Section: News

On the record: Ian Smith

What is your job here at Kenyon?

My job title is vice president for facilities, planning and sustainability. What that means, essentially, is [that] I’m responsible for the built environment, and pretty much everything that goes with it. It ranges from residence halls, to academic buildings, to administrative buildings, to athletic facilities, to rental properties that the College owns—those are my responsibility. In addition, the planning for the futures of those [things] for the College, and overarching all that is sustainability. Since the built environment has such a large impact on the College’s environmental footprint, that’s always kept in mind at the senior staff level. President Decatur is very intentional about the job title. I agree with that 100 percent, not just because my job title is vice president—I’ve never held a job with that title before—but [because] it’s a signal that these things are important to the administration.

Now, you’re coming in right as Mark Kohlman is leaving. Have you spoken with him?

Absolutely. In fact, he’s here through the end of next week, and that overlap is a chance for him to share information from his 11 years here to help get me off to as strong a start as possible. Our positions are probably 90 percent overlapped. There’s some things that he did that I won’t be doing; there’s some things that he wasn’t doing that I will be taking care of. In particular, sustainability is in that latter category.

Any specific bits of advice Mark gave you?

It’s ongoing. Mostly just trying to get a drink out of the proverbial fire hose, ’cause there’s a lot of information. I’m trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

Where were you before Kenyon?

I came from Earlham College, where I was the director of facilities for eight and a half years. Before that, for 11 and a half years, I was the director of facilities at Emma Willard School in Troy, New York.

How have those two positions informed your job here?

The jobs I held there—the position was a simple three- or four-word title, but it really included virtually all of what I’ll be doing here. Facilities management, planning and sustainability. At both [of] those campuses, I was a member of the campus sustainability committee, charged with continuing the institution’s sustainability efforts and making sure that decisions made about buildings or programs were made with sustainability in mind.

What are your general thoughts about Kenyon?

I was first on campus last summer with my middle child on a college visit. My wife and I were both very impressed with the campus. The opportunity came up, and I thought “Wow! Let’s give it a shot.” A couple things really just jumped out at me. One is that at least when the students are here, the campus is very busy. The campus is an interesting combination of historical and modern. Those two things come together right here down on Chase Street, and the small commercial district there. Kenyon clearly has a commitment to maintaining a lot of high quality facilities. My oldest is a sophomore in college, so in the last few years I’ve had a lot of college visits. Not every campus keeps their physical plant up the way that Kenyon does. I can’t switch that off when I go on these visits. I just notice how clean things are, what shape the buildings are in and the grounds. By no means does every place do it as well as Kenyon has. And Kenyon has the advantage of this incredible, iconic feature literally running through the middle of the campus.

Middle Path.

That’s definitely right up there with Harvard Yard or the lawn at UVA [University of Virginia] in terms of how central it is to the existence and identity of the institution and also how the institution works.

Virtually every member of the Kenyon community, every day, sets foot at some point—either crossing or walking along—that path. So it’s central in a lot of different dimensions. It’s important to keep that in mind.

It’s also not just a physical thing. There’s also a metaphorical approach to community life that comes from Middle Path and its existence. At least that’s my understanding of it. I’m relatively new. Maybe I’m off-base on that.

No, that sounds about right!

You run a chance of running into pretty much anybody on campus at any given time during the day, so let’s remember that more unites us than divides us.

If everyone is funneled into a very narrow space, you really can’t afford incivility. There’s always going to be disagreements between people of good faith and intelligent, truth-seeking people. But, they will resolve these differences in a way that will allow us to look each other in the eye when we cross each other on Middle Path.

Ideally, that’s how it would work, right? But it’s certainly not at its best in the middle of winter.

Middle Path gets a little icky out there.

Especially with the weather, the way it’s been.

When you’re not Ian Smith, vice president of facilities, planning and sustainability—when you’re Ian Smith, the dude—what are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?

Mostly revolves around family. I am looking forward to something, when the workload allows it. I want to do some fly-fishing up on the tributaries to Lake Erie. That’s within an hour-and-a-half, two-hour drive. Looking forward to that.

My hiking boots have a lot of miles on them. All three of my kids went to a camp run by the Quakers: Camp Catoctin. It’s a wilderness camp. They spent a lot of time on the Appalachian trail, and that’s perfectly okay in my family.

How do you see the future here at Kenyon? What future do you want to guide Kenyon towards?

There’s a lot going on, in terms of Kenyon’s built environment. For example, obviously the West Quad project is underway. It’s impossible to miss from miles away, with the cranes. Our temporary landmark. I don’t think we’ll keep them beyond the project.

It’s really just to make sure that, as my job title says, you have to plan ahead for the wisest use of resources, and also sustainability. The College has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2040; President Decatur signed off on that four years ago now—as we all make our decisions about the campus facilities, that we do so [while] always keeping in mind reducing our carbon footprint.

So, how to bring that down to zero over the next 20 years. Twenty years,that’s a pretty serious milestone. The whole facilities lifecycle—from the moment it’s thought of all the way through to when it’s in operation—that birthing process for the facility, we really have to keep intention in mind. There’s too many factors and too many pressures in the process of birthing a building, that if someone’s not always pushing on the button of sustainability—it won’t just be me; really, it’s a community effort. The process of doing it is a great way to build community. When a new building comes online, it’s important for the folks who are using it to hopefully have been involved in the decisions that led the building to be the way it is.

In the conversation about building a new building, the first question that really has to be asked is, “Should we build this building? Is there another way to provide the same functions without adding to the built environment?” The greenest building ever is the one that does not get built.

To take the buildings that we actually do need, and how to get them to be as energy-efficient and hopefully as close to carbon neutral as possible, that’s going to take some thinking. It’s not just particular to Kenyon; virtually every campus in America right now is grappling with this set of issues. As it becomes increasingly clear, I think that the age of readily available, readily inexpensive petroleum fuel is drawing to an end.

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