of the headaches and the need to raise a lot of money at the last minute, it would be a good project.”

At City, Carey Ross says, “For a lot of these places we have the solutions, and we can get it to them, but inevitably we do one piece of the project and then the rest catches up to you in a series of failures and it can seem impossible to ever get ahead of the series of breakdowns. What we did here, working with Tom and his ABM team, is complete the analysis with a lot of it involving the HVAC systems, which eventually led to replacing virtually everything because it was old and worn out technology, but, they also got to do some other things like lighting change outs and things that they wanted to do, that maybe didn’t save as much in energy, but the energy savings in the mechanical gear we installed enabled them to add other great amenities and get them covered in the upgrades at the library.”

Baldwin says while the issues are all tangible, mechanical and physical, “We at the library board are looking at all of this from a customer service standpoint as well. Not only are we going to be offering our patrons a place to come into a space that’s well controlled, but if we had tried to spend for these measures out of our annual budget to repair and replace these things, that would have reduced the amount of money that we had available to offer services and media to our patrons. So, from my perspective, and undoubtedly from Stephanie’s as well, this has been a services project that we wanted to get accomplished so that we don’t have to reduce our budget to buy books and other media and we don’t have to reduce our budget for programming in order to fund mechanicals. We’re looking at it from the standpoint of the service that we’re able to provide to our patrons and our community.”

Ross Fisher at City concurs wholeheartedly, saying, “It just fits in with our culture. We’ve been serving the community for over 100 years now, and to have the ability now to impact our local businesses and the city, the county, or any area that we work in, we can help in the same way, and I can tell you it has been frustrating for years to not be able to do that. It used to be that we could see these problems, but know that there was no way to affect it. Now, however, we actually have a tool that works really well and we can affect these problems and really give our community the opportunity to grow in the way that we all want it to grow.”

To capitalize on these unique solutions, it all starts with a call to Ross and “The Crew in Blue.” He says, “I will come in and do a preliminary analysis and take a look at the situation, from both a budget standpoint and the building itself, look at what your plans are for the future, where you’d like to go, and then we determine if your business or organization could be a prospect for this type of a comprehensive program.” He adds, “There’s also an energy analysis that I look at as well, to make that determination. Once we at City Plumbing & Heating have made our determination, our engineer and proprietor bring in ABM and they will confirm what we found and add to it, so that we can actually come up with a finite opportunity for whoever the client might be.” He cautions, “It can take a few months to get that all done, but all it takes to get the ball rolling is a phone call to us and there’s no cost for anybody to go through that part of the process.”

A great sidebar to this dynamic way of dealing with mounting structural issues is pointed out by ABM’s Hogan who says, “This is also great for sustainability. We’re putting solar panels up, which will offset some of the electrical load, and everything that we are putting in is absolutely energy efficient, so it’s a really green and sustainable project at the library.”

For Library Director Masin, it’s been a huge weight off of her shoulders, as she tells us, “I can absolutely say that it has been a huge relief to actually see these projects getting done that we’ve known have been out there for some time, but I also want to speak to the professionalism of City Plumbing & Heating, and ABM and the crews that they’ve had coming in here, because it’s just been a really lovely experience and its such a relief to know that this building is going to be in a situation now where we can be the center of the community, which is what I always envision the library to be, but we haven’t been truly able to function in that capacity with the issues that we face at the moment. That, nevertheless is always our end goal, we’re always focused on our community and to be able to provide services and a space for our community to use and have it be sustainable and energy efficient is huge for us.”

Carey Ross whose father and grandfather before him have anchored “The Crew in Blue” in the community is proud of the project, saying, “We’ve been around a long time, and the library has been around for a long time, and I was giving estimates to the library when I first started here and I know my dad was too, but it is nice to be able to provide them with a solution and we appreciate the opportunity.”

Keep in mind that it’s a story that can, and should be replicated. “The Crew in Blue” can identify large scale projects and call in the ABM facilities management team to design complete plans for businesses, school districts, municipalities and beyond to help save both energy and money. Ross Fisher has other success stories including one where they found $1.75-million in energy savings over the next ten years for a single client. Find out if your project has that capability and start writing your own story.

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