USAO Gets Creative in Savings Strategies
Responding to painful budget cuts with characteristic ingenuity, USAO staff and faculty are imagining new ways to harness available dollars. The school shaved $350,000 a year off its energy bills by creating Oklahoma’s first energy performance contract in higher education back in 2001, but now more state budget cuts are requiring even more imagination.
In the last year alone, the physical plant saved nearly $50,000 on the new crown molding atop 100-year-old Troutt Hall, and the library shaved $15,000 off its energy bills by installing heat-resistant film on its giant west windows.
“Hard times can fuel creativity,” said USAO President John Feaver. “We’re hearing about new and creative initiatives all the time that are conceived by staff and faculty to reduce costs. We call it ‘savings through strategy,’ and it’s making a difference in protecting the Mission Enhancement Plan and its strategic goals.”
The Biggest Project
Easily the biggest prize for savings goes to the USAO Physical Plant crew that installed a new French drain system and a massive concrete skirt around the base of historic Troutt Hall, built in 1910. Under the leadership of Physical Plant Director Tim Stiger, the in-house crew spent maybe $16,000 and saved more than $200,000 in labor.
Cost cutting strategies usually are mandated top-down in the first year of a financial downturn, said Mike Coponiti, vice president for business and finance. “But in the second year of hard times, some of the best ideas are produced by the people who keep the institution running. That’s what we’re seeing: creative people expressing their best work.”
“I’m very proud of our people who really stepped up,” said Stiger, who prepared himself for this challenge by adding various roofing, plumbing and HVAC training to his three academic degrees. “In the past, our people were focused primarily on maintenance issues, but these new projects gave our crews a chance to shine – to design and implement their designs. Our people have shown terrific dedication and team spirit, and performed very well.”
On several major remodeling projects this year, the USAO Physical Plant staff saved thousands by members volunteering their expertise in general and subcontracting. In the fieldhouse building, the pool roof was completely torn off, and a new roof installed with tapered insulation and a full vapor barrier under the roof – all with retrained staff or temporary labor. Between that project, and a complete recoating of the Physical Ed Building roof, USAO saved an estimated $30,000.
Faculty are helping too. When Dr. Cylathia Daniel posts her class syllabi or shares class handouts in her deaf education courses, everything is online. “I posted these on my old website even before USAO launched a new website for faculty to do so,” Daniel said. “It seems logical that information like an article or set of instructions could be read and absorbed by the students, on their own time, without wasting available resources. Students can more efficiently store and retrieve articles electronically. It also makes moving much easier later on.” Daniel joined the faculty in 2008.
It may be old-school thinking, but Dr. Kevin Crow puts quizzes and exams on transparencies, so that students see the questions on a screen, write down the answers on a blank piece of paper, and turn that in for a grade. “Why waste the paper?” Crow asks. “No one told me I couldn’t print my quizzes. We’re simply making the best of the situation at hand and working together to solve it.” Crow has taught history at USAO since 2005.
Technology Budget Extended
More than $50,000 was saved this year when information services put all campus computers on a five-year replacement cycle, instead of USAO’s traditional four. “We are committed to providing maximum support to meet faculty and staff computing needs, but we have found that most computers can serve a longer duty cycle than we have been requiring,” said Lynn Boyce, vice president for information services and technology. “We also will leave a tech position unfilled for now, hoping to absorb more of the budget cuts. We’re all working to share the load.”
Several thousand dollars will be saved this year as new software allows technology staff to shut down more than 200 computers in campus labs from a single location in Austin Hall.
“The energy savings is terrific, we believe,” said Adeel Siddiqui, network administrator. “This software solution from Centurion Technologies lets us fully automate computer shutdowns in labs all over campus. This saves unnecessary energy consumption by the computers and relieves the cooling systems of the additional heat output. We continue to explore ways to manage our growing network more efficiently.”
The restrooms in Troutt Hall got a major makeover that saved an estimated $15,000. With special training, USAO maintenance crews tore out the old facilities, including asbestos removal, and installed new tile, plumbing, electrical, windows, fixtures and paint. “Our maintenance crews deserve all the credit,” Stiger said. “These projects have been challenging, but the payoff includes a lot of campus pride.”
The campus print shop will reduce its costs by more than $22,000 this year simply by leasing new, smarter, more efficient copiers and equipment.
“We are excited to contribute to the cost-saving campaign,” said Adam Heilman, the new print shop manager. “As a graduate (2004) and an employee, I want to do everything I can to support the mission.”
USAO websites are expanding rapidly, both for the convenience of students and parents, and to make information more readily available – for free. Last month, a new section of the website was launched to give faculty more tools for sharing information.
“We used to print 8,000 catalogs semi-annually, but now we print only 500,” said Randy Talley, director of media and community relations. “It’s on the web, along with mountains of new information about library resources, calendars, student activities, faculty research, course materials, admissions resources and sports information. “Two years ago, we were seeing 2,500 unique visitors on our website each month. Today that number is 29,000. I can’t imagine the university will ever be ‘paperless’ as the futurists have long predicted, but we’re making solid strides in efficiency and savings.”
Alums Add Savings
In July, an enthusiastic 1989 alumnus, Ron Carr, launched and managed the hugely successful 1980s-90s Reunion event – without spending a dime or printing anything. Absolutely everything, from invitations and registration, to feedback and sharing photographs, took place on Facebook.
From his home in Irving, Texas, Ron and his wife, Jennifer, a 1990 alum, created and managed the event.
“I’ve wanted to do something for the university that helped me get started in my career,” said Carr, a business systems analyst at American Express, when he addressed the July 10 banquet on campus that brought in 75 alumni friends from three states. “I believe that every one of us should find a way to give back.”
“This was a wonderful experiment that succeeded quite well,” said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement. “Ron invested his own valuable time in so many creative ways, but he saved the USAO Alumni Development Office a bundle because he approached it creatively.”
Dramatist Katie Davis saved more than $300 this past spring by posting scripts online. She saved another $1,000 by reusing scenery and redesigning costumes for the shows on schedule. Davis joined the arts and humanities faculty in 2006.
USAO’s new Arts & Ideas website congregates all the information available from art, music, theater, and the academic ideas events like symposia into one simple place. To find it, visitors click the “Arts & Ideas” button on the front page at usao.edu. The idea, say event planners, is to give more information and print less unneeded paper.
As one of many “green initiatives” on campus, the print shop will offer scan-to-email services this fall, allowing faculty and staff to save printed reports to email or to computer network files faster than ever. The campuswide D1 network now provides dozens of news and instant messages on five screens in three buildings. Made possible by a grant from AT&T, the D1 network saves paper, as well as providing emergency notification to students and faculty when needed.
Nash library will manage its catalog services in a new software package that is projected to save as much as $20,000 this year.
Salary Cuts Extended
After state appropriations were cut last year, faculty and staff members accepted 1-3 percent pay cuts to protect USAO’s core mission, it was announced in November 2009. Those pay cuts continued into the new fiscal year, which began July 1.
“As cuts from the state started coming in August of last year, we restricted travel budgets and cut spending,” Feaver explained. “Our people have shown extraordinary dedication and grace in recent months. They prove every day that USAO is indeed a unique institution with a heart devoted to student success.”
State allocations were cut by $303,000 last year and the new fiscal year started with a $717,000 shortfall in the total $12.4 million budget.
“More than 75 percent of our budget is people, their salaries and benefits,” Coponiti said. “After the brutal cuts to us and to most state agencies back in 2002, it took six years for our budgets to recover. Most office budgets for supplies, materials and travel have remained flat for a decade.”
See this and other stories in the new USAO Magazine.