Movement seems to be a theme in Kimberly Case-Nichols’ life.
At work, the director of space and facilities management for the UNLV School of Medicine plots the moves for the ever-growing school. In her off-hours she is a triathlete who often bikes 26 miles roundtrip from home to work and then back again.
One thing she doesn’t do is sit still.
On the day she was interviewed, she was perusing paperwork dealing with a clinic consolidation plan her team developed that will reduce lease costs by $700,000 a year. The plan includes four faculty department moves, six clinic moves, and the transplanting of 300 staff. The challenge is making the moves with little to no downtime in patient care or productivity.
“I believe planning and logistics are the backbone to any industry success,” she said of working in facilities management. “Everyone has a specific role and when each person contributes, the sum of all the tasks is so much bigger than imagined. The team effort is so gratifying.”
At the end of her workday, she will take her bike down the elevator of the 2040 Building on West Charleston Boulevard and ride home. That, she said, helps get her loose for the rest of her exercise regimen. Each week as part of her triathlon training, she swims two to three miles, runs 15 to 19 miles, and cycles at least 75.
“I love to see what my body can do,” said Case-Nichols, who credits her husband, Bill Nichols, for her interest in cycling that began when she was in her late 30s. “When I met my husband, I had never ridden a road bike, nor did I want to. Somehow, he got me out for a leisure ride and before I knew it, I was equipped with a helmet, bike clips, and a bike of my own.”
Her interest in the triathlon began not long after. Soon she was competing in triathlons that range from 17 miles to the 70.3-mile Half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, 13.2-mile run). She completes that long-distance race in less than eight hours, a time that puts her in the middle of the pack. She said her greatest strength in the race is cycling.
This year, Case-Nichols won the Las Vegas Corporate Challenge bike race for the UNLV cycling team in the women’s 41-45 age group, her 38:22 minutes for the 12.4-mile time trial beating out a competitor by more than a minute. In October, she participated in a 100-mile bike ride to raise funds for multiple sclerosis.
“Being in shape helps my work,” she said. “Psychologically, you feel you can do anything.”
Her work is critical to the success of both the UNLV School of Medicine and its clinical arm, UNLV Medicine. She is part of developing and managing the physical environment for the future Medical Education Building and faculty practice plan.
“As our departments continue to grow in size and diversity of roles, so does the requirement for space type and quantity of space,” she said.
From Air to Grounds
As so often happens with careers, Case-Nichols’ path to her present position was far from direct. She did her undergraduate work in film at Columbia College in Chicago, first freelancing as a camera assistant. Then she became a flight attendant for the now-defunct ATA Airlines.
“In 2004, my airline career brought me to the (San Francisco) Bay Area where I ended up doing my MBA at Notre Dame de Namur University and transitioning into my first facility job at Stanford University as a residential services coordinator.”
At Stanford, promotions came quickly. When she left the school, she was a manager of student maintenance, overseeing 40 multi-trades technicians and two administrative staff. She also developed a preventive maintenance program for 350 residences, offices, and dining facilities.
When a director position in Student Affairs maintenance and facilities opened at UNLV in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity. Soon, she was a key player in managing a department with a $2.3 million budget to support work at 17 buildings, including residence halls and dining facilities as well as the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, the Student Union, and the campus bookstore.
Why did she move to the School of Medicine? “Frankly,” she said, “I saw an opportunity to be part of history. I thrive in an environment that is fast-paced.”
Forging Her Path
For much of her working life Case-Nichols has been in male-dominated environments.
“When I was a union camera assistant, I was always the only woman on the camera crew. The men often challenged my physical ability to carry equipment, set up, and repair in the field,” she recalled. "Earlier in my facilities career, I was in the 10 percent of women in facilities management at Stanford University. Often in my role, vendors and contractors are surprised to meet a woman in charge of maintenance trades groups. I had to work hard to learn how to coordinate trades on projects, repairs, and renovations to keep the facilities running smoothly.
“I learned from spending time in the field with my team, and just plain getting down and dirty learning how pinhole pipes get repaired, to replacing main electrical switchgear.”
Today, Case-Nichols, who serves on the board of the Pacific Coast Association of Physical Plant Administrators, sees more women and minorities in facilities management. “Things are changing for the better.”
One change that could come to Case-Nichols in the distant future involves a far different kind of skill and facilities management. But once again, she’ll have to get her hands dirty.
“My early dreams were to be a baker and own a bakery,” she said. “That is still a pipe dream of mine.”