Christopher Clair, Office of Strategic Communication, 319-384-0900
Marking a milestone
Marking a milestone
Marking a milestone
The walls of Bob Walton’s office are donned with computer monitors, and these screens represent what seems to be an overwhelming amount of serious information. Meters and controls to water, electric, and mechanical distribution across the entirety of the University of Iowa campus, systems that deal with steam, condensate, sewers, and lighting. It seems at any moment something might switch or flash and require his undivided attention.
His desk might as well have a plaque that reads “The buck stops here,” but that wouldn’t quite be Walton’s style, a man less concerned with talk than he is with work.
This past June marked 50 years of service at the University of Iowa for Walton, assistant director of UI utilities distribution. After all this time, he says that his coworkers are what he enjoys the most about working in the university setting.
“It’s the people,” he says. “Pretty much everyone I work with here. They all have great work ethics.”
Walton grew up in Iowa City and started at the University of Iowa on June 1, 1965, as a custodian for the UI Physical Plant. He was drawn to the university because he thought there’d be opportunity for career advancement, as well as a chance to work with power. Walton was interested in electrical engineering and gained experience working as ashman and then as turbine operator at the Power Plant, while earning an associate’s degree in his spare time.
Walton, who is still a licensed electrician in the state of Iowa, first moved into a leadership position when he was appointed supervisor of electric distribution and campus lighting. He eventually went on to become utility systems manager and his responsibilities expanded to include mechanical distribution, meters and controls, and the Water Plant.
Walton doesn’t seem quite comfortable talking about his professional achievements and how much he’s mattered to this university over the years. His colleagues in Facilities Management are much better at singing his praises than he is himself. As a show of appreciation, Facilities Management declared this past June 1 “Bob Walton Day,” which is testament to all that he has meant to this institution.
Walton, himself, is more interested in discussing the specifics of utility distribution than he is discussing what having a day dedicated to his service means to him. He’s happy to explain what automated metering is and how he’s seen the university grow and become more efficient over the span of his career.
Walton opens up one of the file cabinets in his office and shows how he’s devised a color coordinating system to keep track of the amount of paperwork, schematics, and projects that find their way into his office. There are cardboard tubes of blueprints that have only just arrived in the mail that he must look through and make sure are up to code from a utilities perspective, since “every building on campus requires utilities.”
He explains that being assistant director of utilities distribution is an around-the-clock job. “I can’t remember the last time I was on vacation that I didn’t get at least one call.”
Trying to communicate the extent and density of university tunnels and lines running underground, he points to a few maps tacked up to the wall—each is of the campus, and each is marked with a different system of lines. “If all the lines were on one map, it would be a solid block,” he says.
Part of Walton’s job is to oversee the process of locating all the lines underneath construction sites before contractors break ground. And with all of the construction that’s been going on at the university in recent years, he’s been very busy.
Since Walton started work at the university, he says he’s seen UI utilities distribution become “more robust, more reliable, and safer…systems have improved dramatically.” One of Walton’s accomplishments over the course of his long career is the installation of automated electric metering, which allows the university to monitor all electric meters remotely, instead of having to physically send a worker out to the site.
“It has saved the taxpayers a lot of money,” he says.
Some of the most memorable days of Walton’s career haven’t always been the easiest. He’s seen two major flooding events, the most recent being the 2008 flood, which cost the University of Iowa $743 million in damage and recovery costs.
The Madison Street Services Building was one the many buildings overcome by floodwater in 2008 and Walton and his colleagues were displaced to a parking lot, where they worked to get the utilities systems back on line. Walton says that for five weeks the entire contents of his office were in his car.
At a time when Walton marks this half-century milestone, he’s also in the process of training his replacement. But after 50 years of dedicated service, no one at the university wants to see him go quite yet.
“At its core, a facilities management organization’s strength and value to a university is built around an individual’s institutional knowledge, ability to solve challenging problems, commitment to serve around the clock when necessary, confidence in decision making, loyalty to the institution, and dedication to the success of their coworkers,” says Don Guckert, associate vice president and director of Facilities Management. “Put another way, it’s Bob Walton.”