Bob Emery has been the director of maintenance for the St. Joseph Cottleville Parish, the largest parish in the St. Louis Archdiocese, for almost nine years. Throughout his multiple decades in the field, he has developed strategies to work through the challenges of facility management, like preventive vs. predictive maintenance and the struggle of often being under-appreciated by leadership teams.
Keep reading to hear more from one of St. Louis’ top facility management experts.
Tell us about the organization you work for and your role.
I’ve been director of maintenance for St. Joseph Cottleville Parish for almost nine years. Throughout my career I started in the lower maintenance mechanic-level positions and worked my way into assistant supervisor, supervisor and department manager positions. My team and I manage six buildings: the church, a parish center, school, parish hall and two residential houses.
What are common misconceptions about facility management?
To leadership teams, facility and maintenance management appears to be a cost-only department. Since we don’t generate income, we’re one of the first departments leadership will look at if something needs to be downsized. But really, we’re saving money through preventive maintenance, which often gets lost in those conversations. I’ve certainly had to advocate for that over the years. We’re looked at as a necessary, but not money-generating, component.
At a place like where I’m working now, we’re really a part of the community because we’ve gotten to know the other employees and volunteers. We do a lot of things that are above and beyond what a regular maintenance facility department would do.
How did you originally get into facility management?
I’ve been in the building-maintenance field for over 35 years. I started with technical building management education in high school, and then I went on from there, taking classes for my electrical certification and power plant training. Once I started in this field, I never looked back.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
A difficult day would be a lot of breakdown issues coming up for things that need to be repaired to keep our school operational. That could be anything from air conditioning to heating, plumbing and electrical.
I’d say managing all of the different aspects of the operation is the most challenging part. I’m in charge of all of the maintenance, repair, cleaning of the buildings, snow removal, landscaping and more—so there’s a lot going on every day, especially when the seasons start to change. There are a lot of people whose jobs I need to coordinate.
What are the vital things you do to prepare for the upcoming season?
Preventive maintenance is number one. That strategy never changes—and you always want to be aware of your equipment. Keep your ears and eyes open when you’re working on the machinery, while you’re doing routine cleanings and filter changes. You might see something when you’re cleaning and know that it needs to be repaired later. That’ll help you with predictive maintenance: knowing when things need to be cleaned, switched out or repaired, so you can plan.
How do the changing seasons impact your role?
The biggest impact of the winter, for example, is snow removal. I have to make sure we have employees available to work in the event of ice or snow, then make sure we have enough salt, ice melt and parking lot salt. We really make sure everything is salted well so there are no slick spots; that way we don’t have to worry about someone falling and getting hurt.
Can you share about a time something went wrong and how you handled it?
Probably the biggest disaster I’ve dealt with has been indoor fire-sprinkler head discharges. That hasn’t happened in my current position, but I’ve had it happen before a few times in my career. It’s a real challenge to manage and clean up properly. First, you have to determine if there’s actually a fire or if it went off by accident. Then making sure they’re turned off and beginning the restoration process.