Keeping the engine humming

Stueber ensures the Medical Center's systems run smoothly

James T. Stueber could be called the helmsman of the School of Medicine. On a campus of 5 million square feet, he makes sure that employees and patients have heating, cooling, lights and other necessities. He also makes sure the roofs don’t leak, elevators function, and mechanical and fire alarm systems operate when necessary. And he and his staff ensure that tissue samples used in research stay at the right temperature and stored embryos in the IVF program remain viable.

Stueber, director of facilities engineering, does this by overseeing the work of 80 technicians, including plumbers, carpenters, electricians and heating and air-conditioning personnel.

James T. Stueber (right), director of facilities engineering at the School of Medicine, goes over the ledger book in the physical plant boiler room with Steve Hermann, assistant chief engineer. “(Jim) has established a premier facilities engineering organization recognized by his peers and the facilities engineering community,” says Walter W. Davis Jr., assistant vice chancellor and assistant dean for facilities operations. “Jim has transformed the operation of the power plant and the infrastructure systems supporting the medical school.”

Stueber’s colleagues describe him as extremely committed, “rock-solid” dependable and expert at problem solving.

“Jim is one of the most dedicated and focused individuals I have ever met,” says John Ursch, director of protective services, who has worked with Stueber for more than 13 years.

“I have learned a lot from him and enjoy every time I have a chance to meet with him,” he says. “And with all of his skills, there is never a hint of ego. I find that a rare quality.”

Bruce Backus, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, says Stueber’s modesty and soft-spoken personality may give him a low profile at the medical school, but they don’t detract from his ability to get things done.

“He’s a very hard-working person,” Backus says. “He is one of the people that I and many others at the University go to in order to fix the difficult problems that we encounter. And he truly believes in safety, energy conservation and customer service.”

Stueber starts most days by “seeing if the engine’s running OK” in the basement of the North Building. Here, he checks in with his team supervisors, who oversee about 70,000 points of information on a dozen computer monitors. These computers keep track of any problems with air handlers, chillers, boilers and systems in the Genome Sequencing Center, the Good Manufacturing Practice facility and other locations.

He also pays the medical school’s utility bills, which include electricity and natural gas. These run $40,000 a day for a total of about $15 million a year.

More than anything, Stueber enjoys the variety and latitude in his job.

“I get to focus on what’s most important, and the rest just comes along,” he says.

Despite the scope of his position, Stueber says he’s able to sleep at night. “We’re all working together to get the job done, and I’ve been very fortunate to have the best employees and managers that one could ask for,” he says. “I look at all my employees like customers and ask how can I best support them to do their jobs.”

Saving energy

The Stueber family: (from left) Rachel, Lynette, Jim and Meagan.

Stueber has led the energy-conservation efforts on the medical school campus since he arrived 16 years ago. Through Stueber’s technical and operational leadership, facilities engineering has achieved energy savings of more than $51 million, says Walter W. Davis Jr., assistant vice chancellor and assistant dean for facilities operations.

Stueber compares energy conservation efforts to peeling an onion. The first layer of the onion is capital improvement — replacing old technology such as boilers with new, more efficient technology. Since 1992, the medical school also has installed automated lighting systems, variable speed systems that deliver the right amount of energy when it’s needed and an automated campus-wide chilled-water system. This system handles about 25,365 tons of cooling capacity, while a typical home’s cooling capacity is three tons.

A second layer is operational initiatives, which include training custodians to turn off lights after cleaning rooms and setting thermostats in labs and offices back at night. As part of this layer, Stueber also developed a recommissioning group that goes through all of the existing space at the medical school every four years to check that everything is working properly and to make any needed adjustments or changes.

“A lot of times, maintenance departments don’t do maintenance,” he says. “They just put out fires. We have an extensive preventive maintenance program.”

The last peel on the onion is awareness — getting staff and employees to take simple steps to conserve energy. Some examples are convincing employees to turn off their space heaters and close sashes on fume hoods when not in use.

Stueber dreams of having a flat-screen monitor in every building lobby that shows how much energy is being used.

“I’d love for there to be a board that lights up if someone didn’t turn their lights off or used a space heater,” he says.

He and his staff also have played a large role in selecting everything from equipment to lighting at the new BJC Institute of Health at Washington University, which is scheduled to open in December 2009.

“There was a time when we didn’t get input, and getting handed a building was not ideal,” Stueber says. “But to Walt’s credit, he has brought his departments together, and there’s a true collaboration. It’s the little things, like not putting a 10-foot mirror above a counter where the custodian can’t reach to clean it.”

Davis says Stueber has made a significant impact on facilities engineering.

“He has established a premier facilities engineering organization recognized by his peers and the facilities engineering community,” he says. “Jim has transformed the operation of the power plant and the infrastructure systems supporting the medical school.”

He adds that some of Stueber’s greatest qualities are his drive to learn more and to increase performance.

Working his way up

James T. Stueber

Title: Director of facilities engineering

Years at WUSTL: 16

Family: Wife, Lynette; daughters Rachel and Meagan

Hobbies: Traveling, golf, tennis and reading

Stueber’s father was a construction electrician, and his mother worked her way up from secretary to broker in an insurance firm. He believes his mother taught him to embrace change and to always try to better himself.

“I realized at a pretty young age that it was up to me to improve my life,” he says. “Another big life-changing experience was having children.”

Stueber has worked extremely hard to get where he is today. He mopped floors to put himself through Ranken Technical College to become a construction electrician. After he landed an electrician’s job at Monsanto Co.’s World Headquarters, he enrolled in night courses at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to work toward an electrical engineering degree. In 1992, he was named manager of utilities at the School of Medicine, and he began classes in the executive master’s of business administration program in the Olin Business School in 2003.

Stueber met Lynette, his wife of 26 years, through his brother-in-law. She stayed home with their daughters and earned a teaching degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville the same year that Stueber earned his electrical engineering degree. She is a substitute teacher.

The two enjoy traveling and just finished a major addition to their home in Columbia, Ill.

Stueber also plays golf and tennis and likes to read.

One of the highlights of his day is riding to work with his daughters, both undergraduate students at Washington University. Rachel is a junior majoring in foreign language in Arts & Sciences, and Meagan, a freshman, is undeclared.

A favorite book of Stueber’s is “First Things First,” which stresses balance and setting goals in all areas of your life.

“The book says a person should put the big rocks in the glass first and then put the little rocks around them,” he says. “That’s how I try to approach my life.”