Ferris Batie’s Day in the City

As the director of facilities management for the City of Chicago, Ferris Batie is on call nearly 24/7 to ensure that the Windy City’s facilities are always running strong

Ferris Batie, Director of Facilities Management, City of Chicago (Photo: Gillian Fry)

In 1985, a teenager named Ferris Bueller enjoyed an iconic trek through Chicago while playing hooky from school.

As he rode to some of the city’s most beloved landmarks and events—from Grant Park to the Art Institute to the German-American Parade—in his friend’s (dad’s) convertible, he reminded everyone that life moves pretty fast, and that, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” For director John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off wasn’t just looking to capture the architecture and landscape of the Windy City, but also its spirit.

It’s this same spirit that is inherently obvious when speaking with another Ferris in Chicago—Ferris Batie, director of facilities management for Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management. Most of his days are filled with regular travel around the city just like Bueller’s, only for him it’s to maintain the roughly 425 buildings that make up the Chicago grid to ensure they stay safe, warm, and dry on a year-round basis. In short, he helps make Chicago tick.

Focus: Chicago

While all of the projects Ferris Batie helps spearhead have a direct impact on the people of the Windy City, RetroFit Chicago has a special significance because of how it combines a greener future with job creation and environmental education. Created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to help Chicago become “the most affordable, competitive, attractive, livable, and sustainable city of the twenty-first century,” here are just a few of RetroFit’s recent achievements:

• Chicago engineer roundtables, which allow for peer-to-peer education on energy efficiency

• Free home installation of various energy-saving products, including ENERGY STAR-certified specialty LEDs and WaterSense-certified shower heads

• A third expansion of RetroFit’s Chicago Energy Challenge—a program that, in 2015 alone, improved energy performance to the fiftieth or seventy-fifth percentile in 1,840 commercial, institutional, and residential buildings. Efforts to achieve future reductions are expected to generate more than 2,000 local jobs.

“I was always in and out of Chicago, so I know the city in terms of where I’m going very well. It’s where I grew up; I guess it’s a little nostalgic for me,” says Batie, who was raised in Riverdale, a town just south of Chicago.

Now, Batie and his team constantly travel the city, ready to update buildings and equipment—including City Hall, all of the police stations, libraries, fire stations, community and health centers, and various other buildings that house city workers and make Chicago a better place. One of Batie’s largest projects is to modernize and update various pieces of equipment in select buildings around the Windy City.

Just before summer 2016, Batie was the project manager on the department’s efforts to replace one of the cooling towers and one of the chillers at City Hall. The chiller provides cooling to the fifth floor—the location of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and where many important city decisions get made—so it was imperative to get the project complete before the start of the summer season.

In early March 2016, a helicopter lift was used to get the cooling tower and the chiller to the roof, which were then taken in for installation because the equipment could not go through the lobby. “To see the helicopter just hover in between City Hall that low was surreal,” Batie recalls.

Batie and his department have made it a goal to “touch just about every building” they are responsible for when it comes to modernizing equipment throughout various facilities, including chillers, and installing or upgrading the BAS system at various locations throughout the city.

This venture comes off the heels of one of Chicago’s largest projects to date—Retrofit One. Recently, Mayor Emanuel identified energy efficiency as a top priority in Chicago in order to help strengthen the city moving forward. The project aims to create jobs, save residents money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrate Chicago’s environmental leadership. Batie and his department executed these energy conservation measures in roughly 60 buildings, including more than 30 libraries and several police stations.

With those measures recently completed, Batie’s department has set its sights on Retrofit Two. “We have 94 buildings that we’re looking at, so what we’re trying to do is pare that list down. It’s essentially the same process we went through with Retrofit One,” he says.

Modernizing a historic city such as Chicago obviously presents its share of challenges due to older equipment that may need upgrading or replacing. The building itself can also take center stage, as various bureaus within the Department of Fleet and Facilities may need to receive special permission from the The Chicago Landmark Commission before beginning a project.

“Right now, another bureau within our department is working on restoring the façade in City Hall,” Batie says. “There [are] certain chemicals and certain things that the contractor [who’s] doing the work can use, or certain things that they can do, and that has to be vetted through The Chicago Landmark Commission since that building’s been deemed a landmark. This past year, we installed a sprinkler system in City Hall. As old as the building is, you can imagine there wasn’t one in there, and another bureau handled that project. That had to be vetted through The Chicago Landmark Commission as well.”

On average, Batie says the buildings that his department manages in the city can range from as high as 50–60 years old. “At some of our older police stations, chillers can be 40 years old,” he says. “At City Hall, the chiller we replaced was 46 years old. You could imagine the cost to operate those things. We essentially cut that in half by replacing that chiller.”

A common phrase among Chicago residents is if you hate the weather, wait five minutes. But the hot summers and sometimes freezing winters will always present a challenge for Batie’s team.

For example, Batie cannot replace a boiler in the winter and risk heat leaving the building. “We have to make sure the boiler we have can get us through the rest of the season,” he says. “What we do is we sit down, we decide what pieces of equipment need to be replaced and that need to be upgraded. Then once we decide that, we’ll figure out what would be the best time to install them.”

Batie has been working with the City of Chicago for a little more than a year, but there’s a history working in and around the Chicago area that is particularly special for him. After graduating college, he worked with East Lake Management Company in Chicago, was a property manager at Altgeld Gardens Homes and two other public housing developments, and was a facility manager at Chicago Public Schools, among various other tenures. Batie admits that when he applied for his current role with the City of Chicago, he did not have much confidence in getting a call back, but he did in fact receive an offer, and to this day he says he has learned something new every day. He now hopes to inspire others as well through his experiences in and out of the city.

“When I worked for East Lake Management, we worked in some of the roughest neighborhoods you ever want to work in,” he says. “You never know who’s watching you, who’s looking for you, whether it be for good intentions or bad intentions. I’m a role model to a certain extent, so people see me in the role that I play, and that might in turn help, or just change a mind, or just put an idea in somebody’s head that they can be or do anything that they may want to do. I think oftentimes kids look at TV and videos thinking that the only thing they can do is rap or play basketball, or sing and play sports. That’s not the only thing you can do.”

And of course while working in Chicago, it’s not uncommon for Batie to hear references to another famous Ferris.

“For about, let’s say 30 years, I’ve been getting references to Ferris Bueller, so that doesn’t even bother me,” Batie says with a laugh. “It can happen on a daily basis, and every once in a while the same people just go, ‘Bueller’ . . . ‘Bueller.’”