50 Influencers: Physical Plant, maintaining more than campus

INA, Ill. (Nov. 25, 2017) - The Rend Lake College campus at Ina spans 360 acres with more than 370,000 square foot of building space spread between 24 different structures. Throw in the MarketPlace and Pinckneyville campuses, and that total square footage jumps up to 432,714 gross square feet.

RLC’s sheer size is easy to forget. Yet, day in and day out, 65 dedicated individuals make those grounds and everything on them the top priority.

Starting with a single person in 1967, the RLC Physical Plant Department has grown right alongside the institution. Today, the Physical Plant boasts talented professionals that cover a wide variety of tasks. In no uncertain terms, if it looks good or runs well, Physical Plant likely had a hand in it.

“The people that we have hired over the years are professionals in what they do. I don’t know how we get them. We have carpenters, electricians, welders, a little bit of everything. We have a bunch of folks that their skillset is so strong they could have gone anywhere they wanted, but they chose to come here,” expressed Physical Plant Director Donnie Millenbine.

“What these guys are able to do for us is huge. If we put the numbers in black and white, it would amaze us what we’ve been able to save by having the ability to do these things in-house.”

PhysicalPlant2WSeveral members of Rend Lake College's Physical Plant pose for a staff photo.

Millenbine estimates the department tackles between six to 12 major projects during the year. Last year, the crew completely renovated the South Oasis pit and restrooms, performed significant concrete replacement around campus, did a Learning Resource Center restroom renovation, finished up a total renovation of the Administration Building and tackled several smaller classroom renovations.

“The talent, dedication and work ethic of the people in this department can be seen every day, not just in the campus appearance but in the interactions with our students and staff,” said RLC President Terry Wilkerson.

“We have been able to do so much to grow this campus because of the skill sets of the people and the leadership of this department.”

On the daily work order side, Physical Plant staff receive daily requests to do everything from hanging pictures on walls to relocating furniture. Occasionally, requests get a little unique. Dave Mathis, maintenance supervisor, recalled a time when “rearrange plants on my desk” came across the work order queue.

“It was just one of those things that you can’t help by shake your head at,” he chuckled. “But, it highlights the fact that we are kind of the go-to here on campus. Who do you call? Give maintenance a call, and odds are, we’ll probably figure out a way to get it done.”

On a daily basis, around half-a-dozen new work orders hit the queue for maintenance workers to go out and complete.

In addition to daily work orders, the Physical Plant also has a preventive maintenance work order system where they schedule the standard upkeep on everything from buildings to vehicles to campus equipment, golf carts to exhaust fans they track the when and what for everything on campus to make sure it’s taken care of before it becomes an issue.

Campus beautification is another thing at the forefront of the department’s mind.

In total, Physical Plant staff are responsible for ensuring the college’s 106 working acres and 60,000 square foot of meticulously maintained landscaping are always looking in pristine condition.

“We take care of a ton of square footage inside and out,” Millenbine said. “This campus isn’t like most campuses. Most of our sister colleges have linked buildings, but we are all independent buildings with a lot of landscaping between them. So, that creates some different issues we have to tackle and think about,” said Millenbine.

50PhysicalPlantWPhysical Plant employees Scott Kistner, Pat Petro, and Rodney Summers measure and fit the Warrior Way letters onto the east side of the Academic Building.

“Every member of our team knows what to do and how to get it done, and we have great leadership like Dave [Mathis] and James Gray [head of grounds and custodial] that keep things going. Lynne French, our administrative assistant, is really the rudder on the ship She does a great job.”

In addition to grounds and buildings, Physical Plant also does most of the small maintenance on the college’s vehicle fleet, as well as all shipping and receiving to the Ina campus. They are responsible for setting up and breaking down campus events; maintaining inventory management, which includes thousands of pieces of furniture and equipment; and managing all keys and locks on campus.

It’s not just places and things though, the entire department is a visible supporter of many initiatives on campus.

Last year at the RLCF Annual Dinner, the entire Physical Plant was recognized for donating over $10,000 to the Foundation over the years to assist the students of RLC.

That was an initiative started by Millenbine’s predecessor, Randall Shively, in the early 2000s. To date, Millenbine said that total contributions look to be more than $18,000 given by both individual Physical Plant employees and department initiatives like the annual Greenhouse Plant Sale.

“Almost all of the people in the department donate some of their paycheck every pay period. That’s a good thing for us. We have student scholarships we give out. It’s something that a lot of the guys contribute to,” explained Millenbine.

Student success is important to the crew as many in the department are RLC products, and more than a handfull of the staff have been around for a number of years. Like many in his department, Millenbine is also a RLC graduate.

“This might sound corny. But, when I went to school here I remember wanting to be over grounds here on campus. Just so happened that the opportunity arose, and I was able to jump on,” he said.

“It’s a good feeling to see the campus continue to grow and develop. You realize where you’ve been, where you’ve come from. I’ve gotten to see a lot of things go up. I’ve seen a lot of big changes happen. It makes you feel good.”

Shively had a similar sentiment at the time of his retirement.

“The goal is always to do things that help the student in one way or another. If it benefits the student, it will benefit us,” said Shively. “Not everyone gets to go back to the place where they graduated and make a difference. Not every job do you feel like you can give back and make things better,” Shively said.

“Every project we’ve done involves other staff members on campus. We’ve become more successful because of the support we have in the administration, faculty, staff, and the board. We have the help and guidance to get it done as quickly as possible. Very seldom is there only one person involved.”

Physical Plant is also one of the biggest student supporters when it comes to employment opportunities.

At any given time, more than 10 students are taking advantage of student work positions, gaining important on-the-job training, money for college and valuable experience.

“We really tap into student workers. We benefit a lot from that. We have around a dozen or so student workers on staff right now. Those positions are spread across maintenance, grounds and custodial,” said Millenbine.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and one that allows RLC to offer a unique opportunity not found at many other institutions, and just another in the long list of benefits the department brings to bear.  

All-in-all, the Physical Plant is a vital part of the campus community. Their work has helped the college grow into the nationally-recognized institution that it is today. From every blade of grass to every single student, the entire department works tirelessly to ensure RLC remains a premiere, student-focused institution.

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