From the concrete tunnels below the streets of Boise to the pristine mountain ranges of Coeur d’Alene, Dan Asbury’s workspace transcends the confines of a typical cubicle. On any given day, his office might be in a construction zone, or at the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories, or maybe in his car as he drives along the Snake River to Twin Falls.
Dan, who is the Department of Health and Welfare’s (DHW) administrative service manager for the Division of Management Services, could have been the muse for English poet Geoffrey Chaucer when he coined the phrase “busy as a bee.” His responsibilities are extraordinarily diverse and range from getting the motor-pool cars ready for the road to using his engineering skills (with the help of some special software) to creatively design new office spaces. Dan rarely sits still as his job requires both reasoning skills and physical activity. There is always something to do when it comes to facilities management.
Dan has been with the department for two years, and he is proud to work behind the scenes and support those who provide services directly to many Idahoans. “I would encourage people to get to know DHW. We really care about the future of our state.”
“Dan is an action-oriented guy,” says Amy Swann, Dan’s supervisor and the Bureau Chief for the Division of Management Services. “He works hard each day to support a huge and diverse list of facility needs across the department. Dan strives to support, learn, and grow amidst the chaos of each demanding day. I consider Dan and his entire facilities team a critical part of our division’s stability and success, and I am grateful for all their hard work.”
DHW employees may be familiar with Dan, or members of this team, because they installed a new desk in an office or fixed a lighting issue, but his job is so much more than that.
When Dan is in the office, he answers about 100 emails a day related to various facility or safety questions. In addition to maintenance of facilities and geo-mapping of office space, he is responsible for strategic planning for his area of responsibility and motor-pool data analysis. His team is responsible for building code compliance, and he has “consulting, not instructing” authority for building or maintenance projects when they meet a cost threshold.
On a day in early February, Dan has plans to be out of the office. He needs to visit the public health laboratory to help replace some signs that have been vandalized and check on a possible flooding incident. He also is preparing to make his regular trip to the building site of the State Hospital West in Nampa, the department’s new adolescent unit that will serve adolescents with serious mental illness.
However, on this day, he is delayed. The Capitol Mall Security team has just sent out a BOLO (be on the lookout) for a person who made threatening comments to a state employee. He reviews the information, makes himself a mental note to follow up later, and gathers up his equipment for his next task.
He has post drivers (installation tools that drive posts into the ground) in a closet in his office and they need to be delivered to the public health laboratory. And they are heavy. He asks his teammate, Frank Michaelson, to help him carry them through the underground tunnel below the Capitol Mall and up to the top level of the employee parking garage. With the post drivers carefully placed in the trunk of the Ford Fusion he plans to use on this day, Dan heads to Old Penitentiary Road in Boise.
“Every day is different,” says Dan. “Maybe the same type of problems, but always a different puzzle.”
When asked to describe the work of his division, Dan says, “Our job is to support others who deliver the services directly to the people of Idaho. We get to work with all the divisions. Every day, I get to meet someone new. Every new project brings new people into my life.”
He pauses and flashes his signature smile, “When I am helping others, that is when I feel the most successful.”
Dan, whose team includes employees in Boise, Caldwell, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene, travels up to 50 percent of the time for his job. However, he never makes a trip for only one purpose. With each trip to visit members of his team, he is listening, learning, and helping them solve the issues of the day. He may also inspect or approve projects. And, finally, he makes sure he is building relationships with his DHW co-workers, whether they report to him or not.
After Dan arrives and checks in at the public health laboratory, he heads to the workshop (and office) of the building foreman, Danny Knobel. They have been working together for 10 months, but their easy camaraderie makes it seem much longer.
Dan asks Danny numerous questions. Do the air handlers need maintenance? What are we doing to make sure the signs stay in place this time? Is the roof project complete? How did you solve the drainage pipe issue? What do you think about our storage issues? Is the distiller functioning? The questions keep coming, and Danny responds quickly.
When asked, “why so many questions?” Dan responds assuredly, “I am hoping by asking questions, and encouraging others to think through the issues, they will come up with the answer. I am just the facilitator.” Dan’s plan is working because Danny has everything under control at the public health laboratory. No need to check on any flooding issues; Danny has already solved that potential problem.
Danny points out a building issue he solved without extra help and notes that it saved the state thousands of dollars. Dan and Danny high-five each other over that tidbit. “I love when we can save the taxpayers some money,” Dan says.
Like many of the state-owned buildings, the labs are heated through a geo-thermal system. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy resource because heat is continuously produced inside the earth. The water runs through the heat exchanges and discharges via a pipe. Occasionally, Dan gets his hands dirty when it’s time to do pipe maintenance. That means the waders come on and into the water he goes. This, again, reminds us that Dan’s days are never the same.
Dan was born and raised in Boise, and there is no place he would rather be. “I love working for the people and for DHW. I learn something every day.” In his short two years with DHW, he has noted that the department continues to evolve internally as the needs of Idahoans change.
“There are two types of cultures at the department. There is the culture of change where we are looking at newer, more efficient ways to serve our customers,” Dan says. “Then there is the culture of heritage, where that historic knowledge can help us learn from the past and prepare for the future. Both are important for DHW, and I think the department does both very well.”
After his trip to the public health laboratory, Dan heads 30 minutes west to Nampa, where DHW is building the State Hospital West. He comfortably changes focus again as he dons the yellow vest and hard hat required for venturing into the construction zone. Dan visits with the crew and takes some pictures of the progress.
Then, he’s ready to give a visitor a tour around the campus (which also houses the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center). He points out the buildings that are historical in nature, and about a dozen buildings that now stand vacant without the funding allocated to either maintain or demolish. “That is the old tool shed, and there is the pool house,” he says as he slows down and points toward the structures.
Normally cheerful, Dan becomes introspective when looking at the abandoned buildings. “I hope someday we can find the funding to maintain or demo these buildings.” As the tour continues, he carefully studies the buildings in use and says to himself, “I need to call about the sprinkler system. It’s hitting the building and causing some discoloration.”
Dan is always on. He is always thinking about his next move, the next thing on his list, the next opportunity for improvement. And he’s always smiling, which is evidence of his good humor and ability to find joy in his everyday activities.
“I am always willing to help. That’s why my team and I are here. We want to help others achieve their strategic goals,” he comments.
Dan stops his train of thought suddenly as he remembers something he wants to mention, “My team is awesome. We are a statewide team, so sometimes it is difficult not being in the same building. I must trust them, and I do. They also know I won’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. They know their jobs, and they do them well. I am very proud of them,” Dan said. “I want everyone to know how much I appreciate them.”
Before Dan begins any project – whether it is planning the moves of teams or checking CO2 concentrations in state-owned buildings – he makes sure he has a full understanding of what lies ahead. “I want the full scope prior to decision making. I don’t want to make decisions with only half of the information needed. I’m results-oriented, so to get the results I want, I have to understand the whole picture.”
When it comes to the people of Idaho, most may have not have heard about the Division of Management Services, even if they have experience with DHW. “We are the support side of DHW,” said Dan. “Some people may not understand what we do or find our responsibilities strange, but it feels like home to me.”
Story and photos by Kelly Petroff, DHW director of communications