The mission of International House NY (part of IH Worldwide) is clear: to provide students of different nationalities and diverse cultures with the opportunity to live and learn together in a community of mutual respect, understanding, and international friendship. It’s a goal the nonprofit has fostered for 96 years, connecting students and professional trainees from all over the world.
For the thousands who have resided at International House NY in some capacity, it’s the most unlikely candidate who serves them from afar, ensuring these residents are comfortable and at ease: Vincent Melito, group director of facilities and site operations.
The director arrived at the nonprofit after two serious gigs with British Airways PLC and Tiffany & Co—not exactly bastions of the nonprofit sector. But with a new CEO and one of Melito’s former bosses heading up the leadership team, the facilities expert was lured away to a whole new world, one that emphasizes maximizing efficiency, making smart choices to build the foundation for the future, and providing International House guests the safety, security, and comfort of a world-class institution.
Beginning with the Basics
In coming to International House, Melito attended to root matters—for good reason. “There were common complaints about elevator functionality and inconsistent heating in our top floors as opposed to the lower levels,” the director recalls. “It was imperative for us to first focus on the basics. We spent nearly $3 million on elevator renovations.” The heating systems were also overhauled.
What has come from concentrating on the fundamentals? “Our elevator efficiency and operational performance scorecards are the best they’ve ever been in the history of the institution,” Melito says. “We’re at 99.9 percent efficiency.”
From there, Melito built a foundation to increase amenities for International House residents. “We then started focusing on infrastructure and the aesthetics of really upgrading the look and feel of our facilities.” Study centers, privacy pods, USB ports, and upgraded Wi-Fi are just a few of the updates. “Even just walking around with a light meter to make sure that all of the spaces are correctly lit is so important,” he explains. All lighting was converted to LEDs, a part of a much larger green initiative. The overhaul lasted a little over two years and has once again created another layer for growth.
Melito has succeeded in bringing his sustainability expertise to International House. At Tiffany & Co., he was one of four leaders involved in carbon footprint reduction, and he developed a passion for the green work, which he was later able to implement into his role with International House. “I was able to introduce some novel concepts to get people to think about what and where we can be more conscious on water conservation as well as trash and recycling,” he says.
In partnership with New York City, International House became the first nonprofit to get all food scraps out of its dining service, moving even further by utilizing an onsite process of turning scraps into gray water matter. “It was a totally novel idea to my facilities team, but they embraced it because they understood that these things are a part of our institutional sustainability mission,” Melito says.
The director and his facilities team were able to reduce International House’s operating expenses by nearly $180,000, while also drastically reducing its carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Even that method was unconventional. “We brought in some students from Columbia who were getting their master’s in sustainability and partnered with those students to work on these programs,” he explains.
The Next 100 Years
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on a number of high-profile builds for Melito: renovations of the two existing buildings with 700 rooms for residents with a third, eight-story building set for Manhattan. “The plan is obviously still to do it,” Melito says. “We are hopeful to be able to resurrect the project in the summer of 2022 and embark on a 22-to-24-month construction project.”
With renderings by Robert Stern Architects, who were responsible for major projects at Yale and other high-profile educational institutions, Melito believes these projects will help forecast the next century of International House successes, both by its community and by the institution itself. “These projects will usher in the use of new technology and, I believe, solve myriad other design and infrastructure issues in the long-term,” the director says. Both from a comfort and safety perspective, Melito remains very excited about the continuing impact he’s able to have in a role he never imagined himself in.
And that begs the question, how has a facilities director for two mammoth for-profit organizations been able to find both personal fulfillment and professional success in the nonprofit sector? “This is much more rewarding than I thought it would be,” Melito says, frankly. “There are a lot of small victories that you get with a smaller organization and a smaller budget. There’s a constant reward and satisfaction that you’re improving the organization on a much more consistent basis, and I think I always underestimated that feeling.” Diamonds and airplanes are nice for a while, but Melito is now helping build something more impressive for the future.
Pavarini McGovern is a New York City-based construction management firm specializing in new buildings and major expansion and repositioning projects across the New York Metropolitan Area. The firm prides itself on the longevity and tenacity of its core staff, offering its clients the stability, resources, and expertise of a worldwide construction services leader. Pavarini McGovern is proud to partner with Vincent Melito and International House as they reposition for the next 100 years.