Bryan Wakefield – Western University
- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Matthew Warner & Andrew Melson
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
It takes some doing to earn the designation of Canadian Certified Healthcare Facility Manager. Bryan Wakefield reckons that everybody who has the certification, along with his experience, would fill a modest room with seats to spare.
He garnered that certificate in 2019 while finishing a 14-year stretch at Ontario’s London Health Sciences Centre in facilities operations. Though Wakefield didn’t have to renew it three years later while in his new post in academia, he did and intends to do so again in 2025.
“People ask why I keep it up and what relevance it has here,” says Wakefield, who’s now in his fourth year as facility operations director at Western University in London, Ontario. “Well, in many ways, our facilities are similar and provide a space for us to learn, work, live and play.
Such an outlook will help as Western, one of Canada’s major universities, expands its facilities. Wakefield will support a slew of projects while fronting a department of 100 skilled trades at this historic university with its 30,000-plus students and mix of more than 100 modern and century-old buildings totaling almost 10 million square feet.
Innovation starts here
While Wakefield appreciates history and tradition as much as anyone else here, he’s excited about capital projects that include a new biomedical research facility that will open this year and an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center slated for completion and opening in 2024.
The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center being a ground-up build encompassing over 100,000 square feet, it won’t be Wakefield’s full responsibility until ribbon-cutting, but his team has weighed in on design and looks forward to what will be the first net-zero building on campus. Heating and cooling will come from its own geo-thermal system rather than connection to the university’s central power plant and district energy network.
Which, in turn, is undergoing ongoing modernization under Wakefield’s supervision. Of the five natural gas-fired boilers, two date back a half-century or more, and planning is underway to consider replacement with electric units as part of Western’s decarbonization strategy. All the better that this project is augmented with charging stations for electric vehicles that are being added to the service vehicle fleet.
Not that all the green initiatives are so technological. Wakefield’s colleagues in facilities management, for example, are installing a type of film that lessens the risks of bird strikes.
Mission in progress
Celebrating its 150th anniversary in five years, Western University is looking to expand its community connection. To that end, it’s bought a downtown building for community-facing programs. This past fall, it also hosted London’s first Vanier Cup, the national championship of Canadian university football, with Laval Rouge et Or prevailing 30-24 over the Saskatchewan Huskies 30-24.
Then there’s the Faculty of Educations old library that’s been converted into the Wampum Learning Lodge, Western’s new Indigenous learning space. This will be a touchstone for the Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike to gather, learn together and build relationships in the spirit of the Canadian ideals of truth and reconciliation.
It’s all part of facilities oversight at a university, says Wakefield, and like so many other construction and facilities managers, he’s has faced his share of challenges. His tenure here has coincided with COVID-19 and its effect on supply chains, safety, work procedures and personnel. Lead times for such specialty equipment as lighting, HVAC and technology have exceeded a year in some cases.
“We selectively pre-order equipment and try to be as proactive as possible,” he says. “Summer’s our busiest construction time and it never seems that far away.”
As far as staffing is concerned, he notes it’s a competitive market with young tradespeople often drawn to the more lucrative private sector. He’s counting on an apprenticeship program to help support succession planning and bring in more talent.
A plumber and then some
Wakefield embraced physical work from the get-go. The son of a general contractor, he grew up with tools in his hands and became a licensed plumber, which made him the target of (sometimes) good-natured jokes.
“’Oh, you’re just a plumber?’ I would hear,” Wakefield recalls with a laugh. “Well, there’s a lot that goes into becoming a plumber.”
He’s long since broadened with a focus on professional development, which includes an executive education certificate from Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, a certificate in project management from Western University and a recently completed MBA from the Australian Institute of Business.
No complaints about his personal life either. He and his wife have a toddler son and another baby on the way, and for a physically active man who enjoys playing hockey and golf, this part of Ontario is an agreeable place to call home.
All the better that Western University is the latest agreeable career stop. Starting off as “just a plumber” and developing skills in project management, facilities operations and then business and leadership was foresight indeed.
“I can’t imagine being successful without that background,” he says. “I’m not the technical problem-solver and trouble-shooter I used to be, but I have teams that do that. I’m also a steward of legacy: Someone was doing my job 100 years ago just as someone will be doing my job 100 years from now.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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