Don’t think of Sno-Isle Libraries Facilities Specialist Tona Khau as anything but a dedicated facilities management professional.
Khau draws from an ever-expanding well of knowledge, skills and abilities. She’s passionate about managing the many buildings of Sno-Isle Libraries. She knows how to get the job done. She’s professional.
Yet she’s dealt with career bumps over the years.
Some in the predominantly male facilities management field saw Khau’s gender and ethnic features and thought something else, like maybe she didn’t belong.
“They say I’m kind of the unicorn,” Khau said. “I don’t see myself that way. I’m very proud to be a Southeast Asian woman working in facilities management.”
Khau spoke about her career at the 23rd annual International Facilities Management Association’s Education Symposium at the Lynnwood Convention Center in June. Her IFMA panel discussion topics included Facilities Management through the Eyes of Different Generations and Women in Facilities Management.
Shortly after the Lynnwood symposium, the IFMA Seattle Chapter elevated Khau to vice president.
After a brief career as a paralegal, Khau came to Sno-Isle Libraries and worked in technical services before she moved to facilities.
“She just really took to it,” Sno-Isle Libraries Facilities Manager Brian Rush said of Khau’s interest in facilities management.
Khau says, “I think I kind of fell in love with facilities.”
Khau quickly learned the core competencies of facilities management and continued to learn more as the field is quickly evolving amid new technologies and higher expectations for sustainability. She earned a certificate in Facility Management from the University of Washington, then gained IFMA credentials as Facility Management Professional (FMP) and Sustainability Facility Professional (SFP). Now she’s working on an IFMA Certified Facility Manager, considered the most respected IFMA credential in the facilities field.
Day to day, Khau negotiates and manages contracts and oversees vendor relations to keep Sno-Isle Libraries buildings well-maintained, looking good and running smoothly.
“You have to know a lot of different areas — flooring, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, project management, contract management, vendor management,” she said. “It’s very diverse. We’re not just glorified janitors.”
Every contractor sees Khau when they seek to provide services to Sno-Isle Libraries. Some of those same contractors once considered her the “unicorn.” Now they respect her knowledge and abilities, and her growing list of professional credentials reinforce that.
“Now they say, ‘Oh, it’s Tona. Make sure it’s done right!’ ” she told the IFMA Seattle Chapter audience. “The credentials have given me the baseline knowledge to apply to my everyday work.”
Khau said her experience and IFMA credentials help her overcome any lingering gender bias. It proves to contractors and vendors that she knows what she’s doing, and she expects the same from them.
Rush puts Khau’s ever-expanding knowledge to use and benefit of library-district taxpayers.
As an example, in 2012, Sno-Isle Libraries paid $541,600 to 13 vendors for custodial services at 19 sites controlled by the district, Rush said. Services varied widely from building to building.
“We knew we needed to address the issue,” Rush said.
Khau found big savings through economy of scale and service consolidation. The new custodial contract specified a single vendor to provide equal services at those 19 sites while meeting green cleaning standards to protect human health and the environment.
The library district accepted a bid of $398,000. Customers saw much better service with a vendor that uses safer cleaning products.
Costs have risen since then with inflation and the addition of Lakewood/Smokey Point and Mariner libraries, Rush said. “But even now, we spend less on custodial than we spent in 2012, and all the libraries get the same (level of) service.”
Khau told the IFMA audience that she’s proud of Sno-Isle Libraries leadership in sustainability initiatives, even without a mandate to do so. “It’s important to me,” she said.
That commitment shows up in a grounds-maintenance contract that saved the library district $35,000 per year and beautified the landscape. Khau specified “green” landscaping practices at every district building, including the use of Cedar Grove compost whose ingredients include discarded paper towels from Sno-Isle Libraries.
Khau sees a bright future for facilities management, especially for women. As a mentor, she helps get more women into the field and shares with them her love of the work.
“You can think outside the box. You can just break the glass ceiling,” she said.