Growing up in a family of farmers, David Holthouser learned that you never know what a day will bring. A piece of equipment might call it quits. A dry spell could end with a deluge. An animal might push down a fence.
“You figured it out on your own and you weren’t afraid to try things,” he says. “Experimentation was just a part of the job.”
So today, when David pulls out his notebook and starts sketching a plan, colleagues know to pay attention. As director of facilities management at Davidson College, he isn’t afraid of novel ideas. To him, solving a problem is a chance to be creative. Challenges open the door for innovation.
Since 2008, David has been the college’s main representative on The Duke Endowment’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability, a unique initiative involving Davidson, Duke University, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University. Through focus groups and site visits, David and his colleagues are working together to explore ways to reduce their carbon footprints, cut energy costs, and create learning opportunities for students.
David says the task force has helped him solve the “riddles of detail” that might stop a good plan from gaining traction.
At Davidson, for example, the steam plant has been updated with new boilers, reducing natural gas use by more than 15 percent. A fitness center now has a set of energy-generating elliptical machines. The cafeteria was retrofitted with LED lighting.
On campus tours, David likes to show how an outdoor composting operation is now saving 300 pounds of dining hall scraps from the dumpster – daily. The composting idea bubbled up in a Davidson classroom, and became real through research and design.
“This is what can happen when you’re willing to give something a try on a blank piece of paper,” he says.
Back in his office, David talks about growing up in eastern North Carolina, and leaving home to study mechanical engineering at N.C. State University in Raleigh. He started his career at Davidson as a summer employee in 1992, and then moved up the ranks after becoming full time.
Today, he and his 117 employees oversee 650 acres, along with dozens of buildings and construction projects. It’s inevitable that he’ll leave a mark on the campus.
“From where I sit, I fully recognize that we’re stewards of the land for a brief period of time,” he says. “My goal is to make this a great place for the people here today, and to leave it even better for the people here tomorrow.”
Susan L. McConnell
Associate Director, Higher Education