Jay Klingel came to the University of Virginia for a construction job and stayed for the opportunity to maintain the place.
Klingel, director of operations and maintenance at Facilities Management, is retiring after 35 years. The University will plant a maple tree on the Lawn on April 11 to mark his years of service; the event is part of Founder’s Day celebrations.
“This is an unbelievable honor,” Klingel said of the tree being planted in his honor. “I am so touched by this.”
Klingel studied political science at Virginia Tech,, working construction jobs during the summers. After graduation in 1972, he went to work for J.S. Mathers Construction of Charlottesville, starting with the firm as a surveyor.
“I learned how to lay out buildings and roads,” he said. “When I was 24 years old, I got the job of being the superintendent on a Western State Hospital project in Staunton.”
The Richmond native later came to U.Va. to help build the Slaughter Recreation Center and the School of Law’s North Grounds Café, the latter building having since been removed to make way for the Student Faculty Center.
“I’m probably the first guy here to build a building and have it demolished in his lifetime,” Klingel said.
After he finished with these buildings at the University, he moved on to a construction job in Greene County. While working there, he was approached by then-University facilities director William Middleton.
“I had gotten to know him while I was on the construction job,” Klingel said. “He was starting a renovations department and he wanted me to come in and talk to him.”
They arranged an appointment, but before Klingel had his interview, he was caught in a natural gas explosion that heavily damaged the Greene County administrative office buildings on which he was working. The meeting was postponed a few days.
“I showed up for the interview with my hair and beard singed off, bandages on my arms and burn salve all over my face,” he said. “Bill Middleton hired me anyway.”
Beginning in 1979, Klingel operated a small construction group within Facilities Management. Before then, a group called the “Research Support Division” performed work that primarily involved refitting science labs. That group was the genesis for Klingel’s new renovations division.
Though some renovations are still contracted out, Klingel’s group has grown, both in its size and the scope of its work. “We started with about 12 people,” Klingel said. “And now it’s grown to about 150 people doing about $25 million of work a year.”
Among his most memorable projects is the complete renovation of Carruthers Hall, which the University purchased from State Farm Insurance to house its human resources, procurement, computing services and finance operations – the first done with the in-house renovations staff. Another was the mid-1980s renovation at the Medical Center that produced the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
“It had the newest head wall technology, medical gas systems, state of the art for that time,” Klingel said. “I got to know the pediatric staff and the chair of the department, working closely with them for months in finishing the space. About three weeks after they opened, we found ourselves in the PICU as a patient with our infant son who had spinal meningitis. I’ve never felt so confident and comfortable with a medical staff.”
He said all of the Pavilion restorations have been memorable in their own ways, each different. And more recently, the McCormick Road Bridge replacement was an interesting project.
“We had removal and replacement in two months,” he said. “We were working with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Charlottesville city, the contractor and our folks to finish on time.”
Klingel worked on renovations for about 10 years, and then moved to Facilities Management’s business management group, where he managed financial operations, information systems, procurement and work management groups. He shifted to operations and maintenance about 10 years ago, where he ran a department of about 750 people engaged in building maintenance, landscape, custodial operations, renovations services and work management.
One thing that stands out in his mind as he steps down is the spirit Facilities Management employees show.
“It is amazing how much pride the staff takes, especially in preparing for something like graduation,” he said. “Or the spirit they show dealing with inclement weather days.”
The things Klingel sees in the employees, Chief Facilities Officer Donald Sundgren sees in him.
“He is dependable and he cares about the University,” Sundgren said. “He is the go-to guy and when something is happening, he is there. He has 700 people under him, but he is on hand for everything, for every event, for the storms, such as the derecho, and the emergencies. He is solid as a rock and it is a pleasure working with him.”
Klingel said it was important to him to be part of an organization that looks at challenges as opportunities.
“These are beautiful Grounds and I like to walk through them and remember where we did this and where we repaired that,” he said. “A lot of the Facilities employees are in for the long haul. They are wonderful, hard-working people and they have the University’s best interests in mind.”
As a leader, he has been a great supporter of professional development, and has a highly credentialed staff of managers and supervisors. He is also a strong supporter of Facilities Management’s apprenticeship program, which has produced highly skilled craftspeople for more than 30 years.
“This is a historic site, and no one else has the opportunities people here have,” he said. “Carpenters can be working in a modern research lab one day and then working on a 200-year-old building the next day. It can be challenging.”
Klingel said he will miss the people and the place – and even the 4 a.m. telephone calls when it snows and action is required – because he enjoys being in the center of the activity.
“I am proud of the service we provided and what we accomplished,” he said. “I enjoyed it and was passionate about it until my last day [which is Friday]. I was fortunate to have been here all this time.”
“His only agenda is what is right for the University,” Sundgren said. “We are losing a tremendous asset … and it will be our challenge to come up with someone to replace him. It won’t be easy.”
Klingel will continue as a board member of Madison House, which coordinates student volunteers around the community. His wife has retired from the Charlottesville City Schools and they plan to travel together and “be more active with the grandchildren.”
Klingel also plans to spend more time on his golf game, a skill he has perfected enough to coach golf at the University for a short period of time. “In 1989, the golf coach left in the middle of the season and, since I was a competitive golfer, they asked if I could coach for six months while they got someone permanent,” he recalled.
He worked out an arrangement whereby he worked for Facilities Management on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then coached golf the rest of the week.
“It was loads of fun,” he said.
He said he enjoyed having problems to solve, but has also learned over the years that while he will miss being at the University, it will carry on without him.
“No one person is as important as he or others think,” Klingel said. “At first they will say ‘What would Jay do if he were here?’ That will last a day or so. Facilities Management and the University are just so resilient.”