Engineering services take maintenance into the boardroom

24 May 2010

contractors installing the new main 400V distribution board Wired: An upgrade to the Jameson substation was recently completed by Properties and Services. Pictured here is a team of contractors installing the new main 400V distribution board.

UCT's Engineering Services has seen more than its fair share of activity. In 2009, it fielded 18 221 maintenance calls, and completed 35 projects to the tune of over R13.5 million.

Responsible for the maintenance of UCT's buildings, services and infrastructure, the section's portfolio covers 175 buildings over about 655 000 square metres.

André Theys, head of Engineering Services - a section of the Properties and Services Department - explains that they manage reactive, scheduled and planned maintenance.

The reactive component covers day-to-day items, such as window, carpet and floor repairs, leaking toilets and roofs, and more. The scheduled component comprises regular servicing of equipment. The planned component is major maintenance, such as entire roof replacements and building upgrades.

In 2009, the 45-strong section's largest projects included upgrading the Jameson substation, the complete re-roofing of the Mathematics Building, and the refurbishment of the air conditioning plant serving the Arts Block.

Another unusual project was rebuilding the perimeter walls at Welgelegen, a heritage building constructed in 1902, says Theys. A vehicle had crashed into the wall, causing a partial collapse. The remaining wall was unsafe and had to be reconstructed. This proved difficult, as the original wall was no longer viable, but the heritage had to be reserved. So the original stones were recovered and stripped. While rebuilding, an inner wall and foundation, absent from the original, were constructed using modern methods. They were then clad with the recovered stones and lime-washed to comply with heritage requirements.

Some of the many obstacles regularly faced by the section include budget and resources issues, and balancing timeous completion with safety standards, quality and convenience to UCT staff.

"Prioritising is a constant challenge," says Theys. "While every call logged is important to the caller, we have to weigh one building's needs against the other 174. Inevitably, we disappoint someone."

Engineering Services is currently completing its second Facilities Condition Audit, which will further enable the department to provide strategic advice on buildings maintenance. The goal is to install an equitable distribution of resources, and prevent buildings receiving attention purely because of lobbying.

"We are trying to change the perception that we are nothing more than glorified janitors," says Theys. "We are highlighting our strategic role in managing UCT's assets, and plan to take maintenance out of the boiler room and into the boardroom."

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