How often do you meet people at an entire organization who are truly passionate and proud of their work, their colleagues and their membership to that organization? Last month I had the opportunity and privilege of visiting and touring the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) building. I was greeted and given the full tour of the premises by SMUD’s Manager of Facilities Management, John Larsen.

SMUD is one of the ten largest public utilities in the United States. It is a community-owned electric utility that serves Sacramento county and parts of Placer county. The headquarters building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 2010 as an excellent example of Modern International Style. The building was designed by Dreyfuss and Blackford Architecture in 1959. Almost sixty years later, the building’s rehabilitation project bid landed on Dreyfuss and Blackford Architecture again and Roebbelen Construction, which was founded by Hans Roebbelen who worked on the original construction project in 1959 as a young engineer.

The whole rehabilitation process was very well thought out by considering not only the historical significance of the building but also the teams that will work in the building, accessibility and comfort, and the public that this space serves. Many parts of the building were preserved, refurbished and still in use as they were when it was first constructed in 1959, and the new furniture and decorations are inspired by midcentury lines and designs

Deeper into the lobby area and on both sides of the lobby are three meeting rooms. One of which is the Alhambra meeting room, and John shared with me that it’s the most technologically advanced meeting room he’s ever been inside.

On the other side of the lobby is another meeting room designed for classes and workshops  classroom style but can also be used for many other purposes.

John then took me to the auditorium where public meetings are held with board members. The room was redesigned from its original lecture hall design and layout to a classroom design for accessibility and versatility of use.

Overall the headquarters had 19 meeting rooms. After the rehabilitation project, there are now over a 100 meeting rooms. Most of the spaces in the building are open space cubicles or communal areas where people can meet and collaborate. The meeting rooms are available for private meetings or those who need quiet and privacy. In addition to the increased number of meeting rooms the new layout of the building has multiple ‘new mothers rooms.’

Original wood panels in the back walls and original refurbished staircase banisters and elevators.

As we made our way to the emergency operations center on the garden floor, we passed by a small garden, hence the name garden floor, which also serves as an outdoor seating area for employees. Boulders seen in the garden are from the Upper American River Project, SMUD’s hydroelectric development. The trees in the outdoor areas of the headquarters are all accounted for in detail with respect to their species, age and health as part of SMUD’s urban forestry plan that is reviewed and updated annually. And in an effort to conserve resources, Silva cells are installed for efficient watering of trees and lawn areas around the property.

The garden

The emergency operations center is a big room located at the basement of the building. However, with the big windows at the top portion of one of the walls, it hardly feels like you’re in the basement. The room is also conveniently located near the parking garage entrance and the canteen to accommodate the likely long working hours during emergencies. This room is activated and operated during emergencies like natural disasters or system overloads. It is a disaster recovery space that is part of the enterprise continuity management program and operates in accordance with the Incident Command System (ICS) from FEMA and ISO structures. Basically, at any event that could put the grid at risk of an outage this room is immediately activated and people who are responsible for safety and the stability of the grid including safety and law enforcement authorities like the fire department are invited to use this space.

“At the end of the day we want to deliver safe and reliable energy because so much depends on it” – John

Emergency operations room

According to Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) standards, the cost of maintaining one square foot of a building of the SMUD headquarter nature and location is about $11. SMUD keeps the maintenance of a square foot of their building at around $9, which John shared with me is an area of focus and pride for them. SMUD is a community owned organization and workers at SMUD are mindful of the fact that the costs of maintaining and operating SMUD and its services are shouldered almost entirely by the customer. Paul Lau the CEO of SMUD spoke at several occasions of finding creative financial solutions besides raising prices on SMUD’s customers. Even field workers, John said, are conscientious about the costs to the customer when the field workers have to use their expense card to replace parts during a repair job.

For facilities management, performance ratings and written feedback are submitted monthly by internal customers – the employees – whereas negative reviews are addressed daily. They work on an index as opposed to standards to account for corrective action and ensure customer satisfaction. Their customer satisfaction rate average in past years was 97% satisfaction. However, in 2021 their customer satisfaction rate hit a 99% mark and field workers take pride in that. It was inspiring to meet people who are truly proud of being part of an organization and of their work to serve and promote their organization’s mission.

Mosaic artwork on the outside wall by Wayne Thiebaud

SMUD Customer Service Center

A house model to educate the public about potential energy-smart solutions they could install in their homes.

Throughout the tour I got to see the public messages of SMUD truly reflected internally. And the dynamic between some SMUD employees that I got to meet was uplifting as it showed a strong sense of community and camaraderie between SMUD staff members and their trust and appreciation for their leadership.