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Please Note that Howard Holden is no longer the Director of Facilities at Albright College.

The Interim Director is Bill Hill.

Troubles, Triumphs & Trees Troubles, Triumphs & Trees
Troubles, Triumphs & Trees Troubles, Triumphs & Trees
by Jennifer L. Post

The phone rings at 7 a.m. A shaky voice says into the receiver, "Hello, Facilities? The heat in our residence hall isn't working. It's freeeeezing in here."

Meanwhile, over in the dining hall, food service personnel get ready for the early morning breakfast crowd just as the power goes out. And, as the snow begins to flutter to the ground, the parking lots and sidewalks begin to get slippery.

It's a typical day for the Facilities crew at Albright College. But they're ready to face it head on with Howard Holden, director of facilities operations and services, leading the way.

By the time he was able to walk, Holden says he knew the mechanics of how things worked. He appreciated the wonders of nature, and he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. "My dad was the superintendent of a large concrete company in Philadelphia," he says. "I was born with vice grips in my hand."

He was also born with a passion for trees. "My Dad took time to develop an appreciation of nature in me. Then I went to college and got a degree in ornamental horticulture."

Dogwood, oak, blue atlas cedar, paulownia, sweet gum…according to Holden, "Trees are the gem of the landscape. They add a roof and walls. They're the real backbone of most landscapes."

So in addition to being Albright's director of facilities operations and services, he's also Albright's very own tree aficionado. Known to give "tree tours" on campus during events such as Homecoming and Alumni Reunion Day, Holden says, "A campus is not a campus without trees."

Holden has spent much of his life working with trees. He's been an arborist, a tree climber and senior horticulturist for the private estate, Chanticleer, in Wayne, Pa. In the 1980s, Holden worked with the owner of the estate to define Chanticleer as a public garden. The garden opened in 1993.

But now, six years into his tenure at Albright, Holden and his staff of 45 are helping to shape the future of Albright. Facilities management has a role in the future direction of the college, Holden says. Both short- and long-range planning are impacted by facilities, in addition to the image of the institution.

"Right now there are a lot of prospective students out there. How we look and appeal to them is critical." According to a study by the Carnegie Foundation, 60 percent of prospective college students said the appearance of the buildings and grounds were the most important thing in choosing a college. "In many cases," Holden says, "it's their first home away from home. So we try to make them feel welcome and comfortable."

Parents especially want to see a safe and clean environment, he says. "That's their primary focus. They want to make sure their students are treated well from a facilities point of view." Based on experiences with his own children, Holden says he can attest to this.

But keeping students is just as important as attracting them, Holden says. For the past four to five years, "curb appeal" has been a major priority. "We're making a move towards a more modern and competitive educational facility," he says. In the past few years, residence halls received new furniture, air conditioning and a "port for every pillow." Emergency call boxes were placed around campus, the exterior lighting was upgraded and there are now computer labs in every academic building. And, the Bollman Center received a major $350,000 facelift.

Primarily responsible for corrective and preventative maintenance, Albright's Facilities Operations and Services Department handles the custodial, structural, and mechanical needs of the campus, as well as the beautification and upkeep of the grounds.

But not all of the work of the facilities department is predictable.

From blizzards to hurricanes, "When a crisis strikes, the whole college works to come together. It's not just the magic of facilities," Holden says.

He remembers the blizzard of 1996…

"That whole winter was just ruthless. It wore us all out. It was one storm after another, after another." Because Albright is a residential college, classes were cancelled but the College never closes. So, essential areas such as the residence halls and dining hall had to remain in operation. In cases like this, he says, "the students' lives are in our hands."

Another disaster struck in the fall of 1999. Hurricane Floyd made its presence known on campus by flooding one of Albright's residence halls, Krause Hall.

Fortunately, Holden says, "We have an excellent think-on-your-feet staff. They grabbed the pumps, got the mops and vacated the students immediately."

"When a crisis strikes, the whole college works to come together. It's not just the magic of facilities."
-Howard Holden
Director of Facilities Operations and Services

Communication is the key to dealing with a crisis situation, Holden says. It's the heart of responding to emergencies. You have to keep it flowing any way you can.

"During Hurricane Floyd, he says, "we made sure we communicated with the students and let them know how long it would be until they could return to normal."

Interaction with other departments on campus is also essential. To ease the situation, the Housing Office threw a Hurricane Party in the residence hall lounge with pizza and soda for the students as a way to say "thank you for bearing with us in this crisis."

Holden says, "The staff at Albright is a good team. When the going gets rough, they really chip in and do what needs to be done."

But how does facilities do it? "It's a question of priorities without a doubt," he says.

For Holden and his crew, setting priorities is a must.

They're responsible for the "creature comfort" of more than 1,600 students, 364 employees, countless alumni and friends who frequently visit campus, 100 acres of land, 750,000 square feet of building space, and the Accelerated Degree Completion satellite campuses in Allentown, Blue Bell, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Pottstown. If that isn't enough, Holden is also vice president of facilities for North 13th Street, Inc., which houses tenants in the building at 13th & Rockland Streets.

But Holden doesn't stop at Albright. His passion for nature and background in horticulture has even made its way to his hometown. As a resident of Radnor Township, Pa., Holden started a Shade Tree Commission there in 1990 to produce a township-wide tree maintenance and planting plan. He says a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Forest Department found that 50 percent of the trees in Radnor planted 100 years ago were dead or dying.

"These old trees had reached maturity so I went to the Commissioners and said that we had to do something."

Holden's request was heard. Since the Commission's inception in 1992, close to 1,000 trees have been planted throughout the Township. The Township and the Commission have an on-going commitment to plant approximately 50 street trees per year.

Holden says he consistently advocates the appreciation of trees on Albright's campus. "The outdoor campus is an outdoor classroom. There are so many learning opportunities outside as well as inside."

Although constantly challenged by limited resources, Holden says he is optimistic about the future direction of the College. Projects such as the renovation of the entranceway to the Bollman Center (made possible with the help of the Zeta Omega Epsilon fraternity), further work on the electrical distribution system, classroom improvements, and on-going inspections of fire and safety devices such as fire extinguishers, detectors and sprinklers are underway.

"My goal is to assure potential philanthropists who wish to give money to Albright to improve facilities that we will do just that. I want to instill confidence in them that their money will be well spent."


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