Published on: February 24, 2021
David Lawson is a plant operator with experience in facilities and marine-engineering operations. He works at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in Manhattan. His site, the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care, is a state-of-the-art ambulatory cancer hospital amounting to 750,000 square feet. There, he oversees the operations of all mechanical equipment and HVAC systems.
David is also pursuing a master’s degree in facilities management at Pratt Institute. He aspires to become a facilities manager specializing in operations and maintenance. In 2020, he was awarded the IFMA NYC Chapter’s Worthy Student FM Scholarship.
“David is a pleasure to have on the Plant Ops team. He is always on time to work and reliable as needed. He helped to staff the Plant Ops team through the pandemic. He is also in the process of getting his master’s degree. His dedication is very apparent as I find him working on his studies after his shift. He continues to excel as an operator and has a bright future ahead of him. It has been a pleasure to work with him.” — Dan Lilly, Former Plant Operations Manager, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
What is one thing no one knows about you?
“I am an Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. I started off as a Cub Scout when I was 6 years old. I continued into the Boy Scouts until I was 18, when I left for college. Being a scout was an awesome experience. Despite being born and raised in NYC, I was able to leave the city and go on adventures in the great outdoors. We got to experience all types of activities, such as camping, hiking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and more, but we also learned practical knowledge that wasn’t taught in schools.”
How did you get into the Facilities/Workplace field?
“I studied engineering as a cadet at SUNY Maritime College. There, I learned about the theory and principles of mechanical engineering in my classes. I also received hands-on training on the school’s ship, the Empire State VI. At Maritime, cadets stand watch, attend class and perform maintenance work on the ship during summer sea terms. The ship sails across the Atlantic Ocean and stops at various ports in Europe along the way. This experience is truly unique, and cadets learn a lot of technical knowledge while sailing for several months. After four years and three summers at sea, I graduated with a United States Coast Guard Third Assistant Engineer license in addition to a bachelor’s degree. This license qualifies graduates to work as engineering officers on American merchant ships.
After graduating in 2017 I was applying for facilities operations positions in New York City. I accepted a job with MSK as a water treatment technician. In this role I learned about chemical treatment in building water systems. I learned that water treatment is an often overlooked but essential function of facilities operations. Water systems need to be chemically treated to kill bacteria and prevent system corrosion. Effective water treatment programs also prevent the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. While in this role, I was also studying to attain a Refrigeration Operating Engineer license from the FDNY. This license qualifies facilities personnel to operate chillers and other refrigeration systems in NYC buildings. Once I attained this license, I transferred to the Koch Center as an operating engineer.”
Tell us about a favorite project highlight.
“Moving to the Koch Center was a remarkable experience. I began working at the site in 2018 when it was still under construction. This was fascinating to me because I had never witnessed the transformation of a facility through various phases of construction. Each week I would observe new additions to the project, and I learned more about the construction process. My team and I learned about the building MEP systems at the same time, and we made a collective effort to learn the building. We spent countless hours exploring each floor and studying the engineering plans. We participated in training sessions where manufacturers would explain specific equipment, how it works and how to operate it. This was great because we were receiving the sequence of operation directly from the source. In addition, these training sessions were professionally recorded on video so we could refer to them in the future.
When construction concluded, we had a brand-new facility to work in. The finished product was elegant. The abundance of natural light, sprawling views and clean furnishings make it a great place to work. The equipment and MEP systems are all high quality and efficient. And because all the equipment is new, it has been running smoothly so far.”
What is your greatest success story?
“In short, graduating from SUNY Maritime College. Studying engineering and working on the ship for four years and three summers is challenging by itself. But I was also in the Regiment of Cadets the whole time, and I had to follow a strict code of conduct in a military-structured environment. There was a lot to balance between academics, regimental guidelines and personal life, but I ultimately succeeded in what I set out to do, which was to get a quality education and learn discipline along the way.”
Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate/Facilities world.
“So far, I’ve noticed a significant knowledge gap between operations personnel. I’ve worked with seasoned operators and tradesmen with more than 10 years of experience, and I’ve worked with newcomers who just got into the field. Right now, I fall somewhere in the middle, and I want to become more experienced. This field is seeing many older, knowledgeable employees retiring, and their expertise leaves with them. For now, I’m learning as much as I can from these individuals. I foresee that it will become even more difficult for FMs to hire experienced staff in the future.”
What learning experience would you pass onto future FMs?
“Never stop learning! Facilities Management is a multifaceted industry, and there’s always something new to learn. I’m still new to the industry, so I make an effort to pick up knowledge whenever I get the opportunity. Building operations and maintenance is an expansive field by itself, and it takes many years to become an expert. New technology continues to develop, and it’s important to stay up to date. But beyond that, there are more elements within FM, such as design and construction, project management, emergency planning, finance, and real estate. You could spend a lifetime learning about all of this, and it’s all good to know. So, keep an open mind and think about the big picture.”
Interviewed by Sonya Verny, MCR, Operations Director of Business Development in the Americas at Mace Group, IFMA NYC Secretary & Executive Committee Oversight for the Communications Committee