Physical Plant transitions to more precise name: Facilities Operations

Tucker Wulff

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The App State Physical Plant, which is in charge of maintaining App’s campus, changed its name to Facilities Operations to clear confusion and keep up with other universities. 

The name Physical Plant was not very representative of what Facilities Operations really does for the university and was “not very intuitive at all,” said Michelle Novacek, business analyst and spokesperson for Facilities Management. 

Facilities Operations, a division of Facilities Management, is responsible for maintaining anything from campus utilities to departmental buildings and sewage systems, Novacek said. 

“It’s really like taking care of a city,” she said.

Typically, a physical plant might refer to a steam plant or chiller unit, Novacek said, not a team of people. 

“Most people, if you said, ‘Oh, I work at the physical plant,’ they’d think you were working in a meat packing company or something,” Novacek said. “And so, we’re having to explain it so many times.” 

Novacek said the name Facilities Operations fits the department’s roles much better and will help both students and faculty understand who to contact if they have any maintenance-related needs. 

The name change was also inspired by other universities in the country that ditched the name “physical plant,” Novacek said. 

Novacek said the name change was a long time coming, but is a slow transition to account for complications and the sudden change. 

“The people who have worked here for a very long time, we ourselves still call ourselves physical plant in conversation,” Novacek said. “You don’t just change the way you think or your language overnight.”  

Novacek said although the name has changed, respect for former employees and the tradition of the physical plant name is important.

Tina Kesler, personnel administration manager, said Facilities Operations employs approximately 235 workers, some of whom are descendants of retired Facilities Operations workers. 

Neal Winebarger, projects engineer for Planning, Design & Construction, and his father both worked in Facilities Operations.  

Winebarger worked in Facilities Operations for nine years and his father for 39 years, he said.  

Winebarger said many students may not even know that Facilities Operations exists and changing the name may not affect that, but the name does “have some historical value.”  

“My whole life it’s been physical plant, so to older generations, everybody knows what the physical plant was. But for newer generations, maybe they don’t have any emotional ties to it,” Winebarger said. 

This is not the first department name change at App State, but rather comes after multiple others have, most recently the change from Food Services to Campus Dining.

Facilities Operations followed the same guide on changing a departmental name as Campus Dining, Novacek said. 

“Some name changes make sense and some don’t,” Novacek said. “We want to use a name that makes sense to the people that use us.”