In her previous life, Watertown’s first Director of Public Buildings, Lori Kabel, made sure that our nation’s Air Force bases worked well and now she looks to do the same for the town’s schools and municipal facilities.
Kabel, who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force, worked on 10 bases across the United States as well as places around the globe, including Iraq, Germany, Korea and the U.K.
While the scenery will be different, Kabel said her work will not be totally different.
“This jobs ties with military very much because I was a civil engineer with the Air Force,” Kabel said. “So, I did building maintenance as well as construction management for the bases that I was assigned to – So very similar; a small town is a like a small base.”
Kabel will play a big role in the oversight of the upcoming school building projects, known as Building for the Future, which will include renovating or rebuilding the three elementary schools as well as Watertown High School.
“In my interviews back in September they did mention that all this work was a possibility,” Kabel said. “I did know that was coming down the pike and that excited me.”
As Director of Public Buildings she will have a key role on the School Building Committee.
“A lot of the day to day activity, especially when we hit construction phase, will be a lot of me doing quality control that oversees that, (while) working with the committee, of course,” Kabel said.
The projects are just in the initial phase with the buildings have yet to even be designed. By the time construction begins, Kabel said she hopes to have a bigger staff to help with maintenance and day to day upkeep of the buildings. She will soon only have one maintenance person along with the custodians.
Kabel is the first person hired to work for both the Schools and the Town’s Municipal Departments. So far, she has mostly worked on the school side, but she is also getting familiar with the Town buildings. She hopes to bring more efficiency to the upkeep of town and school buildings.
“One of the things across the country that we don’t do well is preventing something from breaking – taking care and making things effective and efficient,” Kabel said. “One of my main goals I have is getting familiar with the systems and the buildings we have and trying to stay a head of it so that we aren’t just responding to emergencies.”
She has already had to deal with some emergency issues. In the fall, asbestos was found in several areas of Watertown High School, as well as a few places in other schools. The abatement project was due to be completed by the end of February break, and Kabel said it was progressing well.
Also, during a cold spell some pipes burst in some of the schools.
“The cold air, with some old equipment, it sometimes breaks,” said Kabel, who added that with new buildings she hopes that will not be an issue.
Another one of her focuses will be trying to make the town’s buildings and facilities more efficient. One way to do this is to have similar equipment in all the buildings.
“Right now we have a bunch of different products, a bunch of different supplies, a bunch of different equipment out there,” Kabel said.
As an example, she said town buildings have a variety of different HVAC systems, which means they are on different maintenance schedules. Filters on some may need replacing monthly, others quarterly and some annually, and the filters may be available at local stores but some may need to be specially ordered.
By having similar equipment and products, Kabel said they Town will be able to buy in bulk, it allows maintenance crews to really get to know how the equipment works and she believe this will allow the Town to save money, down the line.
Kabel has enjoyed the switch from working for the Air Force and Federal government to a local government.
“It’s different from the military, but there are a lot of similarities, too,” Kabel said. “The people are great. Everyone wants to do a good job. Everyone wants to make the community better and everyone wants to raise our children in the right way and educate them in the right way.”