11/02/2002

A Day in the Life of Robert Matschulat

Information Driver

 

Up Close and Personal

Bob, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Living in Colorado, I hike, I backpack, I ski. And those are very therapeutic activities.

Any favorite books?

Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information is an absolutely beautiful book. To me, it’s at the intersection of databases and architecture and spreadsheets and computerized information systems – how to communicate graphically.

Your most important tool?

If I had to distill one tool that is indispensable to almost everything I do, it would have to be the databases. The primary one I use is the long-list database, where we catalogue all the information about the unfunded capital projects.

A personal motto?

“One step at a time.” No matter how immense the task, one step at a time and you’ll get there. I think it comes from hiking.

Is there a buzzword you absolutely hate?

“Green.” There are an awful lot of charlatons out there selling things as green that aren’t.

If you could meet a couple of people, who would they be?

I mentioned Mr. Tufte and his book, [and] I’d like to meet him. Also, I.M. Pei. One person I did meet – he’s gone now – was Buckminster Fuller; he was incredible. He spoke annually at the University of Colorado every spring, beginning at 8:00 p.m. and ending at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. It was an absolutely fascinating experience.

“The core difference is involvement,” says Robert Matschulat, when asked about the changes he has experienced over his 17 years’ tenure with Jefferson County (Jeffco) School District R1, the first two as a coordinating architect, followed by his present role as facility planning specialist. “The mission of the facilities has been more and more perceived as inseparable from the mission of the school district and the education of the children, which is excellent.”

He calls it “a higher-order concern about educational adequacy. Just because you have a roof that doesn’t leak doesn’t mean you have a good learning environment,” he notes.

Matschulat is charged with assessing, analyzing, programming, and projecting unfunded capital improvements for the facilities that house the more than 88,000 students within this Colorado county – a somewhat unique opportunity he acknowledges has been afforded by the district’s size and depth of resources. With 11 million gross square feet of space in 92 elementary schools, 18 middle schools, 17 senior high schools, eight options schools, and nine charter schools, Jeffco’s success – both present-day and in the future – is based on operating as a high-performing, quality, customer-oriented organization. That requires both the support and accountability of its employees, as well as its community.

Accessible, detailed information sharing was the brainchild of Jeffco’s CFO during an important bond election in November 1992 – “the largest ($325 million) passed in state history,” recalls Matschulat, citing it as one of his career highlights. “The idea was to make the bond election information-driven – very specific and available to the people.” Since then, all facilities-related operations and planning  are distinctly presented and available to the public, most recently online (http://jeffcoweb.jeffco.k12.co.us).

Continuing into the future, Matschulat urges his peers to make the most of communication. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that just because you’re in facilities, you’re not involved in the educational side of the school district. Education is still the primary function, and you have to continually communicate with the teachers, the students, the administrators who deal with the day-to-day education,” he explains, further noting the resources he gains from such professional organizations as the Council of Educational Facility Planners, AIA, and CSI.

Although he admits to a certain frustration about “the gap between what we can plan and what we can actually deliver,” Matschulat particularly enjoys the variety offered in his role as facility planning specialist. “In the morning, I can be walking through a forest looking at drainage problems and erosion; in the afternoon, I might be on a high school roof with ladders and digital cameras; then, in the evening, meet with the board of education and talk about a billion dollars’ worth of capital needs,” he says. “It’s never boring.”

Linda K. Monroe (linda.monroe@buildings.com) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

 


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