UW News

April 27, 2011

Tree count leads Facilities Services to major campus inventory

You can try out AssetMapper online.

Original story by Breona Gutschmidt, Facilities Services
Edited and adapted by Nancy Wick, UW Today

Want a map that shows all the campus trees? How about all the outdoor art, or all the bike racks?

Theres an app for that.

Since 2004, UW Facilities Services has been working with global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) to collect, store, analyze, manage, display and track data linked to precise location information. In other words, theyre mapping everything theyre responsible for electronically and keeping it up to date.

CEO Facilities Project Engineers James Morin and Joe Cook collect sewer and storm drain data.

CEO Facilities Project Engineers James Morin and Joe Cook collect sewer and storm drain data.KC Chen

It all began with the trees. For a time, the University had no arborist, and then-Grounds Manager Rod White (now retired) noticed how chaotic tree work was as a result.

“We didnt know who was doing what work on which trees,” White said. “We didnt know how many trees we had. I realized the old paper inventory would never work with the scale.”

White worked with a graduate student to find a GPS/GIS solution to manage the tree work, and that led to a pilot project to inventory the cherry trees. Cesar Escobar and Ciaran McGee, who were then geography students, did a map of the campus elm tree population as their senior thesis, and were subsequently hired to inventory all the trees on campus.

It was a big job. Grounds staff are responsible for 10,000 trees, which the two finished tagging and cataloging in 2008. According to White, the tree inventory depended on technology, such as affordable GPS, catching up to the needs of the project. One of those pieces of technology, a web-based interface called AssetMapper, was specially developed by a local startup company, Rich Geographic Internet Applications, to make the tree inventory easier to use and access.

Tony Fragada, facilities engineer, campus engineering and operations, collects light pole data with GPS.

Tony Fragada, facilities engineer, campus engineering and operations, collects light pole data with GPS.Cesar Escobar

What can AssetMapper do? Well, a typical grounds employee can call up any trees location, its common and scientific names, details such as diameter, height, classification, stems per tree and approximate age. They use the tool to keep track of each trees history, maintenance and inoculation dates, to organize their work and to calculate things like the cost of trees impacted by potential new building projects.

With the tree inventory under their belts, Facilities Services began to recognize the potential of the technology. The whole GPS/GIS project became a part of Campus Engineering, where Escobar now works. He described the vision this way: “To inventory everything Facilities Services takes care of.”

Recently completed projects include an inventory of the more than 1,500 storm drains and sanitary sewers on campus and an inventory of the 2,200 utility poles. “We had twice as many outfalls to Lake Washington as we thought,” said James Morin, facilities project engineer, of the storm drain and sanitary sewer project. “GIS is part of getting better control over what we have here.”

Facilities Services now partners with the Capital Projects Office on the GPS/GIS project. The staff, besides Escobar and Morin, includes Robbie Avila, facilities engineering manager in Facilities Services and Aaron Cheuvront, building GIS/CAD applications manager, and Sara Voogt, program manager, from Capital Projects.

The staff say that the project will mean greater efficiency and reduced redundancy of information. Thats because unlike paper, GIS is quick to update, easily portable on handheld devices and available to multiple users at one time. The most challenging aspect is the initial data collection, but the team is working on ways to streamline the process. They are now using tablet computers to enter data, thus eliminating the need for transcription. And theyve used “dead time” walking back and forth to meetings to collect data.

Tom Pittsford, facilities engineer, campus engineering and operations, takes first-floor elevation readings.

Tom Pittsford, facilities engineer, campus engineering and operations, takes first-floor elevation readings.Cesar Escobar

Tom Berg, facilities project architect, is currently engaged in a process to inventory the campus complex roof system. He said the project “uses GIS as a tool to quickly and easily ‘see information in the form of campus maps, photographs and drawings, rather than just looking at an Excel spreadsheet. Users could easily search for roofs with a high maintenance history, or all roofs built before 1976.”

That kind of information is important to maintenance staff. “As this roof mapping project gets populated, people who maintain our roofs and plan roofing renewal will be able to query the program through a web portal and see instantly what they are looking for in graphic detail,” Berg said.

The group is also working toward creating 3D models of the buildings as a way to manage floor plans, but they have  a long way to go. Currently the team has 269 buildings, 1,331 floor plans and more than 57,000 rooms in CAD and GIS.

Of course, not all the data that staffers are collecting will be available to the public. Some, like the location of trees, can be seen by anyone, but others, such as the utility poles, will be under a security protocol.

By June, the group will be moving to a dynamic rather than a static base map. Instead of multiple base maps for each purpose on campus — such as a map of UCAR locations — UCAR locations will be served up on top of the central base map. All purposes for campus maps will be tied together; the lines that create the simplified map handed out at the gatehouse will match the lines in AssetMapper that have been set with GPS.

“What were doing is unique,” Escobar said. Other universities have GIS on campus. But for a complete asset management — were the only ones who have taken it to this extreme. Were doing a complete turnkey.”