Los Rios Community College District: Building for tomorrow

Los Rios Community College District: Building for tomorrow

In California, there is an ambitious goal that will see all new residential construction across the state with zero net energy by 2020 and all commercial construction will achieve the same goal by 2030.

For Los Rios Community College District, a district in Sacramento which provides administrative services and governance across four accredited colleges and several off campus educational centres, this overriding vision is very much centred in the college’s strategy for future growth.

“We are the second largest community college district in the state of California [after LA Community College] and the fifth largest in the country,” says Pablo Manzo, Associate Vice Chancellor, Facilities Management at Los Rios Community College District. 

“We really are a significant community college player in the country.”

Bridging the gap

Manzo, as head of Facilities Management, is very much engrained within the maintenance of the facilities that fall under the Los Rios umbrella.   The Facilities Management Department is composed two sub-departments, Facilities Planning and Construction and Facilities Maintenance and Operations (M&O).  M&O includes a number of “journeymen” roles – mechanics, plumbers, groundskeepers, all managed and supported by Manzo and his department.

Manzo believes that where Los Rios is unique when compared to other public-sector facilities and colleges, is in the cross coordination of the two departments.

“It’s very key and crucial for them to have that connection because you have to build the facilities that your maintenance team can maintain, and overseeing both these areas allows me to do that,” he says. “We integrate our maintenance team very deeply into the design and development process of the capital projects. I’ve seen districts hire a third party to build these facilities and then hand them over to maintenance departments that can’t maintain it because they were not involved in the design process.”

Manzo has been with Los Rios for over 12 years, previously working in the private sector on the construction of education construction projects and one thing that he has noted that within the sector there is often a lack of a fresh perspective.

“There’s a tendency to continue doing things the way you’ve always done them,” he says. “The district made a deliberate decision when they brought me in to bring a fresh perspective and fresh eyes – they were on the cusp of a very large capital improvement program and needed it more than ever.”

This investment program has seen a number of significant construction projects, new facilities and technologies integrated into the college over the past 12 years.

Ways of working

While part of the investment program has been driven by the state required Zero Net Energy ambition, Manzo is keen to stress that the key to the expansion of Los Rios has been a fluid, ongoing discussion and avoiding a “set formula.”

“There are a number of elements to consider, it’s not just about modifying buildings to meet the zero-net energy or how we are going to build our facilities of the future,” says Manzo.

“There’s also our role in shaping our workforce to meet the requirements of the future.”

One of those challenges has been trying to shift employees, contractors and agencies to a new way of working, one that is very much technology driven.

“It’s about getting employees to break free of a set way of thinking and to become part of the solution to achieve our goals,” he says. “Every person, every employee and those involved in some capacity, each and every one of them is a major part of this goal. It’s challenging, but it’s important.”

Win win Winn

Through the capital investment project, Manzo has overseen a number of significant construction projects. One of the most significant construction projects, was the Winn Center project, which opened in 2013. This was a major achievement for Manzo and Los Rios, but also for an educational facility, all because of one unique feature.

“The facility houses our architecture and construction management educational programs,” he says. “When designing it we thought, if we are going to be teaching the construction professionals of the future, then we needed a facility that could talk the talk and walk the walk.”

And the facility does indeed walk the walk. Not only is it constructed in a way that can be utilised as part of the educational experience, but it also represents a true sustainable and technologically advanced facility.

In 2014 the Winn Center earned Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), one of the only a few buildings in the state of California community college system to have this certification.

The building in itself also became a teaching tool for Manzo and his department, as it presented an opportunity to learn more the changing technological, and sustainable, landscape in building construction.

“There are systems within the building that we’d never used before, such as chilled beams, lighting controls and the way we conserve water,” says Manzo.

“These are features that will become more and more prominent in the future of construction and so it helps us stay ahead of the curve and understand what’s coming. This wasn’t our intent, but it has had a dual benefit for both ourselves and our students.”

Energy conservation

In the bid towards achieving Zero Net Energy (ZNE), Manzo believes there is an immediate turn towards new builds, solar and power generation when facilities management teams should really look at existing building inventory.

“We have to be able to produce more than we use, so how are we going to do it?” he says. “Solar panels and power generation is not necessarily the answer.”

Throughout his 12 years at the college, Manzo has been very much involved in extensive sustainability measures, as engrained with Los Rios’ philosophy and mission statement is to be good stewards of the environment.

This commitment has been primarily achieved through the monitoring the performance of facilities and the implementation of monitoring technologies such as Smart Grid.

“Smart Grid gave us the ability to dial in every piece of equipment within a facility,” says Manzo.

“We can then control them all remotely from a central location to truly conserve energy. That’s the key.  We want to get as close as possible to ZNE through conservation and then we look at other options like energy generation.”

The role of the student can never be underestimated in the drive for a more sustainable future for Los Rios. Manzo goes as far as saying that in some instances, many of the conversations made at senior level surrounding sustainability have come from staff and students alike.

“It’s not just us doing it by ourselves. Those people using our facilities are keenly interested in ensuring that those very facilities are environmentally sound and built in the right way,” he says.

It is this open dialogue that has allowed Los Rios to remain at the forefront of sustainable construction as it has kept Manzo and his team on their toes.

“As soon as we think we are all caught up, there’s always the next step,” he says. “There are several drivers, not just the facilities people but our users and community push us to remain on the forefront of it all. It’s part of our overall strategic plan for the future.”

Pablo Manzo