Thursday, December 8, 2016

"The problem with parking"

We hear it.

"When will Western fix the parking issue?" Or "Yup, there's another example of the problem with parking at Western."

We hear it, but it's often a generalization that isn't unique to Western. Whether warranted or not, parking around the World is the target of these sorts of comments / questions all the time.

"Parking is too expensive"
A study posted by the Daily Mail (UK) reported that paying for parking tops the list of most hated consumer fees. Parking is followed closely by debit and credit card surcharges, paying to use a public toilet, and cellular roaming fees. It even irks people more than ATM withdrawal charges.*

In most cited cases, rates being too high was the number one complaint. Many adding that parking should be free. And free would certainly be ideal, even here at Western. However, parking lots and infrastructure come with costs. At Western these costs are largely funded by permit sales.

Parking operations has a small, but hard working full-time staff, a handful of student enforcement officers, and a half dozen contracted booth attendants. The department also purchases and maintains emergency 'blue' phones, lights and standards, civil work (concrete, paving, line painting), gate hardware/software, and snow removal.

Those choosing to park on campus are not just paying for a space, they are paying for these services and associated maintenance, as well.

"There are no spots on campus"
Besides rates, another common concern is lot capacity. Very rarely is campus exceeding capacity. During sporting events or fall convocation, parking is a challenge, but typically there are still spots for permit holders.

In some cases, a popular lot may fill, giving the perception that parking across campus is also overflowing. Using our new parking system, with real time capacity data, it has been observed that while Springett Student and Chemistry Staff/Faculty lots fill early, there are several other lots available for these permit holders.

In the future, parking hopes to share this real-time data with customers, who may be able to seek under capacity lots using a mobile app prior to coming to campus. This feature continues to be a goal for the second phase of the modernized system and should improve the balanced use of  lots.

In contrast, at Fanshawe College, parking is at capacity. Thus, permits are not issued to students living within the city. Furthermore, out-of-towners who are eligible are subject to a lottery. At Queen's University, supply is also overwhelmed by demand, leading to a waitlist for permits that is reported to be more than a year or two long.

"The new parking gates don't work and open slowly"
Adding new gate hardware at Weldon lot
In the Summer of 2016, Parking & Visitor Services invested in a new gating and software system. The precursor was at end of life and virtually unserviceable, requiring a complete overhaul. With the new system, the period of adjustment has extended longer than anticipated.

There have been some hiccups with gates not recognizing certain hang tags. In other cases, the growing pains have been a result of old user habits that don't jive the with new system. For example, with the old system, customers could use a permit and then pass it back to the vehicle behind them to also enter a lot at the same time. Though this practice has always been a violation of the permit holder agreement, the old system wasn't designed to restrict the secondary or 'pass-back' entrance. The new gates is and the arm won't open if a permit is already in use on campus.

Admittedly, the gates are not as quick to respond to an approaching vehicle when compared to the previous system. The extra second or two is related to a permit check that the system performs to ensure that the permit is valid and that it isn't already in use in another lot.

Benefits of parking on campus
Though not the only way, driving a vehicle is a convenience for commuters coming to campus. In many ways, the new system has provided an enhanced experience for those arriving on campus in a vehicle. For example, the addition of using a Western ONECard as a secondary access credential and a live intercom at every pedestal are welcome benefits of the modernization project. Visit our website for more information on the new system;

Some of the lesser known services and features offered by Parking & Visitor Services include;
  • Provide parking for special events and coordinate loading and drop off areas
  • Provide shuttles for families/friends during convocation
  • Provide bike lockers for rent and bike racks for free use
  • Provide select bus shelters
  • Provide roadside assistance for disabled vehicles on campus
  • Provide carpooling options
Parking isn't perfect
It's true. Very few organizations can claim to be so. However, the efforts to improve and enhance the customer experience are often overshadowed and underappreciated by the fact that most people don't like to pay for parking. This sentiment often spills over into the generalizations mentioned at the top of this blog. There is no over arching 'problem' with parking at Western. Truth be told, there is a genuine effort to make parking as easy and accessible as possible for customers.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Teetering Autumn weather can affect the comfort level

photo: Fernando Aguirre
Heating the campus isn't as straightforward as firing up the ol' high-efficiency furnace and adjusting the knob to 'toasty warm'.

In the fall, when outdoor air temperatures and associated humidity are all over the place, it's an immense challenging to hit target temperatures. This period of fluctuating weather and resulting indoor temperatures is known as 'shoulder season' for the heating and cooling industry. It has been a bi-annual event  (once every Spring and Fall) at Western since boilers and chillers were installed in the power plant.

In the Fall months of October and November, a commitment by Facilities Management to provide heating can lead to warmer than normal building temps. And once that commitment is made and the coiling coils are empty, there is no turning back until the following Spring.

Mid-term exams are the main focus for the Division. For example, Club Weldon can be affected by an extended heat wave and volumes of students studying, making for a toasty building. During mid-term exams themselves, packed lecture halls and classrooms can become warmer than normal. Facilities Management works closely with building managers to provide the best studying and exam space.

With the advent of social media, Facilities Management (@westernuFM) is directly accessible by the campus community and fields questions and concerns about the - sometimes uncomfortable - shoulder seasons. Tweeters are encouraged to drop us a tweet and report on abnormal conditions.

For more information on the 'shoulder season', check out our standing story and related facts;

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Keeping our cool during exams

A quiet winter leads to an early cooling season
Winter was a whisper this year, prompting FM to prepare campus for air conditioning slightly ahead of schedule - even as early as this week. The process begins with refilling chiller coils in high priority spaces, including residences and buildings/rooms where exams are being held.

Preparing the system for cooling in an annual routine that can take a couple of weeks to complete and may lead to a little discomfort during the transition.

As with every Spring, warmer than normal building temperatures can be expected at Western as a result of the seasonally variant weather. The fluctuations in outdoor conditions during the early Spring and Fall are known as the 'shoulder season' and present an annual challenge for Western’s heating and cooling provider.

Plant operators monitor boilers and chillers
When compared to the average household, the size and complexity of Western’s district heating and cooling system (from the central power plant) has significant differences.  For example, a quick flick of a switch on the thermostat at home and the air conditioning kicks in. Turn it the other way and the furnace fires up. On campus however, the switch from providing cool air to buildings in the summer to warm air in the winter is much more involved. Furthermore, once there is a commitment to begin cooling campus buildings, it isn’t feasible to reverse the process until the following Fall.

In many of our building the same infrastructure and distribution pipes are shared between the heating and cooling system. As a result, warm and cold air cannot be generated and sent through a building at the same time.

“It’s like comparing a freighter to an outboard motorboat,” say Facilities Management Communications Officer, Brandon Watson. “You can’t make sudden adjustments with such a large vessel– you must begin planning and executing well in advance if you are turning around”.

One of the chillers cooling campus over the summer
The systems are massive. Chillers, which are located both in the south plant and in the basement of Natural Sciences building, produce enough capacity to cool about 5,000 homes. Steam, used for heating indoor air, is produced in the south plant. In the winter months, the boilers can push out 400,000 pounds of steam an hour to Western buildings and University Hospital – enough to heat 40 Budweiser Gardens.

Aside from the enormity of the system, the decision to switch from heating to cooling on campus relies on other factors. Weather plays the greatest role in determining the schedules. If there are hot days ahead, Facilities Management may initiate the switch to air conditioning in early April. However, by filling coils to early, sub-zero outdoor temperatures could return and damage the water filled pipes.

“Splits in the coils are problematic,” says Watson. “Depending on the rupture, whole coils may need to be repaired or replaced, putting efforts to cool the buildings again next year behind schedule. We continue to balance protecting our infrastructure with keeping campus comfortable during the shoulder seasons. I hope our clients will continue to be patient as we get the freighter turned around.”

Community members experiencing warm temperatures this Spring are encouraged to contact Facilities Management at ext. 83304 or online at The concern may be related to the shoulder season or there may be a need for repairs to system, such as, improper control settings or fan and pump failures. The Division will maintain a record of customer calls in order to create a profile to be used to improve the system moving forward.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mysterious Circles Appearing in WesternU Buildings

Cue the X-Files theme.

As the new academic building for FIMS/Nursing starts to take shape and look more like the building depicted in the artist renderings, it always seems amazing that a 100,000 sq. ft. structure can go from lines on a blueprint to a functional, plumbed, hydroed, heated and cooled facilities that fits exactly where it was designed to go ... to the millimeter. So for someone who struggles to hang a series of pictures in a straight line, it boggles the mind the precision that it takes.

Construction is a bit of a mystery for those not in the industry. And there is something almost magical about seeing a building taking shape. It's almost like watching a movie based on a book as it jumps from the pages to be played out right in front of your eyes.

And once the building is complete, there are unique features that continue to be a mystery. For example, within the stairwells of many buildings there are several circular indents, seemingly cut into the concrete. They aren't randomly placed, they have a pattern to them - almost decorative. But are they?

Well, as it turns out, the answer is 'yes' and 'no'. According to FM Project Manager Glen Armstrong (PM on recent Ivey building and the new Engineering Building), this circular relief is the remanence of construction. Left both as a design feature, but also because of its functionality during a build.

When wet cement is poured for a wall it requires a form to hold it in place - like a jello mold. Usually the form material is wood. It's easy to work with, it's inexpensive and can be reused in some cases. To ensure the walls of the form don't fall to either side during pouring they are held together with a series of tie rods. The ties are then secured on either side of the form to keep the cement from collapsing inward (making a narrowing in the wall) or outward (making a bulge in the wall).

The image at right demonstrates the use of wood plyform sheathing (plywood, basically) and typical tie rods. When the reinforced concrete cures and the forms are removed, the spot where the circular cap once was is left as an indent, usually a few inches in diameter.

The tie is cut off snug to the concrete and remains buried in the wall with a small piece of the rod still sticking out in the middle the circular indent. And that's the functional part of the mystery.

Source: Hoke, John Ray Jr.(2000). Architectural Graphic Standards 10th Ed. Somerset, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Why are they filled or not filled? Is it aesthetics?  Basically, yes.

That is particularly true when a stairwell is left unfinished (unpainted or unclad) and the concrete is left bare. It would appear incomplete if the holes were simply filled with mortar - similar to patched drywall that hasn't been repainted. There are three standard hole covering treatments. For unfinished walls, the typical filler is a flush or recessed plastic cover, like the ones found in the Health Sciences Building (pictured right). In some cases, the hole is patched with mortar to cover the exposed tie rod and can maintain a slight recess to break up the monotony of the flat concrete wall, similar to the Support Services Building. A third treatment is to epoxy the small piece of exposed tie rod. It is the most minimalist approach to covering the rod and an uncommon practice on campus.

Mystery solved, Encyclopedia Brown. Let us know if you've identified any mysterious architectural features that require explanation; Email Facilities Management.

Academic Building (FIMS / Nursing);

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Campus On A Low Sodium Diet?

Treated salt is identified by it's blue-ish hue

Our campus is nestled on the banks of the Thames River among the naturalized canopy of the Sherwood Fox Arboretum. Our buildings and associated infrastructure are steeped in heritage and date back nearly a century. As stewards of these gems, Facilities Management is constantly seeking better ways to protect Western's built and natural assets.

But this amazing historical landscape isn't our only priority. In fact, we have a greater commitment to the protection and safety of the people who visit, study, research, and work on our campus everyday.

And there is the dilemma - stuck between the rock (salt) and a hard place.

Now-retired manager of Landscape Services used to cringe when talking about the salt needed to protect pedestrians and motorists on campus, often - if not always - referring to it as 'the necessary evil'. And that's exactly what it is. It is the most effective way to keep roads, lots, and walkways clear during freezing and thawing cycles. However, wet rock salt, aka brine, is an aggressive composition with corrosive traits that can stress localized plant life. It is also destructive to metals and concrete, wreaking havoc on our vehicles and our buildings.

We have put the alternatives to the test.

Sand and ash have been ineffective, even after several applications - and - these methods create a new problem. The melting snow and sand/ash mixture spreads throughout buildings as foot traffic picks it up and brings it in through the entrances. The result is a never ending mess for our caretakers in Building Services. Salt stains are bad enough, adding dirt only makes it worse.

Liquid brine applications are used as a preventative measure to reduce ice binding with asphalt and concrete. The mixture requires completely dry surfaces and must be sprayed shortly before a snowfall or risk being washed away. The limitations make the procedure unreliable, time consuming, and wasteful.

Miracle ice melters? There are several brands of products that will melt ice and claim to be better than rock salt. However, they are essentially similar in composition and, because sold in smaller quantities, tend to be significantly more expensive than bulk purchases of rock salt.

Initiatives to reduce salt.

Facilities Management crews continue to distribute treated salt. Sodium chloride mixed with magnesium chloride improves ice-melting effectiveness at lower temperatures, requiring lighter applications.

Crews are certified in and continue to follow Smart About Salt training. Smart About Salt is a recognized body that provides awareness and guidelines for reducing road salt application for large institutions and municipalities. The program has influenced hand-salting procedures and has led to calibration of our salting machinery.

This year, Facilities Management crews are focussing on mechanical snow and ice removal. More crews are being deployed with shovels and plows to lift the snow/ice and salt is be used sparingly as a final measure. Dangerous areas that collect moisture and/or typically freeze over will continue to be salted - again, fulfilling our commitment to the campus community.

Western student paper, The Gazette features FMs salt use on campus;

FM announces use of treated salt in Western News (p.7);

FMs Salt reduction featured on Western's Sustainability website;

To report an icy spot or trouble area, please contact Facilities Management's Client Services at or 519-661-3304.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When It Arrives ... We'll Be Here

University College [Communications & Public Affairs]
From the book of obvious statements; It has been a mild winter.

Undoubtedly, that means the worst is yet to come. Infact, we will likely be on the verge of cold, blustery weather in the coming weeks - if not days.

Last year at this time, London was buried, digging out of the white stuff at a rate of 20cm every 12 hours. Crews were working in shifts around the clock on campus. As an archive of the event, the following page was maintained to keep the campus informed of Facilities Management's efforts;

Should the weather turn south - er, well - north, Facilities Management is on snow removal standby. During a typical snowfall, crews will begin to clear snow in the evening when parking lots and sidewalks are less congested. If accumulation isn't excessive, the snow and ice will be cleared, sanded and salted prior to 8am with maintenance checks operating throughout the day.

If a major winter storm arrives, Facilities Management will follow the strategic Snow Operations Procedure. The Division's high level of preparedness has evolved as a result of battling snow over the decades, but the most valuable lesson remains that weather is a tough beast to tame. There are several variables that can take standard protocol off track. Factors such as, the time of day and duration the snow falls, the total volume of snow, wind and temperature (freezing or thawing) and even campus specific factors, such as the time of year (exams) or the day of the week (fridays can be quieter on campus). All these factors are balanced on the fly and they change constantly, requiring the Snow Operation Procedure to remain flexible - and that's putting it mildly.

As a starting point the crews will follow the priority locations map and priority unit chart, especially when snow is falling faster than it can be cleared. In some cases, this can mean redoing portions of a higher traffic, higher priority location prior to moving on to other locations.

Priority Locations Map, based on safety, provision of essential services, and greatest impact.

Priority Unit Chart, listing most of the cleared surfaces on campus, complementing the map.

The top priority is the safety of our community. Facilities Management encourages people to take time and care when crossing campus and don't hesitate to connect with Client Services if weather is restricting our services. We will do what we can to help; or 519-661-3304.