Q & A with John Spaldo, Assistant Vice President, University Services

Posted: January 22, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette.

By Jeremy Lasich

You just took over this position in December, although you served as interim assistant vice president for a year. Can you outline your background and what led you to this job?

I’ve worked at George Mason for almost 23 years. I started here as the director of the Student Unions–it was just SUB I at the time. I was associate director of that office for most of my tenure here, except for about a nine-year period when we had a specific Office of Auxiliary Enterprises. When the Johnson Center was built, I took over the operations of the Johnson Center and the other two student unions.

John Spaldo

Can you outline what offices fall under University Services?

The major responsibility for University Services, based on the size of activity, is the Office of Housing and Residence Life, closely followed by Dining Services and the Bookstore. Next to that is parking, which is certainly a high-profile operation for everyone. Then there is a group of smaller, but nonetheless important activities, including Print Services, Hemlock Overlook, Mail Services, the Child Development Center, the Patriot Center, Shuttle Operations, Vending, and several others.

Does University Services differ much from other operations on campus since you deal mainly with outside contracts?

Certainly most of our operations are contracted, although several of the smaller ones are not. Print Services, the Child Development Center, and Hemlock Overlook are all staffed by George Mason employees. Hemlock Overlook is actually the reverse of what we normally do–in this case we are acting as the contractor for the Northern Virginia Park Authority.

Since we have so many activities, I think one of the bigger challenges is keeping all of the contracts current. Each of the contracts has a discrete time frame. For the most part, none of them is more than five years in length, and many of them are one or two years. So that adds another layer of administrative work that we have to do all the time. Given the size of the activities, we are going to start extending the contract lengths. We bid housing last year and that’s our first major 10-year contract. Dining Services and the Bookstore will probably be extended to 10 years also once those services come up for renewal. That will help with the continuity of each operation.

While we do a lot of our business through contracts, it’s certainly our position and always has been that the contractors are, in a sense, university departments and people should look at them that way. We try to encourage our contractors to become active in the university community and many of them are. We encourage George Mason faculty, staff, and students to deal with them basically the way they would with any department or office on campus.

What are some of the other issues in University Services right now and how are you dealing with them?

One of the major issues for us has been the growth of the student population on all three campuses. That has had a major impact on how we operate and what we are required to do in terms of the services we provide. For example, we are planning for the next fiscal year to add another shuttle bus out to the Prince William Campus. The number of students taking classes at both Fairfax and Prince William has increased dramatically, as has the ridership of our current shuttle. With the opening of Prince William IIIA (Bull Run Hall), we expect those numbers to rise again.

Another area, of course, is the increased demand in student housing. University Services is very involved in everything from planning, financing, building, creating, and staffing the new 500-bed housing complex that opens this fall. Potomac Heights is a $24 million project, and there will probably be more housing projects coming up in the next several years.

What are some of the accomplishments over the past five years for University Services?

I think the Prince William shuttle bus is certainly one. Bill Clark, who runs the shuttle operations, had an idea to test a separate parking lot shuttle that we started last fall. At first, people didn’t know what it was and couldn’t believe that we were actually doing it, but it has really grown to a sustained ridership and we have received great feedback. For example, the people who have to carry heavy bags or have a major project with them that day, but have to park out in Lot K, love this service because the shuttle picks them up near their car and takes them right to the center of campus. That’s just one way we are trying to meet students’ needs.

As a large-scale example, we spent several hundred thousand dollars this summer on a crash renovation for Dining Services, in part to accommodate Innovation Hall because of its proximity to the Johnson Center and also to address the increased enrollment. That’s why we moved Taco Bell, built Jazzman’s CafĂ©, and renovated the Bistro. All of these things were designed to provide more services, provide faster services, and provide more variety. I think each year there will be examples like this.

What are some of the short- and long-term goals you have set for University Services?

We are going to focus on two things specifically: doing more strategic planning and becoming more technologically advanced. The size of the institution and the amount of money involved in the large-scale decisions that we have to make require us to be much more diligent and careful in our planning. Where in the past we could sometimes shoot from the hip and hopefully hit the target, we’re reaching a point where we cannot afford to operate that way. The next housing complex that we are planning could be $50 million. We have to know precisely what we are doing if we are going to spend that much money–we can’t afford any kind of a misstep. That will be true in many areas, not just housing.

The other thing we’re focusing on is to integrate technology in everything that we do. It’s important to do for productivity reasons, but it’s also important because it’s the way everybody does their business these days. Students expect to be able to go on the web and get service and they expect to be able to find information, such as hours of services, menus, housing regulations, daycare center information, etc. That is something we’ll continue to address.

What can faculty and staff members expect to see over the next five years with the parking situation?

In the near term, we are already building a parking deck on half of Lot B. This deck will have 1,200 spaces and will have the capability to provide reserved spaces for faculty, staff, and students as well as casual cash parking. That’s the largest project coming up. As part of the housing study that we are doing for what would be Housing VII, a section of the northeast sector of the Fairfax Campus has been tabbed for a third parking deck. Part of that study will be to determine whether or not, and at what point, we need to start the planning process for that deck, which would hold approximately 1,800 cars. If these things get the go-ahead, the target date will be 2007-08.

What are some of the hurdles of these plans moving forward?

The foremost thing you have to determine is whether or not the demand for housing, which has been very strong, is going to continue into another 500, 700, or 1,000 beds of housing. We know we’re going to continue to increase our student enrollment, but that’s not the same thing as having the students enrolled declare they want housing.

Write to at