Conversations with Leaders: John Potempa
Every building renovation project begins with a vision. But creating that new and improved space means dealing with dust, making dozens of decisions and managing the ever-challenging expenses—tasks that make John Potempa happy to come to work every day at Governors State University. As Associate Vice President for Facilities Development and Management, Potempa oversees everything from major facilities improvements to daily maintenance.
After 50 years, much of GSU’s campus is ready for renovation and Potempa, who joined in 2019, is glad to lead the team effort. Prior to GSU, he managed facilities at Morton College; he also has directed multi-million dollar construction projects including an award-winning library renovation and a LEED-certified project.
At GSU, he said, the keys to success come in a package of two: a great staff in place, and a detailed scope of work for a campus-wide plan.
“I already have a great group of people—65 men and women—in the facilities department,” said Potempa. “A lot of them have been here 15 to 18 years. They have a lot of history, a lot of knowledge, and they are wonderful to work with.”
And, he’s well on his way to securing that second key. Potempa’s first project was directing the $3.9 million renovation of the GSU Cafe, which is scheduled for completion in mid-August. “The cafe is the focal point for the students, faculty, and staff. Everyone comes here,” he said. “When students return to campus, they’ll see that every aspect of the cafeteria has been transformed, from the equipment in the kitchen to new furniture, new lighting fixtures, and new finishes.”
The next major project he will oversee will be the $9 million update of every restroom at GSU except those in the F Building, which were recently renovated. He is also looking forward to tackling a dozen or so small to medium-sized projects under $100,000 that will make the campus more comfortable for students, faculty, and staff.
But to go further, GSU needs a plan. Under Potempa’s direction, the university has enlisted a team of architects and engineers to draw up a Facilities Master Plan that will look at everything on campus from top to bottom.
Experts also will conduct GSU’s first-ever Facilities Condition Assessment, examining HVAC, bricks and windows, all mechanicals, all electrical equipment, all plumbing, all furniture, all carpeting—even the paint on the walls—room by room, generating information that will be used to estimate costs of renovations and set timelines.
Last, a Space Utilization Study will examine how spaces are currently used and provide recommendations where possible.
All three plans are critically needed and will be done together over the next 18 months, providing a document that will be useful for years to come, he said. “This is a working document, so anyone at GSU will be able to look at it on a daily basis and know what’s next, what needs to be replaced, and how much it’s going to cost. The software will even update the costs every year.”
Potempa is excited to have a plan in place. “That’s what I’m looking forward to because that type of document does not exist. There are some good processes and procedures in place now, and we’re going to add more and change some. It’s all going to come in line.
“In a year or two, there should be a noticeable improvement that people can see.”
Any new construction and renovation projects will reflect GSU’s commitment to environmental sustainability, utilizing solar panels, recycled materials, and implementing sustainable processes where possible. For the first time at GSU, the Facilities Office is looking to include a graduate student in the Sustainability Committee when on campus classes resume.
In the 11 months since Potempa joined GSU, he has gained an intimate knowledge of the campus and he likes what he sees. “GSU is in a wonderful location to serve the community. I see a lot of potential here. With proper funding, I believe GSU could serve the community even better, because the more people that come here, the more the surrounding area will flourish.”
In fact, it was the community gathered for the university’s 50th birthday celebration that gave him an idea of the Jaguar spirit. “I was at the outdoor on-campus party, and I thought, ‘I sure came to the right place.’ “