TFM Names Neal Angrisano Facility Executive of the Year

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By Heidi Schwartz
From the January 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

It doesn’t take long to realize when someone knows a great deal about many things. But in the case of Neal Angrisano, AIA, deputy director of facilities management for Johnson County Kansas in Olathe, KS, this impressive characteristic isn’t expressed in an arrogant or patronizing way—it’s a plain and simple fact. And best of all, Angrisano is more than happy to share his knowledge with anyone willing to listen. He is practically generous to a fault with his knowledge, experience, and vision.

“After I got over the shock of being nominated for this honor, I was really excited about the possibility of becoming TFM’s 2008 Facility Executive of the Year,” he admits, “because if there’s one thing I’d like to tell all people out there in facilities management (FM), it’s that you’ve got a fantastic opportunity. You’re the key person who can make so much happen. That’s awesome. That’s huge. I love that.”

A Roundabout Path To Facilities

While his exuberance and respect for FM is overt, Angrisano is a practicing registered architect who ended up in the profession in a roundabout way. And while it’s his profession of choice, he’s still heavily involved in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on the local, state, and national levels. (In 2000, he was president of AIA Kansas. More recently, he was just elected president of AIA Kansas City and will begin serving his term in 2009 after a one year period as president elect.)

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Maximization of natural resources (light and water) are a central part of the efforts throughout the county. (Photo: Farshid Assassi)

Despite the impressive résumé and an approachable personality, Angrisano is much more reluctant to talk about himself. “Although others might think differently, I don’t especially like talking about myself,” he says. But when it comes to talking about facility management, he doesn’t hold back.

Consequently, Angrisano serves as a faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, where he teaches in the graduate program for architectural management. “I’ve been doing that for about 12 years. As it relates to FM, it’s a great outlet to share experiences with up and coming folks, whether they’re facility managers (fms), architects and designers, or people in the design and construction industry who are educating themselves. One of the reasons I choose to teach is because I love to talk about this stuff. I love sharing it with others, because there’s so much potential that all of us in these collective fields have.”

Right out of school, Angrisano practiced architecture at BNIM Architects in Kansas City, MO where he was fortunate enough to work under Bob Berkebile, one of the founders of the environmental design movement in the architectural community. “He was the founding member of AIA’s committee on the environment nationally, in the late 80s/early 90s, and that’s when I worked with him. He was also the architect on the Hyatt [the Kansas City Hyatt Regency, whose skywalk partially collapsed in July 1981 due to a structural engineering error and killed more than 100 people], and to hear him talk about that gives me shivers, still to this day. He taught me so much. Many of the things he was so passionate about translate beyond just architects, but to all of us involved in buildings and the people who are in them. What he taught me—and the impression he left beyond just environmental issues—was so profound. His amazing commitment to doing things well for people really shaped me early on in my career. Of course, I still see Bob frequently.”

A Patchwork Career

In his second architectural role with Gould Evans Associates, Angrisano worked closely with a local school district and became friendly with its facility manager, Doug Cook (also an architect), who just so happened to be getting his Master’s degree at the same time and through the same program as Angrisano. “He told me he was leaving the school district, and he said, ‘This could be a job you might really like. You ought to consider applying for it.’ I was a bit surprised and thought to myself, ‘I became an architect to practice architecture. I don’t really know why I’d want to do that. But tell me more!’ As I got into it with him, I learned about what he did and found out about the organization. It really sounded cool. It seemed like a way to get a different perspective and ultimately become a better architect. That was one of my main drivers for doing it, initially. Never say never, but I probably wouldn’t be in this role today without his encouragement.”

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And so began Angrisano’s initial foray into FM. “After being in FM for a while, I found out I really liked that role. I was able to get a lot of good things accomplished from the other side of the table. But after about five years, I felt it was time to go back to [architecture] and apply this huge wealth of knowledge, so I returned to my old firm for about three years. Things were going very well, but I found myself missing that facilities role—particularly the ability to work within an organization to get things done, and to educate a constituency. As a professional, I found more success in actually getting these things accomplished for the good of the organization I worked for in the facilities role.

“When you’re inside an organization after you’ve established at least a reasonable amount of credibility, trust, and relationships, you can speak, act, educate, and lead because you’re looked at as part of the organization. You’re trusted, and people are much more eager to hear you, to understand, to trust what you’re saying is for the good of the organization. You’re not an outsider. That’s one of the things that is most appealing for me in this role.”

Essential To The Continuum

Angrisano rejoined the FM profession shortly afterward when the new position of deputy director was created and the opportunity to develop a strategic facilities master plan for Johnson County, Kansas arose. It was a true, strategic, organization-wide approach to assessing physical space needs, both existing and future for the County, and then producing options for how to meet them.

“That’s when I came on board six years ago. That was my first task. It took a year to put that plan together. I was managing the work, because I was the only one of two people in my group with the facilities department. Now our group, which we call the Planning + Design Group, has a staff of 11,” he explains. “This is my main focus within our facilities department of 115 individuals.”

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Once the plan was in place, Angrisano become an integral part of its execution, and it’s this aspect—involvement in the whole continuum of FM at Johnson County—that inspires and motivates him, sometimes to a frenetic pace. He thrives in his current, diverse environment (the county government has more than 4,000 “outstanding” employees and 40 different departments), which functions like individual businesses with varied facilities needs.

Angrisano stands with Georgia Gavito, AIA (right), who managed the design and construction of the Sunset building (Photo: Robert Tucker)

Simply contemplating the list of future projects for the County would be exhausting for a layperson, but it’s exhilarating for Angrisano. “Our project types are as varied as any architectural firm would ever have,” he notes. “We do non-hospital type healthcare facilities for our public and mental health departments, emergency facilities (like our emergency communications center), and general office space (including newly purchased buildings, with complete renovations). We’ve got a $60 million jail addition underway, and we’re getting ready to begin several other justice projects (a juvenile residential center, potentially a new county courthouse, and others). We just began working with the county library system as a new client, even though they have done their own capital work in the past. ( I believe that the library leadership realized that we were doing very high quality work and invited our group to start doing the capital work for them.) We’re getting ready to start a new facility for our public works department, which is a very technical/maintenance office/engineering type of arrangement. And that’s just what we have going on currently.”

Scope Of Work

While he can’t “be involved in every aspect of his department’s FM—or even the design and construction part” (his biggest complaint), Angrisano and his group spend most of their time on strategic planning, project development, delivery method definition, post occupancy, move management, and FM as it relates to furniture, moves, adds, and changes.photo

He confesses, “I have to step back, because we’ve got good people who can do these things as well or better than I could anyway. I’m not going to the job sites as often. I miss working day to day with various consultants and contractors. But my exclusion from this has more to do with the size and volume of work our organization has, not anything to do with FM. Plus, one of the most important parts of my job is to be a resource, mentor, and advocate for all our other great people doing the day to day ‘real’ work.

“Some days I wish for boredom,” he adds, “but it just doesn’t happen. Every day is an adventure. Sometimes it drives you crazy, but I guess I thrive on it; I like not necessarily knowing what’s going to happen when I walk in each morning.”

Another new facility, the County Communications Center (a highly mission critical and storm hardened facility) is due to open later this year. This building will provide an outstanding and environmentally sensitive workspace for staff in a critical and stressful 911 call center.

The Head Cheerleader

Angrisano has taken a leadership role with his organization to make sustainable capital development an emphasis and priority. With a self effacing tone, he explains, “I was one of the early advocates.” And he modestly adds, “I was involved in getting many of the initial things rolling and have always been a cheerleader.”

A focused and sustained effort of education with senior county management, elected county officials, the press, and the general public has had a huge impact on the success of the efforts of Angrisano and the organization. The first step involved the commissioning of a County Guide to Sustainability to outline the philosophic and strategic approach for future capital investment.photo

“When you feel strongly about an issue, a set of issues, or what’s right to do as stewards of taxpayer dollars (i.e. what’s the best to do in the interest of our constituency which is ultimately the public), that’s great,” he says. “But if you can’t get support for that message, you’re not going to get very far. We spend a lot of time on education and advocacy. It’s unusual for a public entity. What we’re doing is marketing, for lack of a better way to describe it.”

Judge Maria Vickers, operations manager for Marlborough, MA-based Workscape, Inc., observes, “This is impressive, especially considering this is a government entity. Angrisano took a measured, factual, public relations-based approach to accomplishing this feat. He built his argument from the ground up (literally and figuratively), starting with the very strategic County Guide. Having a third party white paper to lend weight to his direction and overcome obstacles is inspired.”

With the ongoing education efforts and a few very successful projects completed Angrisano and his team are getting support for initiatives from the top down. Most recently, his department (along with the organization’s Sustainable County Committee) successfully introduced the idea of moving towards carbon neutrality organization wide by 2030 for new and renovated construction along with 80% carbon reduction for fleets and other county operations.

photo“This resolution is a great example of how an idea can move ahead under the leadership of our chairman and our board of commissioners,” he explains. “They are champions of this in a metro wide approach. It’s a huge deal. We were not the only individuals or departments to lead the charge, but we played a big role. It affects all of our work, both in the Communications Center building and in several new projects that are in construction or are going to begin design soon. In fact, the Johnson County Commissioners were just named metro Kansas City-wide ‘Architectural Advocates of the Year’ by the AIA, in part for this type of environmental stewardship.”

Mission Possible

Through these ongoing efforts, Angrisano’s enthusiasm for sustainable design and construction not only fulfilled the goals of the organization, but it became synonymous with Johnson County’s objectives:

  1. To be responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money.
  2. To provide the best possible mandatory and discretionary services.
  3. To build a “Community of Choice”—a place where people want to live and work.
  4. To advance a positive environment that empowers employee innovation and productivity.

Judge Keri Luly, stewardship coordinator for Muscatine, IA-based Allsteel, notes, “Utilizing an organization’s own mission is a smart way to move it in the right direction.”

As a result of the efforts championed by Angrisano and his organization’s other sustainability advocates, Johnson County has established itself in the Kansas City metro area and the state of Kansas as a leader in environmental issues, furthering the mission of public stewardship. And through economic and performance benchmarks, the county has seen that green development is an effective and efficient use of tax dollars.

All Around Improvements

The financial benefits of moving the county towards sustainable goals have been significant. In addition to a reduction in utility costs in the Sunset Drive Office Building (Angrisano estimates a 43% reduction in electricity and gas usage per square foot that translates to about an $80,000 to $100,000 annual savings), the new building should realize operational savings in the neighborhood of over $650,000 per year over time, due to lease cost reductions and its low maintenance and high quality, long life finishes and systems. “Clearly, Angrisano has improved operations and enhanced the bottom line through energy savings,” says Judge Tom Condon, facility technologist with Chicago, IL-based System Development Integration.

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Angrisano (left) hosts Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (center) and Johnson County Director of Facilities Joe Waters (right) during the governor’s tour of the building. (Photo: Robert Tucker)

“Higher quality systems are easier and more cost-effective to take care of and maintain over time, and yes, they do reduce utility bills. Thoughtfully chosen finishes that are more environmentally conscious have less costly maintenance issues associated with them,” he explains.

Over $100 million of new capital development is in design or construction following a similar strategic green approach. For instance, in the Communications Center (for which Angrisano expects to earn LEED Silver in 2009), the team intends to improve upon the Sunset Drive experience, which Angrisano feels was a bit modest in terms of its goals, despite earning LEED Gold.

“Sunset was the first step, and it was a big step for an organization like ours that didn’t have a focused environmental effort beforehand.”

He continues, “Much of what we implemented at Sunset Drive—our green housekeeping processes, for example—is being incorporated into our new and existing buildings. While green cleaning products used to be more costly and less effective, that has all changed. In fact, a lot of the more caustic products are moving off the market now, because the demand has dried up. Now green products are better and easier to use, in addition to being environmentally responsible.”

The Picture Of Health

Among employees in the Sunset Drive office facility, the decision to adopt green design and operation policies has yielded impressive—and unexpected—results for Angrisano. The response from staff has been positive across the board, from a standpoint of employee engagement, retention, health issues, sick time taken, and recruitment.

“This is evidenced by our own facilities maintenance and custodial staff who know and appreciate the fact they are working under healthier conditions in a healthy environment,” he says.

Cindy Kemper, director of the Johnson County Environmental Department, adds, “As a member of one of the departments privileged to work in the new Sunset building, I already see a positive impact on my employees and the citizens who visit the building. Natural lighting, wise use of natural and recycled materials, and large inviting spaces have improved attitudes about coming to work and are promoting more interaction among staff, leading to new partnerships and collaboration.”

While the collateral benefits are difficult to measure, that hasn’t stopped Angrisano from attempting to create a tangible yardstick. He’s leading an effort with the University of Kansas School of Architecture to facilitate several doctoral research initiatives to attempt to define and quantify the beneficial effects the building is having on its occupants.

Angrisano recounts stories of visitors who experience notable health improvements in the short span of a building tour. “Many people with seasonal allergies have given us stories of marked improvement when they’ve been in the building. When I give tours (and we give a lot of them) and I start talking about things like air quality and the aggressive measures we took, I’ll have a person or two in a group of 10 say, ‘you know, I noticed a difference myself, since I’ve been here for a half an hour.’ I’ve had that happen about a dozen times with tours, not just once or twice.”

A Natural Born Advocate

Achieving LEED Gold for the Sunset Drive building is just the first completed step in a multi-phase, lifetime commitment Angrisano has made to sustainable design. Along with that certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Angrisano’s efforts have been applauded by numerous professional, environmental, and municipal associations on several levels.

Indeed, facility professionals who attended the TFM Show last April in Chicago, IL responded with equal enthusiasm and accolades when hearing Angrisano speak about the Sunset Drive building in his presentation, “Achieving Environmental Stewardship In Sustainable Design.” The session evoked positive comments from attendees, who said the session was “very helpful for a neophyte” to “best presentation by far.” Across the board, he earned excellent marks for his knowledge, preparedness, and presentation of materials.

In retrospect, leaving the glamour of the architectural profession behind was relatively easy. Angrisano says, “There were some things about practicing architecture that I didn’t like all that well, and things I loved. There’s a lot more of the stuff that I love that’s part of this job. It’s a really good fit for me.”

A good fit indeed for a facility executive who has many impressive goals in his future. In conjunction with achieving carbon neutrality for the county by 2030, Angrisano anticipates achieving LEED Platinum for two buildings that are in the planning stages. This will go hand in hand with the carbon reduction goals the organization has recently adopted.

There are many other unmentioned efforts headed by Angrisano, in addition to teaching, serving as AIA Kansas City president, speaking, and giving tours. How does one man do it all? The legacy of Neal Angrisano, TFM’s 2008 Facility Executive of the Year, is clearly a testament to the very best in FM achievement.

This article was based on the nominee’s entry submitted by Henning Bloech, TFM Green Building Advisory Board member and manager of environmental initiatives for Kennesaw, GA-based INVISTA’s Commercial Division. It was supplemented by interviews with Angrisano. 

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