Moving forward

September 08, 2006, volume 37, no. 1

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If moving house tops just about everybody's list of stressors, imagine the logistics involved in moving an entire university—a mammoth job that should send stress levels into the stratosphere. Fortunately for SFU Surrey, facilities manager Marie Schneider takes such ambitious projects in her stride. "It's just a matter of breaking things down into logical, bite-sized pieces," she says.

The pieces may be logical and bite-sized, but the tasks are myriad, from relocating the library, server rooms, research and computer labs, to overseeing furniture delivery, and coordinating emergency response signals with the municipality and the mall. The planning process took more than a year, many, many meetings, and layers upon layers of revisions. Schneider has no idea how many people were actually involved in the move, though she lists ten key teams, with responsibilities ranging from campus administration to communicating the university's new address and telephone numbers.

Add to that complex mix the usual anxieties about construction schedules. Will things be done? Will the space be ready? As it happened, BC's construction boom caught up with the new campus, and some areas were still hard-hat zones when the move took place.

When asked about any hair-pulling moments, Schneider concedes that the lag in construction, coupled with the thousand final details, gave her some pause to worry. "But," she adds, "we had our goal. We were going to achieve it, and we were going to achieve it well."

Among the first jobs was an inventory of furniture, cataloguing what was on hand and useable, what needed to be replaced, and what fit where.

Independent furniture consultant Stephanie Hawkins took charge of compiling and evaluating the existing furnishings. With no affiliations with designers or manufacturers, Hawkins was free to work in the university's best interests, maximizing economies where possible. "About 25 percent of the furnishings are new," she says. "We managed to reuse every stick of the existing furniture, though sometimes we had to get creative. Some computer desks became work tables, and some work tables became computer desks."

The rest she put to tender via BC Bid, a service managed by the provincial government. Most happily, she reports, all of the new products that were chosen were from Canadian suppliers and manufacturers. Because the library is a key focus for much of the campus, most of the new furnishings are located there. The look and feel for that area is, Hawkins says, "Funky, contemporary, and comfortable".

Ask campus librarian Natalie Gick what the great move means to her, and the answer is instant: "Windows." For four long years Gick and her staff occupied the gloomy basement of a dark, windowless former department store that had served as SFU Surrey's makeshift campus. Besides the natural light, Gick also welcomes a space that looks and performs like the heart and soul of a university that a library is. "It feels like such a luxury to have proper, seismically-braced shelving, places to stack books, and places to sit."

The design of the new library was a challenge, as there was only one place in the new building where the floor could bear the weight of the book stacks, she says. "We would have liked to be nearer the entrance, but we have ended up with a very nice space."

For Gick and her staff, the challenges went beyond the pure logistics of the move. "All of this (the move) was on top of our eight-hour a day job," she explains. "We had to deal with staff changes, the grand opening (of the new campus), keeping everybody informed, and then preparing to close for two days in the middle of a semester." While the movers took care of the physical packing and moving of boxes, library staff had to plan what equipment was needed, and where it would go, as well as label everything so that it would end up in the right place. "It's a good thing the move happened in summer, when things are relatively quiet," she says. "It forced us to go through everything in our collection, and do a massive housecleaning."

Every bit as complex as moving a library was the job of moving sensitive computer network services. For systems administrator Ben Pepa, such a move is, if not exactly old hat, familiar territory. Beginning with the former Technical University of BC in 2000, Pepa has taken part in three moves—first from TechBC's original home in a Guildford area business tower, then to the Central City Shopping Centre, where SFU Surrey was born, and now, finally, into the new, permanent space.

"Some of the major work has been going on in the background," Pepa says. "I've been working since late June in the new facility to coordinate the installation of the new racks, ordering new hardware and cabling, and installing components to try to minimize impact. The challenge has been that the site is still a construction site. Wearing steel-toed shoes and a hard hat is a bit of a change from pushing paper!"

Finally, though, the move is complete. The hoardings are down, and the hard hats are history. Boxes are unpacked, and the library is open for business. There are still a few details that need some attention, but basically everything is in place for a brand-new academic year. Time for Marie Schneider to take some vacation? "Hardly," she says with a laugh. "Now that we've dusted ourselves off, we have to get ready for the next phase, preparing the fourth and fifth floors for students next year."

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