Alan Dessoff is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland. This is his third APPA President profile for Facilities Manager.
In his free time, Loren J. (Joe) Spoonemore likes to scuba dive and fly general aviation aircraft, but when it comes to the business of higher education facilities management, his feet are firmly on the ground.
As director of special projects, capital budgeting, at Washington State University (WSU), and as APPA's new president, Spoonemore sees his profession "at a crossroads." He is setting a course to lead the profession and the association in the right direction.
With universities competing for students, faculty, staff, and funding, facilities managers face a challenge that Spoonemore defines as maintaining a high standard of service in a continuing period of declining resources. Institutions that depend on public funding for support are apparently feeling the pinch the most, "and I don't see us having turned the corner," he states.
The simplistic solutions, he says, are to reduce expenses or increase funding, or both. "I am convinced that after years of budget reductions that we are on the ragged edge of production efficiency and innovation," Spoonemore declares. "We facilities professionals are very good at it and we continue to innovate. But we also have seen situations in which people have become overzealous and have seriously impacted the quality and reliability of their infrastructures."
Some state legislatures are responding with supplemental capital renewal funding that was not available before, Spoonemore says, and there also are movements to provide additional operating monies concurrent with capital funding for new structures. "That is a marvelous commitment," he says.
Outsourcing is another way to meet the challenge. Spoonemore cites elevator maintenance as one area where outsourcing works well. "You can invite competition and you also acquire a considerable amount of concurrent liability insurance," he explains. "This is a function that requires specific skills and training" that usually are not available from university maintenance personnel.
But outsourcing is inappropriate for situations like quick response zone maintenance, Spoonemore maintains. "It's a matter of continuity," he says. "The maintenance staff is acquainted with the customer and the systems that provide service to the customer. In those cases, we have found that outsourcing has generally not been effective."
Continuity is a key to APPA's success as well, Spoonemore asserts. With Wayne Leroy's recent retirement and Lander Medlin's succession as executive vice president, Spoonemore cites the professionalism of the association's staff. "These are the people you rely on over the long haul to provide continuity and perspective," he says. "It is an exciting time to head APPA."
Spoonemore says he will concentrate on communication during his tenure. "There is absolutely no substitute for communication," he declares. APPA has made a "quantum leap" in its ability to communicate in recent years, Spoonemore says, citing Pete van der Have's leadership and the use of technological advances such as Internet listservs. "I will continue to utilize and promote that technology," Spoonemore says.
Last year, Spoonemore represented APPA in visits to universities in Australia and New Zealand. He returned, he says, "with a sense that we are a worldwide community, our challenges are universal, and that communication has brought us closer together."
He wants to use communication now to reach prospective members on an international level, with an emphasis on colleges. "There is a huge group of people out there in the colleges that we have not successfully attracted," he says. "We have done a great job with the research institutions and the graduate institutions, but we need to work more closely with the liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and K-12. That's where we really can be of tremendous service. We need to find an avenue to reach them. We have to get out there and beat the bushes at the grassroots level and regional level to bring these people into the fold as affiliates. We may want to restructure the dues, although most regional dues are very reasonable."
Spoonemore sees no reason to change APPA's strategic initiatives. Rather, he will concentrate on advancing them through communication. Indeed, he says, the initiatives call for communication to increase the effectiveness of education for APPA stakeholders, forge stronger links between the seven regions and APPA, expand the use of APPANet's electronic online services, promote awareness of APPA among senior officers of the institutions served by facilities management personnel, and establish a process through which stakeholder needs can be identified and understood.
Ron Flinn, an APPA Past President, says that Spoonemore "has the ability and desire to move APPA forward with firm focus on its strategic initiatives." Flinn adds that Spoonemore's "terrific sense of humor" will be an asset.
Spoonemore also hopes during his tenure to advance APPA's new Professional Leadership Center and Leadership Skills Academy, and to award the first APPA Fellowship certificates. Further, he wants to continue to build strategic partnerships with related professional organizations, including the Construction Specifications Institute, Professional Grounds Management Society, Association of College and University Housing Officials International, and Construction Management Data Group.
Spoonemore has been an APPA member since 1974, the year he joined the Physical Plant Administration at Washington State. A 1966 graduate of WSU in mining engineering (he was named Outstanding Senior in the College of Engineering), he worked earlier for the Boeing Aircraft Co., the Anaconda Company, and the Shell Oil Co. while earning a master's degree in business administration at WSU.
Back on the campus for good, he held numerous acting or full-time positions as energy manager, maintenance/construction manager, plant services (custodial/ grounds) manager, motor pool/heavy equipment manager, engineering/design manager, assistant director, and then director of physical plant. He was named last year to his current position and assigned to investigate and make recommendations for organization, operation, maintenance, and construction efficiencies, among other responsibilities.
Of all his achievements at WSU, Spoonemore is proudest that the physical plant has been able to maintain a manageable level of deferred maintenance during a period of declining resources and increasing impact of facilities on the university's ability to attract faculty and staff. He also finds gratification in the appreciation that the university administration has shown, over time, for the positive impact that a quality infrastructure has on the university's ability to attract, motivate, and retain students, staff, faculty, and benefactors. He notes that WSU won the Governor's Energy Conservation Award in 1988 for saving $30 million in utilities costs.
Spoonemore says technological advances have helped WSU innovate and provide more efficient energy and HVAC delivery systems and mechanical systems in general, as well as refine structural design and boost communication capabilities.
Married with two children, Spoonemore is active in the community around WSU in Pullman. A board member of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce and current chair of its Government Affairs Committee, he is a past president of the Pullman Kiwanis Club and past chair of the Board of Directors of the Pullman Daycare Center.
Spoonemore is a licensed private pilot certified to fly aircraft on state business, but his passion is to visit and/or fly vintage planes from the second World War. He has also recently discovered the thrill of scuba diving. "If you haven't chased a big crab and caught it bare-handed, you haven't lived," he insists. These activities are scheduled between backpacking, fly fishing, and skiing. Spoonemore also reports that following his first and only experience on rollerblades, he will delay future practice until "full-body armor" is available.
Back on campus, Spoonemore is periodically invited to address a "real world" seminar course. "I talk about corporate conscience," he says, "and the importance of mentor-mentee relationships, trust, and taking advantage of windows of opportunity. These are students who are graduating and have little sense of corporate politics. The real world is not necessarily what you read in a textbook."
With his facilities experience and leadership skills, Joe Spoonemore brings to APPA a clear understanding of the real world.