New town employee faces new challenges

Since Sept. 1, the town has had a new employee filling a newly created position. That would be Chris Burney, Wilton’s director of facilities and energy management.

Though “excited” about his “interesting” new job, “it’s not exactly what I thought it would be,” said Burney, who has been a private engineer for 50 years.

While the Norwalk resident is confident in his ability to execute the technical aspect of his duties, he is still getting used to the public’s influence on his first public position.

“The technical piece is what it is,” said Burney, “but I’m surprised with the friction in Wilton right now. There are a lot of things people seem unhappy with.”

But Burney makes no mistake. “There is a desire for greater transparency,” he observed. “We can publish the data, but admittedly, the [public’s] desire to be involved goes beyond what I’ve normally come across.”

Burney has typically held director of engineering or facilities management positions tasked with addressing the complex management and plant challenges inherent in the operations of hospitals and trauma centers.

He has 50 years of experience in planning, design, construction, and operation of facilities, and 25 years of experience leading facility management departments within acute care hospitals.

Burney’s previous job was as executive director of planning, design and construction for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he created a new department to oversee planning, design and construction for the center, which includes health science schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health-related professions, graduate studies, and pharmacy programs.

Off to a new start

In his first three months working for the town of Wilton, Burney has done “a lot of research, reading and learning,” and has taken several practical steps forward.

“Working with various people collecting data,” he has undertaken a mission to create an energy-use database that compiles Wilton’s energy-use history from 2010 to 2015.

“I’d like to have it done by the end of the year,” Burney said. “We can’t control costs, but we can control use. The less we use, the more we save.”

Burney hopes this database will help to predict budgets, and he intends it to perform certain computer operations so monthly energy bills can be entered and easily figured into energy-use models and budgets, thereby taking some of the workload off the shoulders of town employees.

“Me doing my job will let other people do their jobs,” Burney said.

Also recorded in the database will be degree days, or industry-standard measurements of how much heating or cooling is required on days with given temperatures, giving the town the opportunity to control electrical use and thereby avoid peak penalties.

“Eventually,” Burney said, “[with the database] you’ll have one number per square foot — that will be the energy use.”

As for the state of Wilton’s facilities, Burney sees adequacies, deficiencies, and potential.

“I think town hall is attractive,” he said. “It looks like it should be a town hall, but it does have major energy issues. There is a lack of insulation, and the unusable vertical space [above the old auditorium] is a huge energy waster.

“The fire department is in reasonably good condition, but the police department is too small. It has lots of small rooms, and the police force has expanded. They’ve outgrown their space.

“The Comstock building is looking very good. For the money spent, the value of the Comstock renovation has been amazing.

“There are areas in Wilton schools that are spectacular. The auditorium at Wilton High School, for example, is amazing. But there are issues, such as the age of equipment and such. But the schools are in better shape than town hall. For the resources that have been available, they’ve certainly been looked after [adequately].

“In any industry, it’s hard to get money for maintenance when things aren’t broken,” Burney added.

That said, Burney continued to praise aspects of Wilton High School’s facility.

“I toured the boiler room at the high school,” Burney said, “and in 20 years, it’s the cleanest boiler room I’ve ever been in.”

But Wilton’s schools, according to Burney, are the town’s biggest energy user, and for that reason they are the “biggest target” for energy reform.

“We’ll have a list of the top eight or 10 energy users, and we’ll start at the top, taking others on as we go,” Burney said.

Of the Energy Commission, Burney expressed his awe of the commissioners’ collective intelligence, admitting, “The Energy Commission has such brain power that it’s almost frightening to be in a room with them.”

Burney also disclosed that he and the Board of Education are currently looking for companies to perform energy audits across all Wilton schools.

While Burney has arrived partway through several major capital projects, he said that for future projects of a similar nature he will be “involved in the design from the beginning.”

“I’ll be interviewing the architects; I will be the adviser to building committees, and I’ll be on construction sites looking for issues and helping to solve problems,” Burney said.

Another task charged to the director of facilities and energy management is to create a long-range strategic energy plan for town buildings, and while Burney has certain “ideas floating in his head” for such a plan, he said at present it is too soon to discuss any specifics.

All in all, Burney rests confidently atop his newly created perch.

“This is planning, design, construction, and energy management,” said Burney. “This is what I do.”