Plant director discusses duties

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

Just east of the Curris Business Building lies a small, unassuming brick structure that houses UNI’s facilities planning department. Once inside this building, a journey up a twisting, metal staircase would lead one to the office of Michael Zwanziger, the director of the physical plant.

Although he may not be immediately recognizable to most students, the numerous roles Zwanziger carries out in his job are vital to the success of the university. However, Zwanziger prefers keeping the spotlight away from him.

“I like being a little bit more behind the scenes,” Zwanziger said. “We’re trying to stay out of the way so that professors can teach and kids can learn. And if we can do that, then we’re doing our job really well.”

Zwanziger has been at UNI for much of his adult life. After growing up and going to high school in Janesville, Zwanziger came to UNI for his undergraduate studies, where he earned two degrees – a B.T. for construction management and a bachelor of arts for management with a business administration emphasis.

Upon graduating from UNI in 1994, Zwanziger went to work for a construction company in Minneapolis for about three and a half years.

Afterwards, Zwanziger returned to UNI in 1998 in a facilities planner role, while also pursuing his M.B.A. at the university’s graduate school. Since then, he has taken on a number of additional positions until ultimately becoming the director of the physical plant in 2013.

Zwanziger said that, as director of the physical plant, his roles include planning, organizing and making sure employees are receiving proper training. He also cited improved sustainability efforts as a major focus in recent years.

These sustainability efforts have included: the introduction of blue and black recycling bins in all campus buildings; collecting pre- and post-table waste for composting; and reducing storm water run-off in order to better clean the water and hold it on campus longer to prevent flooding issues.

Zwanziger also stressed the unpredictable nature of his job, which he says he views as an exciting challenge.

“One of the exciting things about this job is there is no day that is even close to another,” Zwanziger said. “It’s always about juggling the priorities. So, what is important, as we’re talking right now, could change in thirty seconds with a phone call. And what we were working on that was our department’s top priority right now changes in an instant.”

Zwanziger cited the recent flooding in the Cedar Valley and the campus-wide power outage earlier this semester as examples that forced him and his staff to rearrange their priorities.

“I was here until two in the morning, helping coordinate our equipment and people while they were sandbagging and […] trying to help them get their flood wall extended,” Zwanziger said. “You look at the power outage or [if] the cooling system goes down in a building. It just juggles what’s important.”

Zwanziger also praised his staff at the physical plant, who he says has numerous responsibilities, including: cutting the grass, moving the snow, picking up trash, cleaning the bathrooms and keeping the lights on.

Zwanziger urged students to help preserve UNI’s campus through small, but important, actions.

“The biggest things are the smallest things. You know, respect the facilities,” Zwanziger said. “And if you’re walking across campus and you see a piece of trash – if you feel comfortable, pick it up. Somebody’s going to have to. You know, if everybody picks up one little piece a day, this campus can stay really clean.”