February 10, 2011
Director helps city save by doing more with less
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
While at his office Tuesday on Wheeler Avenue, Cortland’s Director of Buildings and Grounds Rob Avery refers to studies documenting different cost cutting measures used in the city’s operations and maintenance.
Inside the former state Armory on Wheeler Avenue there is an office door with “Popeye” written in place of a nameplate.
The nickname was earned by Rob Avery, the city’s director of buildings and grounds, early last year when he and his part-time cleaning staff helped move the new mayor, corporation counsel and others into their offices at City Hall.
Avery joked that even though he was older, he still had no problem keeping up with the rest of the staff — prompting one of his workers to bring in a can of spinach for him, a reference to the Popeye cartoon character who grows instantly stronger when he eats spinach.
The heavy lifting is nothing new for Avery, who has become a jack of all trades to help the city achieve the cliche of “doing more with less.”
Aside from being the director of buildings and grounds, Avery serves as the maintenance supervisor and city safety coordinator. It takes more than a few job titles to sum up his responsibilities.
Avery begins every day at work by 5:30 a.m. He said being there early gives him a head start in fixing any problems before most people get to their desks.
“Every day, I could make a plan, but it could all change with one phone call,” Avery said.
This past couple of days, Avery has had to fix the heating system at City Hall, prepare paperwork for urine sample from city truck drivers and help fill out legal documents for blood born pathogen tests after police officers had to break up a bloody altercation involving a kitchen knife on Rickard Street last Friday.
In the past couple of weeks, Avery has worked with National Grid to retrofit all of the lights in City Hall, saving the city about $9,000 in electricity costs. He said he would be meeting with National Grid again at the end of the week to look at lighting in the rest of the city’s buildings.
“He does everything from A to Z,” Mayor Susan Feiszli said. “His core responsibilities have remained the same, but he adapts and adjusts to our requests.”
Avery used to have an office at City Hall, but after being moved around he was relocated to the armory.
Avery uses a small space heater in his office — the building is only heated to 55 degrees, since it is mostly used for storage. The only other offices in the building are used by Cortland’s volunteer firefighters.
The belt tightening goes far beyond heating in his office, as Avery has helped the city save thousands of dollars with various projects.
“Like any manager, I’m always looking to save money,” Avery said. “It’s just a part of my job, it’s no big deal.”
Avery brought in a representative from Verizon Wireless to talk to department heads about combining all of the city’s cell phones into one plan. The change saves between $400 and $500 a month, Feiszli said.
Connie Sorrells, who works in the city administration and finance department, said Avery has done a lot to save the city money.
“He watches the utilities like a hawk,” Sorrells said.
Avery has also enrolled the city in the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance — saving about $175,000 over the next two years in electricity costs.
He also serves as the project manager for the city’s participation in a national program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make City Hall more energy efficient, after the city was chosen by the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board.
“I’d like to take all the credit, but I can’t,” Avery said. He said his contacts over the years have helped him find ways to save money.
Avery’s five years of service for the city came after he decided he needed a career change.
Originally from Connecticut, Avery was a member of the Air Force for about four years. It was then he met his first wife, who was from Homer, and moved to the area in the mid-1970s.
Avery then worked for the Marietta Corp., rising over 18 1/2 years from mechanic to director of environmental safety, before he decided he needed a change.
He then held various odd jobs before being hired by the city as a cleaner.
“I’ve never been afraid to get my hands dirty,” Avery said.
Avery recalled the humbling experience going from management at one of Cortland’s biggest companies to being a cleaner for the city.
“He’s dedicated and he takes great pride in what he does,” Feiszli said.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe