Last June, Vice President of Real Estate and Facilities Donald E. Moore came to Drexel University to manage the group of 400 or so Dragons who influence and shape how and where you spend time on Drexel’s various campuses, no matter the building or space. Real Estate and Facilities handles everything from planning, design, construction, transportation, environmental health and safety, maintenance, recycling and many, many other services that touch on how the University operates as a whole.
In this Q&A, he discussed his first months on campus and what projects he and his team are envisioning with construction, real estate and civic engagement — and why they’re already looking ahead to plan the next three to five years of Drexel’s presence in the area.
Q: What brought you to Drexel?
A: In my heart and soul, I’m a builder-developer. My background is overseeing, promoting and advancing the design and construction of all sorts of buildings — single- and multi-family housing, high-rise commercial real estate in Washington, D.C., institutional real estate in New York, educational institutions and energy services facilities. My largest portfolio of projects to date was overseeing the master planning, design and construction of most of the schools that were built or renovated in the state of New Jersey during the period of 2001 to 2007. The total program size was about $8.6 billion.
Later, Stockton University, one of New Jersey’s state-funded institutions brought me on board to lead their master planning efforts. Then I was invited to join Rowan University as they were preparing to undertake one of their largest facilities development programs.
I’m a Chicagoan, and I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey. While I was working at universities in New Jersey, I had my eyes set on Philadelphia and Drexel because I wanted to get back into city-based development, and I really wanted to get plugged into urban renewal and urban redevelopment. When the position opened at Drexel, I thought it was a great opportunity for me to pursue those interests and move into the city.
My wife and I bought a home in Overbrook Farms in West Philly, and I choose to drive up and down Lancaster Avenue every day for work. It reminds me a lot of what needs to be helped in the city. My commute takes me through a number of levels of the socioeconomic strata, ending up at this wonderful institution for higher ed. I’m always looking and thinking how it is that we can help members of the community while we do what we do here at Drexel.
Q: So you’ve been here almost a year. What have you done in that time?
A: I’ve spent a lot of time learning and observing. It was important for me to understand the mission and vision of the institution, because my responsibilities are so broad, and what my team and I do impacts many. When I first got here, I wanted to understand Drexel, the tone and tenor of the people here, what’s important to them and what their concerns and interests are. You understand the institutional values by listening to the key leaders, like President John Fry; Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer Helen Bowman; Executive Vice President and Provost Brian Blake, and all the academic deans and researchers. But you also are listening and responding to the needs of the many others throughout the University. Part of my role is to, from the facilities development and master planning perspective, figure out how we address their challenges and support their ability to grow. You’ve got to take in all that information before you begin making any significant changes.
I’ve also been empowering my team leaders by learning about their interests, goals and constraints, and figuring out how to break down those impediments so they can succeed.
In addition to listening and learning, we’ve also positioned ourselves to advance a number of projects. Some of them you see happening throughout the campus right now, like Bentley Hall. You have the Buckley Bubble project, where we’re going to cover the recreational athletic field with an inflatable structure to allow year-round use — that’s currently underway. There are a number of projects we’re advancing in partnership with others that will, once delivered, enhance athletics, health sciences, research and academics. We have laboratory renovations underway in the Bossone Research Enterprise Center and the Center for Automation Technology. Schuylkill Yards is also part of my portfolio, in conjunction with other members of the senior leadership, as well as the development of the uCity Square neighborhood district at the westernmost end of Drexel’s University City Campus.
We’re working on a refresh of the master plan that was approved in 2012, examining the progress we’ve made toward the plan’s goals, what hasn’t been accomplished and how the University’s priorities have shifted. Through meetings with stakeholders across the University, we’re beginning to map out our new priorities, looking ahead to the next three to five years.
Q: Can you give an overview of what groups you have under you?
A: In total, it’s about 400 people.
In Real Estate and Facilities, I have a handful of real estate professionals who report to me, as well as a business operations unit. I’ve also got the facilities organization — operations, maintenance, custodial, grounds and transportation, which runs the buses and shuttle services. There is also planning, design and construction, which includes space planning as well. And there’s also environmental health and safety, and then the oversight of Academic Properties, Inc., or API, a subsidiary of Drexel that owns residential properties in University City that serve as off-campus housing for upper-classmen and graduate students. API also owns some commercial real estate that’s part of their portfolio. Even though it is a separate entity, API rolls up under my leadership.
Q: What do you wish people knew more about Real Estate and Facilities?
A: People don’t understand how extremely collaborative my operation needs to be to effectively manage and support the institutional goals.
We view ourselves as servant leaders, not just reacting to the needs of the University community. We have a lot of depth and a lot of smart, dedicated and committed people, some of whom have been here for decades. They support the mission of Drexel wholeheartedly. I’d like for the campus community to view us as a valued, supportive part of the team that’s here to assist and lead towards solutions that help them operate day to day.
I’d like for them to respect the complexities and depth that we must operate within. We need to understand intricacies of contracts, finance and the technical aspects of designing and building many facilities types. On my team, I have people who know how to design it, build it, own it, buy it, lease it, finance it, operate it and maintain it — that’s a lot of knowledge. It’s a very comprehensive unit of responsibility that people regularly underestimate.
Q: I know you talked about some of your future plans. But were there other things you’re looking at in terms of the future?
A: We’re looking at that window of the next three to five years because we want to make sure that projects do in fact get advanced and aren’t just spoken about in a theoretical sense. They must be reasonably achievable within the constraints of the greater institutional goals and objectives. If you start looking beyond five years, then you’re talking more conceptual and theoretical.
We already see a need for more academic space, particularly spaces geared toward the health sciences. We’re going to make public realm/infrastructure improvements across campus when needed, such as walkways, green space or storm water management. There will also be engineering space and lab enhancements.
We’re looking at student housing needs, including improvements to our existing facilities and growing capacity to meet enrollment levels. And coincident with student housing is the need for more student center types of spaces throughout the campus. We have the Creese Student Center and the Recreation Center, but there are a lot of student groups that still need space to meet and gather. We also see a need for enhancing the library.
Q: You had talked a little bit about civic engagement, and then I noticed that the message that was sent out when you started mentioned you were involved with several organizations. Drexel is really big on civic engagement, too. How does civic engagement relate to your work here, and/or in your own personal life?
A: I’m on the board of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, and I chair the committee that oversees the repairs program for Habitat throughout Philadelphia. We go into houses and make them more livable, healthy and safe. Philadelphia is one of the poorest large cities in the nation, and it also has the highest homeownership rate for the poor. I’m connected deeply with the need to help people improve the physical condition of their homes so we can retain them as members of a community. I feel that for community stabilization reasons it’s important for them not to lose their homes to others over an inability to afford to keep them safe and healthy.
Drexel’s University City Campus exists among the Mantua, Powelton and West Powelton neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, which have some challenges with their housing stock. Drexel also has its Home Purchase Assistance Program, offering a forgivable $15,000 loan for Drexel employees to buy a home in the area. I’m really interested in seeing what Drexel, both in my department and in general, can do to lend our expertise and help promote the development of affordable housing in these neighborhoods that are proximate to Drexel. That’s important to me. How do we keep community members in place and help them where they are?
One thing that I find interesting about operating in the city and in an urban setting is our relationship with our stakeholders, because they go beyond just the researchers, the students and the faculty. Stakeholders are also community members and neighboring institutions who are impacted by our actions. You’ve got the representatives of the community, elected officials and the city in and of itself who rely on the work that we produce and the jobs that we create for people who live in those communities. This is a reality that we must hold in high regard while we operate from day to day.
Q: One follow-up because you reminded me that you’re finally working and living in the urban environment, like you wanted. Are you happy with the life-changing decision that you made to start working here?
A: Definitely! You know, I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. I’m used to big city living. I really enjoy the environment and the complexities of living in a multi-optioned environment. People, places, art, culture. Philadelphia is a wonderful place to live and work in, and hopefully I will help to promote and redevelop it. That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to come here — I wanted to effect some positive change.
This story was published in the spring 2019 issue of Drexel Quarterly.