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2022 Facility Champion: Nico Viola Keeps Cleveland Gardens Running Efficiently

Nico Viola

Nico Viola is the second in a series of 2022 Facility Champion profiles sponsored by Ferguson Facilities Supply.   September 12, 2022



By Dave Lubach, Managing Editor

Nico Viola describes a career in facilities management the way many in his profession do. 

“Facilities is a field where normally the better you do your job, the less people notice, as most people just expect things to work,” says Viola, the director of facilities for Holden Forests & Gardens (HFG) which consists of Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Garden in the Greater Cleveland area in Northern Ohio. 

As a recipient of a 2022 Facility Champion Award, Viola is being honored for his efforts to keep HFG’s 3,600-acre facility among the best and most diverse properties in the country. The sites include two large event halls, a café, retail area, and two large biodomes — one named Madagascar and the other Costa Rica. The biodomes each have custom-built HVAC systems to maintain conditions identical to the conditions of the real-life climates in those countries. Both buildings require building automation systems to maintain remote monitoring. In addition to those facilities, the site has two research facilities with labs, in addition to all of the outdoor gardens. 

Managing so many different kinds of facilities keeps Viola busy while his team strives to reduce HFG’s carbon footprint. He’s currently considering converting the site’s vehicle fleets to electric while enacting other practices such as eliminating single-use plastic, building composting stations for recycling organic waste and doing lighting upgrades to accomplish sustainability goals. 

During all of these projects, some moments are more special than others. 

“At the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, we renovated an underutilized art gallery into the Perennial Playplace,” he says. “This was a project that I was involved in with our exhibits manager and the designers on from day one and personally oversaw all of the architectural design and the construction and installation of the exhibit. The space is very vibrant and well-received by families and children. Seeing the joy that kids get out of projects like this makes the late nights worth it.” 

Viola has 20 years of experience working in facilities and construction management roles, starting as a maintenance manager at a large apartment complex before moving on to director roles throughout the Midwest before landing at HFG in 2020. 

During that relatively short time, under Viola’s leadership, HFG achieved a 12 percent reduction in energy consumption through projects such as LED, HVAC and insulation upgrades. He’s reduced the fleet footprint by disposing of declining assets, replacing older and inefficient trucks with newer models that improve fuel mileage and reduce carbon footprint. He’s also worked with local and regional organizations to make sure that water runoff from HFG’s watershed areas does not cause damage to area rivers and streams. 

All of those accomplishments qualify as successes in the facility management world, but Viola describes success in his profession in another way — by simply making sure everything works. 

“Success is knowing that all of the people and departments that count on you for things to be working properly do not have to worry about whether or not the event hall will be ready for a wedding, or that the research lab is not going to have an outage in the middle of an experiment, or that a fleet vehicle is going to leave an employee stranded on the side of the road,” he says. “Success is measured in the constant improvements to not just the physical assets, but also the processes by which you operate.” 

Nico Viola is the second in a series of 2022 Facility Champion profiles sponsored by Ferguson Facilities Supply. Viola and other champions were recognized for their leadership and creativity in Facilities Management by FacilitiesNet. Honorees have been invited to participate in a Facility Champions Roundtable at NFMT Remix at Paris Las Vegas Resort, Nov. 2-3.  

Dave Lubach is managing editor of the facility market. 

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