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Business Officer Magazine
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Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience.

By Margo Vanover Porter

Payne Keeps the Mind-set

Sherri Payne
Sherri Payne

Associate Vice President for Facilities Management
College of Southern Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
12 years in higher education

Even the recession has a silver lining, says Sherri Payne, associate vice president for facilities management, College of Southern Nevada (CSN), Las Vegas.

“Budget constraints have forced us into being cost-effective and green-conscious, both of which should be priorities regardless of the economy,” she insists. “The silver lining in the budget crisis is that it has forced people to stop what they're doing and ask, 'Is there a better way to do this?' I would hope nobody loses that mind-set when the economy gets better.”

After 10 years as a licensed architect and principal in a Las Vegas architectural firm that focused on public projects, and a short stint at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Payne joined CSN almost nine years ago. She supervises all operational aspects of maintenance, construction, facility planning, janitorial services, grounds maintenance, and environmental safety and health for the multicampus college. “I tend to be a bit of a workaholic,” she admits. “I do what it takes to make it happen, which can leave me spent when I go home.”

She's found that by hiring high-quality employees, she can spend carefree weekends with her husband outdoors, where they enjoy kayaking, hiking, cycling, and skiing. “The team you build at work helps you step away when you need a break,” she says.

How has the recession influenced your profession?

Sometimes in changing procedures, you can find ways to save. For example, we're fixing or replacing our old mechanical systems that are running inefficiently, changing out light bulbs, and using microfiber rags that we can wash so we aren't constantly buying supplies. We're even trying to save money with toilet paper rolls. If you have toilet paper with two rolls, versus four, you have to change it half as frequently.

What else is your institution doing to save money and conserve energy?

We looked at different types of alternative energy and landed on solar because we don't have any campuses in a good spot for geothermal or wind. In Las Vegas, NV Energy offers a rebate toward the cost of solar installation. With the rebate, we found we could get a six-to-seven-year payback.

We installed 100 kilowatts at our West Charleston campus and a year later, another 100 kilowatts at our Cheyenne campus. The first 100 kilowatts cost us about $120,000, but the next year, it cost $80,000. Because the poor economy forced a drop in the cost of solar panels, we expect to get an even better return on our money.

What do you wish were different about your job?

I wish we were properly funded for maintenance. Most people don't have a good concept of what it takes to maintain a building. They think, “You build it, you occupy it, and you're good,” but it's amazing the amount of money you need to spend to maintain it.

We get funding for deferred maintenance at the state level, but unfortunately, it is only a drop in the bucket compared to what we need. So, we end up spending money on emergencies, instead of maintenance. Our community college has about a $100 million deferred-maintenance backlog.

What skills do you use that you never thought you'd need?

When you go into architecture, you always think of design and drawing, but the skill you need the most is the ability to communicate. If you can't communicate, what good is drawing?

What's the biggest issue facing your profession?

The economy. I've heard that about 60 percent of architects and engineers are out of work, and that's a real problem because a lot of them will leave the profession. I would hate to lose that knowledge base.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?

The changes that are taking place. Even though the budget has been a struggle, it's been rewarding to see how everyone has come together with unique ideas to succeed.

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.