Buzz Nelson attended this year’s Honor the Best ceremony to see if any of the people he nominated would receive awards. Sitting in the ballroom of the Joe Crowley Student Union, he listened to University President Milton Glick’s presentation of the Distinguished Service Award.
Without disclosing the name, Glick described the recipient’s responsibilities and accomplishments over the past 37 years.
“I heard him describe the elements of campus and how it’s grown over the years and it started to sound close to home,” Buzz said.
Glick finished his presentation by naming Nelson the recipient.
“It was a complete surprise,” Buzz said. “When they announced my name and I went up to the stage, it was a pretty emotional time.”
Nelson, who for 12 years as assistant vice president for facilities services, has been in charge of keeping the 270-acre campus beautiful and the buildings in working condition, had been nominated by Ron Zurek, vice president for administration and finance. The award included a $1,000 honorarium.
Nelson has been involved with the planning and construction of 58 new facilities, including the recently completed Joe Crowley Student Union, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and the Marguerite Peterson Athletic Academic Center. He oversees a team of 350 workers, from those in parking to custodial services.
Nelson’s career at the University stretches back to 1971, when he began as an electrical engineer. In 1996, Nelson was promoted to his current position at facilities services, in which he oversees about 200 projects that cost upwards of $300 million in planning, design and construction, according to his nomination letter.
“Not everyone understands just how extensive his responsibilities are,” Zurek said. “It’s a big job and Buzz has done an excellent job.”
In addition to daily maintenance, Nelson oversees larger projects. He has been involved in the campus energy conservation program for over 30 years, including retrofitting lighting and replacing the majority of boilers and chillers with more cost and energy efficient systems.
Nelson was also involved in the construction of a solar domestic hot water heating system on the roof of Nye Hall dormitory. It is the largest institutional domestic hot water system in the state and continues to provide economical hot water to both Nye and Canada Hall.
Nelson also teamed up with Chris Ault, head coach of football, to replace the natural turf at the Mackay Stadium with field turf in 1999. The field turf was state of the art and is now the standard of football stadiums across the country.
The project first drew some criticism because the University was the second institution at the time to install this new turf. Nelson said the switch has reduced the amount of athlete’s injuries and annually saves $20,000 in maintenance and water costs. Mackay Stadium is now used for events more than 200 times annually.
One of the most challenging and rewarding projects facing Nelson was the venture to restore Manzanita Lake in the 1980s. Problems with polluted water and over 300 ducks crowding the shores and destroying the ecology of the lake needed to be resolved. Nelson worked with the Biology department and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) in seeking solutions.
“The controversy came when we had to drain the lake,” Nelson said. “It was during an extended drought and people were concerned about killing the fish in the lake and doubted the merits of the project.”
Facilities Services worked with NDOW to net and relocate the fish and drained the lake. The lake was excavated to a depth of 16 feet. Storm drains carrying runoff from the roads into the lake were rerouted. A pair of mute swans was brought in to control the population of the ducks. Although people’s initial reactions to the project were negative, many praised the results of the massive project. The beauty of the lake continues to make it one of the special places on campus.
Nelson takes pride in being a part of a team that, for the most part, works behind the scenes in improving and maintaining the campus.
“I have a motto that if the Facilities Services department is doing their job correctly, they would be invisible,” Nelson said. “Professors should be able to teach and do research unimpeded by problems in lab facilities and classrooms. We continue to strive to reach that goal.”
Nelson plans to retire at the end of July.
“We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to honor him,” Zurek said. “He has been a really valuable resource for the University, as well as a personal friend. He will be a difficult person to replace.”
Nelson is appreciative of his staff and their shared interest in making the campus the beautiful place that it is as well as providing quality facilities for faculty, staff and students.
“I have a staff that’s incredible who also have a shared passion for making the University a great place to learn and who appreciate the fact that I consider all of us to be a part of the team.”
Zurek believes Nelson has left a mark at the University in the people he has staffed in Facilities Services as well as the relationships he developed with University administrators, faculty and staff.
“Not surprisingly, Nelson has left a very deep bench and a wonderful group of Facilities Services people,” Zurek said.