Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Nov. 15, 1996

He has done wonders with the place

by Skip Derra
Bill Whitman liked what he saw when he came to work at Iowa State in 1960. He liked it so much he has devoted much of the past 36 years to making it even better.

Much of the way Iowa State looks today, including the expanses of lawns, trees, bushes, sidewalks and buildings, can be attributed to Whitman, associate vice president for facilities.

As the head of facilities, Whitman is in charge of the planning, construction and maintenance of all Iowa State buildings (except residence halls) and grounds, one of the campus' most alluring facets. All of which means none of Whitman's work goes unnoticed. From the occasional conferee to prospective student, Whitman's work leaves a lasting impression.

"There was a Carnegie study done in which they surveyed students on why they chose certain schools," Whitman said. The largest single factor affecting their choice was whether the grounds looked nice.

The survey findings were echoed by Whitman's oldest son when he decided against attending another university after a visit.

"He said that if they aren't taking care of the grounds, then you wonder what the academic program will be like," Whitman said.

Buildings are a cornerstone in Whitman's mark on the Iowa State landscape. More than two-thirds of the current building space (in gross square footage) has been constructed since Whitman first put on a hard hat. It's no wonder the ceremonial silver shovel used for groundbreakings is kept in his office.

"Until 1960, we built one building every two or three years," Whitman recalled. "Then we had two projects (an addition to the library and one to Snedecor) in 1960." That began a construction boom on campus.

Whitman came back to ISU -- he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1957 -- with the idea of doing some graduate work. During a casual look into the job market, Whitman received an offer from Ben Schaefer to become an engineer on construction projects.

The grad school goal faded as Whitman's time was consumed with the nuts and bolts of buildings under construction. Then, during the holidays in 1968, Whitman got an unexpected crash course in facilities management.

When Schaefer died of a heart attack, Wayne Moore, vice president of business and finance, offered Whitman the interim job as facilities head.

"I was familiar only with construction projects," he recalled. "I needed to learn about personnel matters, how to manage a large budget (roughly $18 million at that time) and more than 400 employees.

"But we had an outstanding administrative secretary, Gladys Willert, and she knew how to run the place," he said. "I spent that Christmas holiday learning what to sign and what to do."

A few months later, Whitman, 34, got the job on a full-time basis.

Since then, he has taken pride in managing the facilities of Iowa State and is often most proud of features many take for granted. Like the fluidized bed boilers in the heating plant that provide power to central campus.

"They were new technology and built in Europe," Whitman said. "We invested $33 million in two boilers, so there was some uneasiness and some asking, 'Do you know what you're doing?'"

And he is proud of the people who have worked in the facilities division.

"You don't accomplish what we have without an outstanding staff," he said.

He also praised the workmanship and high ethical standards of the Iowa contractors, architects and engineers involved with projects at ISU.

Whitman is looking at another work-filled holiday season. But this time, he will be passing on to another the knowledge acquired in a career spanning nearly four decades.

Whitman will retire Dec. 31, which is why sitting in his office -- along with the ceremonial silver shovel -- is a large recycling dumpster in which he will "throw away or do something with 36 years of paper."

Then he will set his sights on a life of semi-leisure.

"Toni and I built our house in 1962 and we moved in that Thanksgiving," he said. "I have a fair amount of deferred maintenance to get after."

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