With 25 years of experience at Manhattan, KS-based Kansas State University’s Veterinary Medicine Complex - and responsibility for the complex’s 500,000 square feet of building space - Dennis Ahlvers knows what needs to be done to make sure the university’s facilities are up to par for every person (and every animal) using them.
About 10 years ago, Ahlvers and University of Missouri-Columbia’s Veterinary Medicine Facilities Manager Greg Flippin began swapping facilities-related stories and discussing associated problems and situations. Neither professional had ever been to another veterinary facility, so Ahlvers decided to meet Flippin in Columbia to spend a weekend examining the university’s veterinary facilities, discussing processes, and sharing knowledge. “We didn’t know how each of us operated, and we thought maybe we were kind of an island in a big sea,” says Ahlvers. While planning their meeting, Ahlvers and Flippin decided that other veterinary facilities might be interested in this networking opportunity as well, so they invited other veterinary facilities professionals to their informal get-together. “We are both located in the Midwest, and we’d never had any contact with any other veterinary schools. I didn’t know how we compared to other schools across the nation. So, we came up with a list of all of the veterinary schools in North America (26 of them). We sent a notice out, and 13 schools out of the 26 in North America showed up,” Ahlvers explains. With no formal agenda or program, the 13 schools met in Columbia, analyzed facilities-related dilemmas, and exchanged relevant experiences.
After seeing such positive results from the first meeting, Ahlvers decided to launch the conference as an annual event - the Veterinary Facilities Conference of North America. The second annual conference was held the following year at the University of Florida due to new equipment being installed in its facilities that other professionals wanted to investigate for use in their own buildings. Now, 10 years later, the schools involved in the conference include Kansas State, University of Missouri-Columbia, Cornell University, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Purdue University, Ohio State, Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Tuskegee University, Tufts University, University of Florida, and Washington State. The conference rotates its location each year based upon which school is available to host for a weekend (weekends work best so the participants can spend time in buildings while they’re typically unoccupied).
There are no elected officers or dignitaries associated with the conference, so the hosting school decides the conference agenda for the year. Approximately 4 to 5 months beforehand, the hosting school sends participants a questionnaire to gauge interest in particular subjects and ask for recommendations on conversation topics. A portion of the conference is dedicated to informal roundtable discussions to discuss specific facility problems related to veterinary schools, and participants also work to bring in vendors that can offer product demonstrations and present equipment that may be helpful.
“The whole idea of the conference was to keep from recreating the wheel. In other words, anything that one person has learned can prevent someone else from going down the wrong path and making the same mistake,” explains Ahlvers. Each year, he gleans something new from the annual conference - whether it’s concerning durable flooring systems and wallcoverings that can withstand installation in animal holding facilities, security and access control ideas, quality disinfectants and cleaning materials, or solutions to air contamination problems. “I’ve gotten lots of good ideas from the conference. We have lots of discussions about what we’re using, what works best, and what doesn’t work,” says Ahlvers.
Through the conference, Ahlvers realized that the Kansas State University Veterinary Medicine Complex is one of the oldest and largest veterinary schools in the nation. After meeting facilities professionals at other schools, he also discovered that Kansas State is up on the newest and latest technology available in the field: “It’s a morale-builder to know that we’re keeping in stride with the rest of the veterinary buildings in the nation.”
Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is associate editor at Buildings magazine.