U fills two top

by Jake Kapsner

In the city that is the University, maintaining a safe campus is as massive an operation as educating thousands of students.
For Mark Cox, the interim assistant vice president for Health, Safety and Transportation, overseeing the “small city” entails the safeguarding of people and inspection of property in the University’s statewide system. He also directs five departments with more than 450 employees.
One such employee, Ron Holden, just took on larger responsibilities with a promotion to University building official. He said he helped inspect and review more than $1 billion of work for the University’s statewide system last year alone.
Cox and Holden took their respective helms with a combined 41 years of University work experience.
“I was elated that they picked Mark Cox. He’s been there about 20 years and really knows the systems inside and out,” said Paul Tschida, who in June retired from the leadership post Cox took over.
In eight years at the post, Tschida merged numerous University entities into a coherent whole. Building Codes Division, Emergency Management, Environmental Health and Safety, Parking and Transportation Services and the University Police Department all became sibling divisions of the University Department of Health, Safety and Transportation.
For the past five years Cox has been the “number two man” in the grand scheme of operations, and is now a “clear successor,” Tschida said.
Until serving as the director of budget and operations for Health, Safety and Transportation, Cox said he’d mostly held financial responsibilities. He previously worked at the University’s Business Office as well as the School of Dentistry, and graduated with a bachelor of arts in accounting from the University in 1974.
Operating much like a city department or an autonomous municipality, Health, Safety and Transportation has a far-reaching, multifaceted mission.
For instance, they inspect and safeguard some 18 million square feet of floor space with 3,000 laboratories, Tschida said.
The additional responsibility of tending to the innumerable parking lots, sidewalks and the busses that connect the sprawling University village is no small order. The department also coordinates disaster planning and polices the campus.
Ron Holden got noticed, then promoted. He was appointed the top post among University building inspectors, replacing Russ Smith, who retired in April after enforcing construction and remodeling codes for 19 years throughout the University’s statewide system.
Since 1974, the University has had the authority to inspect its own buildings as its own city, Holden explained. Such autonomy led him on construction investigations of affiliate University campuses’ experimental stations in northern Minnesota.
The biggest challenge Holden now faces is much closer to his office in the Donhowe Building, however. President Yudof’s success snaring legislative funds resulted in plans for large-scale expansion on the Twin Cities campus. The renovation and construction generated around Northrop Mall will double the inspection unit’s workload and necessitate new hirings.
Another factor, moving current occupants of soon-to-be refurbished buildings into safe, temporary space, compounds the challenge.
“It’s probably the biggest mobilization-of-space move I’ve seen in 20 years of being here,” Holden said.