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Australasia Trip Report

by Philip L. Cox

Phil Cox is director of facilities management at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and APPA's President-Elect. He can be reached at plc4@cornell.edu.

In keeping with a recent tradition, as the APPA President-Elect, it was my duty to visit the Australasia Region and attend their annual meeting. I know what you must be thinking, tough duty, but someone has to do it. Fortunately, my wife Marsha was able to join me on what turned out to be the journey of a lifetime.

Our AAPPA visit started in Auckland, New Zealand when we stepped out of the airport and experienced first-hand spring in October. Having left New York State when everyone was bracing for autumn and winter, seeing all the plants coming into bloom was a refreshing sight. Our visit got off to an unbelievable start at Manukau Institute of Technology, where we were hosted by Roy Dicker. Expecting to tour M.I.T.'s main campus' buildings and grounds, we were surprised instead to be given a glimpse into the Maori culture and heritage of New Zealand's indigenous people. Roy and his staff arranged a Powhiri, a welcoming ceremony, in my honor, that was comprised of songs, prayers, gifts, and speeches. The event took place in the campus' new marae, or meeting house, and was lead by the Papa and Matua and involved most of Roy's staff and his boss. It was an extraordinarily emotional experience that I will never forget. I was deeply moved by such an honor. What a way to kick off a tour.

M.I.T., founded in 1972, has about 5,000 FTEs and their facilities are spread over four campuses. Like most campuses that Marsha and I were to visit, M.I.T. was struggling to find new sources of funding to augment their government allocation. One such source is the increase of overseas students, many of whom are from China. Many of these students stay on campus just long enough to learn English and return home. Another way in which facilities management is seeking to increase income is by providing security services to surrounding communities on a contract basis.

After spending time on campus with some of Roy's key staff, he and his wife Robyn gave us a whirlwind tour of the Auckland area, showing us the contrast between the east and west coastlines, both of which are beautiful. Wine tasting along the way helped wash down the road dust. Our final evening in the "City of Sails" included dinner and a stroll along the harbor where the America's Cup contenders dock. Of course our gracious hosts reminded us which country currently holds the cup.

Our next stop was Sydney. What a hustling, bustling, thriving city. Looking around at the diversity of cultures and nationalities there, it felt like the crossroads of the world-which I suppose it is. Our host was Robert Kelly, AAPPA President. Robert gave us the grand tour of Macquarie University where he is director of buildings and grounds. Founded in 1964, this picturesque campus on the outskirts of Sydney is home to about 22,000 students. About 3 to 4 percent actually live on campus, many of whom are from overseas. The newest residences are five bedroom, five bath units, which were first used by the Canadian Olympic Association for the 2000 games.

While we were in Canberra at the AAPPA annual meeting, Robert was notified that Macquarie's new cogeneration plant was selected for an award by the Sustainable Energy Development Authority. The plant produces 1.5mw of electricity and chilled water to service the library and three other buildings, while effectively reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 44 percent when compared to conventional systems.

Our guide for a tour of Australia's oldest university, the University of Syndey, was Pam Esdaile, who would become the new AAPPA secretary/treasurer at the AAPPA annual meeting in Canberra. Pam, senior policy & planning officer for facilities strategic planning, highlighted some of the elements of the recently-completed strategic plan for the university, which has facilities in eleven locations. One of the interesting features, for me, was the cooperation between the university and the local Council (city government) on how the campus landscape would be enhanced. Pam showed us through some fascinating buildings, one group of which was being renovated after the university took them over from a private school for the deaf. Some of the beautiful historic buildings reminded Marsha and me of our visit to Oxford a few years ago.

Before leaving for the AAPPA meeting in Canberra, Robert Kelly and his wife Lana helped us experience Sydney. Our hotel at the Rocks area of Sydney, which is in the shadow of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, made it convenient to enjoy the busy waterfront. Saturday morning was spent seeing the harbor from a ferry as we traveled to Manly Beach. Then Robert drove us to Canberra, about three hours from Sydney. So, we got glimpse of the lovely countryside between the two cities.

Canberra was the focal point of our trip. This planned community, the nation's capital, designed by an American architect, is quite unlike any city I have ever visited. Laid out in circles with connecting radial boulevards like spokes on a wheel, where the hub is the Parliament, it is easy to lose your sense of direction.

The AAPPA Board meeting on Sunday was held at the new National Museum, which opened in March of this year. It was amazing to me how many initiatives AAPPA has underway and how much great work the region is doing. Their recently-published 2001 Benchmark Report and their Management Development Program are but a few examples.

AAPPA traditionally holds its annual meeting jointly with the Association of Tertiary Education Managers (ATEM), as was the case this year at the National Convention Centre in Canberra. Federations in Learning was attended by more than 500 higher education professionals, which included about 150 AAPPA members. Aside from the general sessions, there were usually four AAPPA and four ATEM presentations being offered concurrently. I had the privilege of addressing the general assembly on the topic of transformational leadership.

It was a delight to finally meet Amanda Hart, from the Australian National University, who served on the conference host committee. Amanda and I had been e-mailing one another for several months making arrangements for our visit. Her warm and witty way of making us feel welcome and helping with all sorts of details typifies the hospitable spirit of the great folks we encountered throughout our visit.

One evening in Canberra was spent in the National Museum of Australia where we were given time to tour the multitude of interesting exhibits before the AAPPA banquet there. It was a delightful evening. The final evening, which was the combined ATEM/AAPPA banquet, was set in the great hall of Parliament. This extraordinary building was completed in 1987 and we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of it during one afternoon of the conference. What a setting for a banquet.

While in Canberra, we managed to get a tour of the University of Canberra courtesy of Graham McDonald, director of property and a member of the host committee. I could see why Chancellor Wendy McCarthy, who spoke at the conference, was so proud of the campus. Established in 1968 and home to about 8,000 students, the campus is surrounded by natural areas, giving it a certain feeling of serenity. An unusually long center quadrangle, besides being a place for students, staff, and faculty to relax, was also home to many colorful parrots. After showing us around his own campus, Graham also gave us a windshield tour of nearby Canberra Institute of Technology-Bruce Campus and the Australia Sports Institute.

After Canberra we journeyed west to Adelaide, where Brian Phillips played host to us by showing us around three of the six campuses of the University of South Australia. Brian is the director of property and had just joined the AAPPA Board while in Canberra. As we toured the City West, City East, and Mawson Lakes campuses, we were struck by the many renovations that were being aimed to "humanize" spaces and make them less institutional in appearance. Each campus has a Campus Central, for instance, where the 26,000 students can get almost all the services and information they need in one place. Another innovation is the use of computer "barns," i.e., comfortable rooms equipped with computers in a variety of furniture configurations.

PThe final stop on our tour of AAPPA campuses was Perth, Western Australia. Russell and Jan Candy, who had visited us at Cornell a few years back, were our hosts and helped keep us hopping. First I toured Murdoch University, where Alan McGregor, AAPPA President-elect, is the director, office of facilities management. Murdoch is a young university, having been portioned off from the University of Western Australia about 27 years ago. I got to see the main, or South Street, campus and was given a glimpse into the future by way of the Masterplan: The Millennium Plan 2000 and Beyond. Murdoch, with about 8,500 students, is looking to expand to 15,000. I was also privileged to have tea with Alan, some of his key staff, and the acting vice chancellor. Later, a luncheon attended by Murdoch and U. of W.A. facilities professionals, gave me a chance to learn how these neighboring schools attack a variety of campus issues.

Russell Candy, a past AAPPA President and director of the office of facilities management, showed me the University of Western Australia, which was founded early in the 1900's and consists of Mediterranean architecture on grounds that are replete with beautiful mature landscape features. One garden reminded me of a Roman amphitheater; another unusual area was the Cathedral of Pines, which serves as an outdoor auditorium where movies are shown at night. Russell also arranged a tour of the Oral Health Center, a new $34M dental school facility still under construction adjacent to the QEII teaching Hospital. The evening was capped off in a lovely restaurant in King's Park with a spectacular view of the City of Perth. We truly enjoyed the company of Alan and Sandy McGregor and Russell and Jan Candy.

Our final tour took place on the Joondalup campus of Edith Cowan University, which has existed as a university for ten years, the product of an amalgamation of several area teaching colleges. Edith Cowan is now in the process of consolidating its four campuses into two. Andrew Branston, director of the facilities and services centre, showed us the campus which he and his staff will need to transform in order to shift from the current student body of about 4,000 to 8,000 students after the consolidation. Marsha and I seemed to be the only ones on campus that were excited to see a small herd (or whatever a group would be called) of kangaroos lounging around just outside the new $40M health & science building.

There are a few generalizations that I could make about the campuses I was fortunate enough to visit. Funding challenges seem to be a chronic problem. Jeff Gawthorne, acting vice chancellor of Murdock University, in the October 2001 campus newspaper wrote this about financial support to universities, "The Commonwealth has decreased its financial contribution for the past 19 years, passing more of the funding burdens to students… Since 1995 student-staff rations have risen almost 30 percent nationally." Many of the campuses I visited had not seen increases to their budgets in several years, despite significant growth to the campus over the same time span.

Outsourcing of facilities services is much more prevalent down under than it is in North America. However, even though much is contracted, the oversight for the contracted work remains a function of the facilities management organizations.

I was also surprised to discover that few students are housed by the New Zealand and Australian universities. In some cases this is due, in part, to traditions whereby residential colleges (independent residential organizations) provide for housing needs. Also, most of the student bodies at the schools I visited, are drawn from the local communities, so a larger fraction of students commute.

What did not surprise me was the warm hospitality that Marsha and I received everywhere we traveled. We had heard how fun-loving, warm, and friendly the New Zealanders and Australians are. They certainly lived up to that reputation and could not have been any more gracious and welcoming; they were terrific. It was especially heartwarming too, in the wake of September 11th, to experience the sort of empathy and support that poured out to us from everywhere we went when people realized we are New Yorkers.

The trip was a wonderful experience and I thank the APPA membership for making it possible. As a result of my campus visits and my participation in the AAPPA annual meeting, I feel a warm kinship toward the AAPPA members and I am excited about working closely with the AAPPA Board of Directors over the next three years.