Bill Martin is responsible for the coordination and oversight of design and construction of major and minor projects at the University of Central Florida. He also serves as President of COAA’s Florida Chapter.

Bill played a major role in infusing more discussion about the challenges of small projects into COAA events.

We sat down with Bill to learn more about his journey, his work with University of Central Florida, and the unique challenges small projects pose.   

Tell us a little bit about your journey from graduation day at the University of Florida to your role at University of Central Florida today?

I graduated from UF in 1999 and immediately moved to Atlanta, GA where I worked at a large, international, award winning architecture firm. It was a fantastic experience where I was exposed to a lot of challenging projects (mainly hospitality and convention center), and was given a lot of opportunity to learn and grow.

However, I was drawn back to Florida in order to be closer to my extended family. Moving to Florida also gave me an opportunity to re-examine my career path – while the projects I worked on were big budget and high design, I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career designing hotels.

After some soul-searching, I decided that I wanted to target an architecture firm that had a strong focus on higher education. This search led me to Orlando, where we have lived since 2008. At my new firm, I immediately started working on higher education projects, with my primary client being the University of Central Florida (UCF). I also worked on projects at University of Florida, Stetson, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Polytechnic University, and Rollins College – as well as several non-higher education projects.

In 2014, a leadership opportunity arose in the UCF Facilities Planning and Construction (FP&C) department, and I jumped at it. I viewed it as a way to further my focus on higher education advancement, with a dedication to a single institution. This opportunity has been better than I ever imagined, and I have learned a great deal about the “other side” of facilities – operations, budgeting, and politics!

What does a typical day for you look like?

Life at UCF FP&C is a whirlwind. Over the past four years, we have designed and constructed over 850,000 gsf of new buildings. This is a 9% growth of space for the university. This has included research/laboratory, classroom, office, athletics, and administration buildings.

My position oversees all planning, design, and construction for both minor and major projects – we have over 400 active projects at this time, ranging in value from a $1,500 electrical outlet to a $70M new building. It is an immense amount of work to keep moving, especially the small projects which take a lot of time and effort.

A typical day finds me bouncing between meetings on small projects, large projects, planning efforts, policy/procedure meetings, UCF standard meetings, budget meetings, contract reviews/negotiation, design reviews, construction meetings, and Board of Trustee meetings.

Between and after meetings I struggle to keep up with the mountain of emails and paperwork that is needed to keep the Facilities machine moving. One of my COAA peers described their job to me as “keeping the sand out of the gears”…I think that is a very good job description for what I do. My superhero name is “BombSquad”, because my special ability is diffusing tense situations, solving problems, and keeping projects moving.

What’s something about you that COAA members may be surprised to learn?

I am a fraternity boy. I’m a fairly introverted person and my parents encouraged me to join a fraternity in college. I did, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Fraternity life helped with my social skills, gave me leadership opportunities, and crystalized values that continue to guide my life.

Most people don’t think of fraternities in these terms – they think of parties and animal house…and while there was some of that, my experience focused more on leadership, responsibility, and accountability. I continue to serve as an alumni advisor with the national fraternity, and enjoy mentoring and giving back to our next generation of young leaders.

What were your most challenging projects, and why?

At UCF, our most challenging projects are the small ones. We have a team of 11 Project Managers who have a total workload of 350 +/- active projects. This is an immense amount of work that requires a unique set of project management skills.

A Project Manager who can successfully manage one or two large projects could utterly fail with 25-30 small projects. As a director, I don’t have time to get in the weeds of most of these projects. But I do get involved in the large, high priority, and political projects.

Our small projects are typically funded by departments on campus, so they are very critical of cost and time. In our current construction market, with extreme material escalation and labor shortages, this is a massive challenge. Educating and communicating these challenges to our campus clients is an important part of what we do.

Our struggle is that we are so overloaded that proactive management and communication is a challenge. I am always looking for best practices on small project delivery to improve our process, and have gotten fantastic feedback from my COAA peers which has greatly helped our small project delivery success.

Is there a project you are most proud of?

My biggest project – which is not a physical structure – has been the building of our FP&C department. Six weeks after I was hired I was told that our department was restructuring, and eight project coordinators (our entire small project team) were released in one day.

My focus immediately turned to hiring an entirely new team of Project Managers and rebuilding our department – while trying to keep 400 large and small projects moving.

This required an immense amount of effort (and overtime) to prioritize projects, post positions, interview, hire, and train a new staff. We also wrote or rewrote many procedures to clarify and improve our project delivery process. It was an amazing opportunity, as I had the ability to shape our organization and hire the best people. After years of this effort, we now have one of the best Project Management teams around.

But I’ve learned that we can always improve, and we are constantly looking at ways to improve our customer service, communication, and project delivery.

On the project side, UCF is very proud to have been awarded a 2018 COAA Gold award for Project Management Leadership on our Research I project, a 105,000 gsf laboratory and office building.

What advice would you give your 30-year-old self?

I feel very blessed with the opportunities that I have had – I would tell my 30-year-old self to keep on the same path. Work hard and opportunity will come. Make sure you have a balanced life of family, work, and community service. And always do the right thing, even when it isn’t easy.

How long have you been a member of COAA? What prompted you to get involved?

I have been a member of COAA for roughly three years. I first saw a COAA advertisement in a magazine, it was advertising for the fall conference in Las Vegas. That got me interested!

When I learned that Howie Ferguson and Miles Albertson were involved (who I know from University of Florida), I knew COAA would be a great group.

The Las Vegas conference was my first event, and it was a great learning experience. I met many great people who were eager to share their knowledge and instantly got a return on my time investment. Shortly after Las Vegas I began supporting the COAA Florida Regional Chapter, which further developed my regional/local network of Owner peers.

How has your involvement with COAA impacted you professionally and personally?

From a professional standpoint, I have learned an immense amount from COAA. I have attended an OTI course, used COAA web resources, and have used the COAA eForum to bounce questions off peers.

I have used this information to improve our UCF processes and secure additional funding for our UCF FP&C department.

From a personal standpoint, I have met many great people through COAA who I look forward to seeing every year. Not only is COAA an extremely professional and knowledgeable group of people, they are also good company!

What would you say is the biggest benefit of belonging to COAA?

The biggest benefit to COAA is certainly the relationships that you form and the willingness of members to share information and provide advice on facilities issues. The time between COAA conference sessions has been invaluable.

We all tend to face the same problems (in varying degrees) and there is always someone who can provide you with solid advice on how to solve them.