The Planning and Projects Office

Published On: March 25, 2016

The Division of Residential and Hospitality Services’ Planning and Projects Office is comprised of numerous strategic services, from Construction Project Planning to Interior Design to Construction Management to Health and Safety to the RHS Sustainability Office. Team members are trained in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) qualifications, health and fire codes, and ergonomic guidelines.

PPO’s comprehensive experience in space planning, project management and contractor relations allows the department’s staff to be an exciting part in decision-making that can positively influence the division’s work and student and guest environments for years to come. The myriad of roles and responsibilities held by PPO meet numerous institutional needs as team members ensure projects are successfully completed on time, within budget and in a way that ensures the spaces they have a hand in and the people who will work there are able to deliver outstanding Spartan experiences to divisional partners and university guests.

Bill Whitbeck, project coordinator for PPO, says the office works on projects of all shapes and sizes: everything from a request for new office chairs to the color of carpet to sustainability signage to implementing health and safety initiatives. The team, just shy of 20 members, balances anywhere from 100 to 150 projects at any one time. Whitbeck looks at these projects, which typically come in as requests from other units within RHS, as opportunities. 

“We want to maximize that opportunity and the dollars that were allotted to the project,” he says, “and really try to make it the best that we possibly can from all the different angles.”

Incorporating RHS Sustainability within PPO enables project plans to consider environmental impacts of projects and facilities while focusing on the MSU vision of long-term sustainability though innovative and balanced strategies that support stewardship, fiscal responsibility and partnerships. Carla Iansiti, sustainability officer for RHS, believes PPO greatly benefits from a collaborative environment. For example, she is able to easily lend her expertise when meeting with team members or off-campus vendors by asking the right questions and making sustainability requests that fall in line with the university’s initiatives.

“It’s great to all be in the same building because we’re all working on tasks, but we can still look at plans together and have those discussions,” explains Iansiti.

RHS Health and Safety Officer Joe Petroff helps PPO act as a resource that provides training, expertise and advice when it comes to safety and security. Whether it is planning and executing the maintenance of campus buildings, creating emergency response plans for winter storms or managing a 100-year flood plan, resources within the office work in tandem with the university to keep team members and guests safe. Iansiti says one of the greatest strengths of PPO is the variety of skills and broad wealth of knowledge found in the team. For example, when plans come in to build or remodel a building on campus, the designers and project managers play a major role. 

“They, along with Health and Safety and myself, help the customer understand what their need is,” says Iansiti. “So not only is it helping get what customers want, it’s helping them reach their goals in the most financially responsible way.”

PPO also works closely with Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) to assess the needs of buildings as they age, taking into account maintenance necessary to maintain their health and safety based on age and time. Supporting heating and cooling units, tending to water leaks and updating sprinkler systems are a few examples of issues that, when incorporated into a plan, allow PPO to respond in a financially responsible and prompt manner.

“It’s a very collaborative business,” says Whitbeck. “Whether we’re down the hall with Carla or with Health and Safety. We spend a lot of time with other people.”

And depending on the size of the project, sometimes it can be handled by a small group while larger projects such as the new student housing project, 1855 Place, can require input from the entire team. “I think everyone in the office has played a part in that one based on their specialties and their expertise,” says Whitbeck. PPO currently also finds itself busy with the Breslin Center renovation project, which is on the same timeline as 1855 Place. Another part of PPO’s role includes defining any impacts before kicking off a project. As a result, they work frequently with team members across the division and university to assess requests, discuss potential effects and determine best practices moving forward. Needless to say, the team stays busy.

“Some days the phone never stops ringing, and you’re out seeing what broke or what potentially could break and needs to be fixed,” says Whitbeck. “The days really vary, and that’s the fun part of the job.”

1855 Place
Whitbeck, along with the entire PPO team, has been immersed in the planning and execution of 1855 Place, the new student housing and office complex currently being constructed on the corner of Harrison Road and Kalamazoo Street. Tackling a project of such scope and size is a great undertaking. “It’s sort of an inverted pyramid,” Whitbeck explains. “You start off very broad, what do you really need ... and then you get down to the bottom of the pyramid, which is very detailed.” The bottom of the pyramid considers choices such as light fixtures, carpet, doorknobs and where personal belongings will be stored, to name just a few.

“There are a lot of variables,” says Iansiti. “We want to make the move as flawless and easy as possible.”

To successfully execute a project of this size takes a great deal of collaboration between the division, university partners and outside companies, and Whitbeck often acts as the intermediary. In order to stay on track, it’s important to ensure decisions happen in a timely manner and that the budget is monitored and maintained. PPO works closely with IPF in selecting and working with outside contractors. Contractors are prequalified through MSU Purchasing and IPF, and PPO is involved with contract development. For 1855 Place, contracts have been issued for all pieces that pertain to construction of the building.

“It’s a big milestone to have all the contracts issued,” Whitbeck says. “Now it’s really about the schedule.”

Student family housing is scheduled to be available by summer 2016, while single student housing and the new office building will, respectively, be online the following summer and fall.