Facility Chat with Nico Viola
Holden Forests & Gardens: Facility Planning for Birds, Plants, Animals and People
Facility Chats is all about hearing from the front lines in facilities management. One topic that’s critical to the success of facilities management is budgets and planning. We talked to Nico Viola, the director of facilities for Holden Forests & Gardens (HFG) which consists of Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Garden in the Greater Cleveland area in Northern Ohio.
Jack: What’s your take on budgets and planning?
Nico: Every day I think about what is happening five minutes from now, five hours from now, five days from now, five months from now, and five years from now.
Yes, a large part of being an FM is reactionary when you deal with the unknowns like when a contractor nicked an underground gas line that was not properly marked, but a large part of my time is spent forecasting and planning.
I review and reforecast my CapEx budget every six months and my operations budget quarterly. I am constantly meeting with department heads to discuss what they have in their pipeline and what effect it will have on the facilities.
Jack: What’s unique about Holden Forest & Gardens?
Nico: We’re the 14th largest public garden in the US, which includes a 100,000 square foot museum,17 buildings, a fleet of vehicles, two dozen golf carts, and two large biomes with animals and plants from Madagascar and Costa Rica.
At our facility we conduct research, we provide educational experiences, and we do special events like weddings, so we’re many different things to many people.
We have a small team and some seasonal labor.
Jack: What are some of your facility’s specific maintenance requirements?
Nico: When you’re responsible for a living collection of plants, animals, birds, fish, and turtles, it’s critical to have secondary back-up systems for AHU operations. While we’re not stunned when something goes wrong, we do have to look down the road and plan for equipment lifecycles. Being on top of equipment life expectancies and maintenance downtime is part of what I do every day.
Jack: What are some of the ways FMs can improve their forecasting and planning skills?
Nico: Communication is key. Of course, listening, conducting regular meetings, and asking the right questions. There’s lots of moving pieces and parts which need to be reviewed and considered when planning.
Jack: Who taught you about forecasting and planning? Did you learn on the job?
Nico: We have a great female CFO now. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time in the field, and I have a strong background in construction and restoration work.
Jack: What are some of the challenges FMs face re: forecasting, planning, and supply chain?
Nico: Supply chain is a real issue. Equipment is very costly. We had a 70K piece of equipment, a very needed item, which took more than a year to be delivered. Plus, inflation is out of control. When I’m forecasting, I have two columns – one for needs and one for essential needs. Unfortunately, when costs are too high, projects get cut.
Jack: What are some of the cool and exciting projects you’re working on now?
Nico: We’re always changing and tweaking things to enhance the visitor’s experience, including special Ketra lighting, which adjusts throughout the day for mood and ambiance. We’re constantly redesigning exhibits and talking to other organizations for new ideas. We’re excited about how AI feeds into automation and facility efficiency.
Nico spends a fair amount of time talking shop with other facilities like the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which has a rain forest in the zoo. It’s great to know people who he can bounce ideas off, such as irrigation maintenance, especially when you’re doing something so specialized because there’s not that many biomes throughout the United States.
As for the future, although retirement is still a way off, Nico sees Arizona as a wonderful destination where you can drive two hours in any direction and really experience something completely different, from the changing colors of Sedona to the snow and majestic mountains of Flagstaff to the amazing cactus in Tucson and Phoenix.
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