Interview with Facilities and Operations Director Phil Patterson


Facilities and Operations Director Phil Patterson in Ark Park.
Facilities and Operations Director Phil Patterson in Ark Park.

What has changed in how you view co-op maintenance now, compared to when you were a member of 21st Street Co-op in the 2000s?

First of all, the buildings are a lot older now, and have a lot more wear and tear on them. Also, I feel like members used to do a lot more maintenance themselves, rather than relying on staff. Now, members have to work more, school is more expensive, rent is more expensive, so they don’t have the same amount of time to maintain the co-ops.

How have you seen maintenance costs change in the four years you’ve been here?

With the pandemic and supply chain shortages, we are really feeling the effect of that. For example, we needed an HVAC unit, we ordered it in June and we installed it today. So that’s five months. That would have normally been a two-week turnaround.

Given that, I assume prices are higher, too?

Yeah, our vendors have all raised prices significantly to keep their employees and to hire new, quality workers.

What are some examples of big or unexpected maintenance expenses that we incurred this year so far?

We had a heat exchanger go out at Super Co-op, and while we were working on getting it replaced, the other one went out. We had to expedite it — and we were lucky we could even do that — but that still meant 10 days without hot water. That cost us about $50,000, when normally it would have cost about $38,000. One of the heat exchangers was a newer model which just kind of gave out despite doing preventative maintenance on it.

We’ve also had several AC units go out across several houses. For some of those, we couldn’t perform adequate preventative maintenance due to worker shortages with our vendors.

What’s an example of something that’s been working really well lately in regards to our facilities?

Having our new staff, [Facilities and Operations Coordinators] Daniel and Josh, we’ve been able to monitor a lot of areas that we weren’t able to, and to constantly reach out to officers. We’re working on a system this semester to have ongoing training, and we’ll actually have the time to do that now. We’ve been able to take on some things ourselves that, maybe for a Maintenance Coordinator it’s a bit above their head, but they can try to do it themselves and then we can help them out.

If we received some generous donations dedicated for maintenance, what are some examples of things that would enable you to do?

Taos’ fifth floor roof [which needs some repairs after having cell towers removed], some window replacements, and some siding issues at Super Co-op. They’re not a dire need but…

When you have things like the heat going out, it doesn’t always make the list, right? But it would if there were more resources.

Yeah, just general cosmetic upgrades as well. Repainting the outside of Pearl, redoing a lot of exterior stuff at 21st Street. And interior as well, like redoing a suite or two that haven’t been renovated in a long time. Or something at Taos, like redoing the built-in furniture.

Which I think have been there since the beginning, right?

Yeah, with all their layers of paint over them. [laughs]

Occasionally, our alums and community members ask why we need donations for maintenance when we charge rent. After all, we didn’t fundraise much in the past and things seemed to be working fine. What would you say to that?

I think a lot of maintenance was deferred over the years. And it was like, “we’ll get to it, we’ll get to it…” I think the 21st Street walkways hurt us, too. We knew about the issue, but I don’t think we anticipated the cost of that, especially because we were hit with new steel tariffs after we accepted a bid. So many things like that have come up in the past four years.

A lot of it is that we just get sideswiped with stuff. When we had both 21st Street boilers go down a few years ago, that cost a bunch of money that probably had been allocated for something else that now couldn’t get done. Historically, we could do the bare minimum and repair, for example, our roofs on a planned schedule. So, we would have a roof fund. But now the roof fund is gone because something unexpected came up. In the past, I don’t know if we have always then put money back into the roof fund, or if we just saved what we could in general.

So, maybe in the past there should have been more specific funds with consistent savings put into them. But of course, that might have meant that the rent would have had to go up, right?

Yeah, and it’s no knock against the people who came before at College Houses. They did what they could with the resources they had.

Thanks, Phil!


If you want to be part of the solution and help repair and improve our co-ops for the future, please consider donating what you can to a house maintenance fund. All donations really help, and will be used exclusively for important maintenance that benefits our student members.