When natural disaster strikes, King’s new Director of Facilities Management Ian Wagschal says his department has three main responsibilities: “The primary goal is safety—safety for everyone on campus. Second is to stabilize the campus, which means basically to address any damage that’s occurred. The third goal is to return campus to full operation.”
When Hurricane Dorian struck Nova Scotia this past weekend, Facilities at King’s responded quickly and effectively. Wagschal is quick to credit the team. “We have skilled people who understand the buildings and who can fix problems as they are happening, and we keep the lines of communication open with the King’s community.”
Thanks to our back-up generator, King’s residences remained open and powered, and meals continued to be served in Prince Hall while the rest of campus was officially closed Saturday through Monday. Other than a few downed branches, King’s campus looks much the same this week as last.
It may have been baptism by high winds and heavy rainfall for Wagschal, who only began working at King’s in May, but his previous 15 years experience in facilities management with Dalhousie University meant he was ready for pretty much anything.
“This is a unique school,” he says, articulating the charm of Canada’s oldest chartered university. “Architecturally, King’s has a message that is connected to its purpose. For example, the quadrangle is designed to be a physically protective shell, protecting and sustaining the garden space within. This is analogous to King’s mission to nurture the personal and scholarly development of the student community.”
At just five acres in size, King’s campus is compact, yet it provides many cross-over spaces where students and staff can study, eat and socialize together. Of course, there are also quiet corners for rest or reflection, including King’s Chapel. Wagschal and the Facilities team look after them all.
Being part of a vibrant living and learning community was a big draw for Wagschal in coming to King’s. He appreciates King’s history and reputation but feels he will have to earn his spot in all of it.
“At King’s, managing the Facilities is more than just a job. The people here are invested in King’s both as a workplace and as a community.”
In his previous position, he was part of a large institution with hundreds of facilities workers. “So, coming here, it is a great opportunity to work with a smaller team,” Wagschal says. “We oversee everything from routine maintenance to capital development.”
Before he does that, however, his biggest priority has less to do with buildings or landscapes and more to do with getting to know the people that use them.
“At King’s, managing the Facilities is more than just a job. The people here are invested in King’s both as a workplace and as a community,” Wagschal says. “The challenge of that is that I’m the new guy. It will take some time before I can earn people’s trust.”
No matter what the future may hold, a major part of King’s lure is its past.
“The physical infrastructure directly impacts the reason why the students are here,” Wagschal says. “If I go in and make a change to any of these buildings, any of these facilities, it’s going to have a direct impact on that mission.”
Some changes are inevitable. King’s must improve accessibility for students with disabilities or mobility issues. Wagschal notes that every university in Canada is struggling with re-making itself into an accessible and inclusive environment. He has already converted the two single washrooms in the Prince Hall breezeway to be more accessible, but many more such changes are on the horizon.
Wagschal also wants to look at enhancing the student experience with upgrades to the residences, “renewing them to sustain their historic character, but with modernized interior infrastructure that’s more comfortable, and perhaps doesn’t overheat every winter.”
On top of that, there are all the minor jobs Facilities does every day, such as repainting the coat of arms hanging above the library doors. The team works hard and takes pride in its work. Wagschal says he’s happy to be part of such an effective team but to be really successful, he’ll have to work just as hard and with as much pride as everyone else.