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Clemson is in the midst of its grandest development initiative in at least half a century and arguably ever. Just as one shiny new building or modern intersection is completed, another project sprouts up in a different corner of campus. It’s all part of a facilities plan called Building Futures designed to position Clemson as a premier institution of learning and research for the next 50 years. Since 2015, implementing that plan has brought smiles of pride to faculty, staff, students and alumni.
For those who use the campus every day, some temporary headaches have come with it too
Behind all the hubbub, in a nondescript office building nestled in the shadows of the two Central Energy Facility chimneys, an unlikely duo in University Facilities (UF) has been working tirelessly to mitigate those growing pains.
Chris Miller and Keith Jones came together from vastly different backgrounds and banter back-and-forth with each other like the two main characters in a buddy cop movie, but together they have proven to be a capable and efficient team able to make life easier for everyone during all the recent improvements.
Chris Miller’s position as strategic operations manager for UF puts him in the epicenter of an informal consortium of campus clients, contractors, business owners, and city officials who all have stakes in the upgrades taking place. His job is to act like a hub in a bicycle wheel, so-to-speak, connecting the many arms from each stakeholder to keep everyone rolling forward.
“My job’s a little unique because I’m able to interact with several departments as well as groups outside of Clemson University,” said Miller. “I’ve been allowed the opportunity to be the point person within Facilities for our internal and external customers. We make sure that the right people are communicating on campus and with the City of Clemson.”
Some of that communication originates with Keith Jones, an information technology consultant with University Facilities Support Services (UFSS). Jones works closely with Miller to get important messaging out regarding delays, road closures, and anything else people need to know about the myriad of construction projects happening on campus.
“University Facilities plays a major role in supporting campus, and I help people use technology to fill that role,” said Jones. “My job is not only to help them solve the problems that come with the use of technology, but also find new ways to use it to make their jobs easier and more efficient.”
One example is an online map Jones helped bring about that shows road work delays in real time, facilitating UF’s ability to communicate disruptions as quickly as possible. Jones also created a disruption calendar that shows upcoming road closures and delays.
Miller says the map is a perfect example of his working relationship with Jones.
“The computer is not my thing – it’s his,” he laughed. “The map is part of our director’s main focus on increasing communication, customer service, transparency and ultimately the breaking down of the silos that we’re all familiar with.”
Miller said that when you’re stuck in traffic or getting re-routed the long way around to your office it might be hard to feel positive about all the changes happening, but he wants to assure everyone that it’s all necessary as part of a much bigger plan that will greatly benefit Clemson in the long run.
“People notice changes on campus – roads might pop up and speed bumps might appear randomly – but what not everyone may know is those are all small pieces playing a role in what’s going to come,” he said. “The things you notice changing might not make sense at the time, but they’re part of a bigger plan. That’s the type of advance coordination and timely execution that projects like this take.”
One example: Sections of Clemson’s underground utility system were installed in the 1950s, with many of the buildings predating the 50s. The outdated designs coupled with the exponential growth of not just the student body but building system technologies themselves, makes it crucial for the school to be proactive in modernizing its infrastructure.
“What most of us don’t think about is what we’re standing on, what powers our buildings, what gives us water, what cools the buildings – is all extremely old,” said Miller. “It’s at the end of its lifespan. It’s necessary to replace our utilities now as opposed to waiting until we start having massive failures.”
Together, Miller and Jones have helped tens of thousands of people navigate through Clemson’s building boom, partnering to use their unique skillsets with communication and technology to keep the Clemson Family up to date on the many things UF is trying to accomplish, said Todd Barnette, associate vice president and chief facilities officer.
“Chris and Keith are a great example of everything we want University Facilities to be,” said Barnett. “They are energetic, customer-focused and willing to partner with others to try and get our message out to campus. It has been a pleasure to see how they work together and use each other’s ideas to improve the end product of communication to our campus.”
Jones, an unabashed fan of video games and science fiction who grew up in Anderson, was never a die-hard sports fan but said Clemson was always on the horizon for him. He went to the University of South Carolina for a year before coming home to Clemson and graduated with a fine arts degree in 2005. During his days as a student, Jones co-opted with UF to provide technical support and was offered a full-time job in IT right after graduation.
Miller, a self-proclaimed craft brew and (video golf game) Golden Tee aficionado, was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, but spent the majority of his childhood in Detroit. He followed his dream of being a pilot by joining the aviation flight science program at Western Michigan University. After 9/11, however, the aviation industry was greatly diminished. Miller returned to Detroit and got a job in construction to pay off his student debt. He came to Clemson in 2013 when he was hired as the account manager for a contractor overseeing a campus-wide service agreement. A few years later, he applied for a contract management role in facilities, and the rest his history.
“I did not come from a very small town, and I did not grow up with a very large family,” said Miller. “But one thing I picked up on right away here is the Clemson Family truly exists. The years and years of tradition, building and growth is something that’s way bigger than I am. You feel like you’re cared for, and you’re respected and included. You’re not just a tool out there earning revenue for the company. That gives you more motivation to apply yourself and put everything you have into what you do.”
Said Jones: “I was thinking about it and one of the things as a student I didn’t realize – facilities is largely a hidden asset. I never saw people doing maintenance on campus. When I started working here I quickly realized that we’re all over campus. I see the improvements happening on campus that Facilities contributes to and that makes me feel good. If you go far enough down the line, I played a small role in helping someone make that happen.”
Miller and Jones plan to continue operating at the top of their game into the foreseeable future as the newest, most advanced Clemson University ever emerges from behind the safety fences, scaffolding and dust clouds of construction.
Until those clouds settle, Miller suggests patience.
“I saw on Twitter this morning that someone commented about a random traffic light that was recently installed and they couldn’t explain it,” said Miller. “I don’t usually engage with folks on social media but I simply said, ‘It will all make sense soon.’ Because it will.”
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