In 2011 the University of Wisconsin–Stout began a more than $18-million renovation to its current student center. However, before the contractors could begin, much preliminary preparation was necessary. The planning involved in the largest but most straightforward
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task—removing the building’s contents—was anything but simple. Phases included inventorying all assets, sorting and moving them, and selling any items not stored for later use. Each phase was assigned its own operations team, and a communications team devised methods of keeping students and other constituents informed about the changes that would soon be taking place. The overall process used offers lessons for other campuses preparing for a large renovation project.
This was the first time that an in-depth inventory of the Memorial Student Center assets had been undertaken outside of the overall university inventory system. Since this process was new to the student center, consideration was put into deciding what program would be used; ultimately, staff decided on Microsoft Access 2007 since it was available and would incur no additional expense. Of the information determined necessary to record were basic fields such as item name, quantity, description, and the assigned asset identification number. The physical asset dimensions also were recorded so that storage space estimates could be made. Additionally, the assets’ original location was collected so that items could be placed in similar environments following the renovation. If an item was being sold and had initially been purchased for over $5,000, then the university’s identification number had to be recorded so it could be taken off the capital asset list. Lastly, a picture of each asset was included in the database as a visual identifier.
Once items had been inventoried, they needed to be tagged. The idea of using a sticker label came up almost immediately, along with other options, but a label offered everything needed to visually convey any necessary information as well as distinguish the item as belonging to the student center. With that decided, the next step was to choose what information should be listed on the label and then design it. Using color as a symbol was initially decided against due to confirmations of unsuccessful use in previous university relocation processes. Symbols in general were discredited due to the likelihood of confusion. A written format was largely the only remaining option, and because this label would include multiple fields of information, premade labels that lacked the versatility were not ideal. This left the only foreseeable option as being a custom-printed label. The tags were printed on a tougher film-type label tape in hopes that they would persist throughout the assets’ lifetime.
This information on the labels was meant to be multipurpose. For the movers, it indicated where each item would have to travel as well as whether it would be sold. For the inventory personnel tagging the items, an abbreviated name and description was included to ensure that the tag was in fact meant for the item to which it was attached. Additionally, the identification number was linked to an identical ID record in the Access database. For the surplus and sales team, a simple yes/no identifier signified whether the asset was intended for sale or storage. Finally, words at the top of the tag declared the asset as belonging to the student center specifically.
A majority of the student center’s contents—consisting mostly of seating chairs, mobile and folding tables, office furniture, custodial and maintenance equipment, and other operational items that could still serve their purpose in the renovated student center—would be stored and kept safe until the new building was opened a year later. Where to store them was a matter to be determined.
After considering a few options, staff decided on semitrailer storage containers kept at an off-campus location. This was the most inexpensive and easiest option but unfortunately did not offer the desired protection to electronics or art that would still be subject to the vast changes in seasonal temperatures in the Midwest. Thankfully, the answer to this problem was right on campus. The campus’s northern dining services had recently been relocated from an older facility to a newly constructed building; this freed up the older space to use as storage for any item deemed to be susceptible to these changes in temperature and humidity.
Student center staff members were responsible for physically sorting items based on whether they would go to a storage trailer, to one of the new locations, or stay in the building for the surplus sale. Next, the movers took items to their destinations. The first items to go were those that would continue to be used during the renovation but in different locations. The items were grouped in various staging areas based on destination, and in some cases, moved to an area more accessible to the movers. This process took place over about four weeks to phase out services seamlessly. The dates were selected based on the flexibility of the move team since they too were campus staff and employees who maintained other responsibilities elsewhere on campus. Once this step was complete, the next was to move the items going into storage.
Office staff decided which items they would not need at their new locations but still wanted for the renovated building. These became items destined for storage along with the numerous others from the building’s public lounge areas. Items were all brought to a single staging area where campus movers then loaded them onto semitrailers. As each item was loaded onto the trailer, the asset identification number was recorded so if an asset needed to be accessed in emergency situations, its location could be determined immediately. The identification tags were first recorded by simple pen-to-paper methods and then later entered into the computer database.
Temperature-sensitive items were handled differently. Since there was no third party factor involved, these items were taken in unscheduled groups and whenever they could be amassed. This kept the movers busy and more effectively used their time while also providing greater amounts of working room to remove the remaining items. The downside was that it became difficult to track these items in real time since it was never known when they would be getting moved. To confirm that they had arrived at the on-campus storage location, an inventory staff member would have to go to the location and sort through items to get each asset ID number and confirm the item’s arrival.
Anything left in the building at this point was mostly surplus, and the only move required for these items was that they be placed in a large and navigable sales arrangement. Given the quantity of sales items, some of the largest areas in the building had to be used to stage them.
The student center staff knew starting out that by definition, the renovations meant a drastic redesign of most spaces in their building. Among the many upsides to this project was the opportunity to update the look and feel of the spaces. This also meant a great deal of the old furniture and other interior stylings would be without a home. While some of it would find a new purpose in the updated building, most would be discarded. Simply throwing it away was never an option, however.
It was seen as a waste of the students’ money that had gone to purchase the items in the first place. Therefore, any item not kept for possible use in the renovated building would be sold at a surplus sale.
Either the university’s surplus department could handle the sale, or student center staff members could coordinate and run the surplus sale independently from the surplus department. With the former option, the student center would have only made back a fraction of the items’ sale price since the surplus department would be entitled to a percentage of the profit. With the latter option, the student center staff would be mostly on their own to effectively manage the sale operations and events leading up to it. Option 2 was decided on and the surplus department staff graciously offered planning advice, helping to fill the gap in experience. A majority of the policies and procedures already in place at the university surplus sales were adopted into this one. Three thousand manila maintenance tags were purchased and used as price tags for every item with the exception of a large CD and vinyl collection that the old campus radio station had accumulated over the years; those were sorted into bins and grouped based on value. Once every item had been tagged, individual value was assessed by various student center staff members in an informal manner to save on time. Prices for large-ticket items such as industrial floor scrubbers and LCD televisions were given greater consideration in their pricing. The final step was to make sure that each item’s price tag also had the asset ID number from the inventory database. This was so that item quantities could be deducted from the database to maintain an accurate item count.
When it came to the transactions, staff followed a specific procedure; customers would indicate their desire to purchase an item by removing the bottom portion of its maintenance/sales tag. This would show other customers that the item had been claimed. Customers would then bring their tags to the register and show them to the clerk. The clerk would then write out a receipt for the customer, designating the item’s asset ID, the quantity of that item that was being purchased, the price per item, and if the item would be picked up later—indicated by circling the asset ID number and writing the customer’s name on the asset tag attached to the actual item. A copy of the receipt was kept while the customer retained the original. When customers returned to pick up their item, a sales floor attendant would ask to see their receipt, look for ID numbers that had been circled, and then find the matching ID number on the remaining half of the tag still attached to the item. Once the item was found, the circled ID number on the receipt was highlighted by the floor attendant to show it had been picked up by the customer.
Upwards of 95 percent of the designated items were sold during the two-day sale. This allowed for the student center to gross more than $12,000, considerably more than it would have made had the university’s surplus department coordinated the sale.
Above all else, the two largest enemies of this project were time and communication. While staff members were aware of these obvious factors and their connectedness, they still were problematic. Time available to complete certain tasks was drained more quickly when poor communication caused people to make uninformed decisions or halt in making any decisions until necessary information was provided. Misinformation was just as dangerous as the lack of information. For example, on the inventory tags, a field listed the destination of each item. Staff were scrupulous in ensuring this field contained accurate, up-to-date information. However, later, plans changed and a color-coded paper sign was taped to each object to delineate its destination. Had the decision to use the color signs been made sooner, it would have saved time and effort spent collecting and correcting that information for the labels.
Also challenging, at points throughout this project it became evident that some interdepartmental relationships were not as strong as they could have been, leading to disagreements and delays. Further complicating this were formal university procedures. When work orders were made to address some fixtures within the building that needed to be removed, more than once the work order was assigned to a maintenance staff member who was not in the building and could not readily take care of the issue. This meant that further communication had to be made to these individuals’ supervisors to correct the problem and assign the work order to the maintenance person. Even when work orders were distributed correctly, the simple act of writing them in a way that the maintenance staff members could begin addressing the issue took up a great deal of extra time since the individuals verifying the work orders often did not have the best understanding of what needed to be done. If the maintenance staff was able to operate, even temporarily, freely from the restrictions of the formal process, tasks would have been completed much sooner. Since that is not a likely solution, it reinforces the importance of good communication between staff and departments.
Even with the distinguished teams that handled their respective phases of the project (move, store, surplus, and communication) not everything could be covered in the time allowed, as previously mentioned. In most cases, a number of extra dedicated staff members would have been helpful in completing tasks on time and with better results. In the case of the inventory process, for example, extra staff could have been employed solely for the task of recording assets. Eventually, one extra contract employee was brought on for just this reason, but it happened too late in the process.
In the case of work orders, two extra staff were brought on to handle the massive amount of orders that were made late in the process after the necessary tasks had become more clear to the supervising staff in charge of submitting those orders. This was another job that would have been ideal to dedicate to a single staff member who could find out what work orders were needed, by what time, and in consultation with whom. That would have allowed the executive staff to concentrate on their respective duties and break up the workload into more manageable portions.
To conclude this section, it is worth reiterating the pitfalls universities could avoid based on the experience at the University of Wisconsin–Stout:
- Time Management: It is always safe to assume there is less time available than there appears to be. Anticipating frequent delays, it is best to overestimate the timetable regardless of how effectively some individual staff or departments are capable of working.
- Communication: Communicate information and tasks to the necessary individuals and have staff members do the same. Meetings are fine and needed in some cases but make sure there is a clear goal in mind for the end of a meeting before starting one. State the objective and what will be decided by the time the meeting has concluded.
- Distribution of Workload: This will be a bit more difficult since there is going to be a limit to the number of staff available, but if enough time is allocated for the project itself, this becomes less of a strain. Additionally, leaders can check in frequently on progress and ask if there are enough people to manage the duties assigned to individuals or groups.
- Work Relationships: This is something that cannot always be helped. There will always be people who cannot get along, but it is important that everyone maintain focus on the objective and be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. It is also important to remember that although there are needs that people want met, it is ultimately up to a single individual to decide how things are going to be done; it is important to respect each individual’s position when it comes down to making tough decisions.
When approaching a renovation project, one immediately thinks of the facility itself; however, management of its internal furnishings, fixtures, and equipment can be an unwieldy task. The move-out process used at the University of Wisconsin–Stout is one example of the detailed planning required for the various stages of a construction project and can be used as a case study for those facilities yet to
Nickolas Etten started at the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2005 as an industrial design major but quickly switched to psychology with a minor in human resource management. In his first year, he began working as an event technician for the student center and stuck with it until his graduation in 2009. Etten was then offered the opportunity to return to Stout to help prepare for the move and renovation of the student center, and he became the inventory control coordinator for the project. He is now the associate marketing specialist and oversees the student center’s printing services and ticketing operation as well as managing a few of the move-in details for the newly renovated facility.