Campus Craftsman


"...what I enjoy most are the opportunities to interact with students."

- Director of Carpentry Jim Clark

The Facilities building is shrouded in mystery for most students who see staff only when something needs to be fixed. One overlooked member of the facilities staff is Director of Carpentry Jim Clark.

For 36 and a half years Clark has worked at the University carpentry shop. He began working on campus in the fall of 1981.

Clark’s job consists of “anything and everything that does not involve pipes or wires.”

“It’s loosely defined as ‘building related’ if it’s not mechanical. That is, if it’s not plumbing, not electrical and it’s not heating or air conditioning,” Clark said.

That means if it has to do with doors, walls, windows and all building surfaces, Clark is the person for the job.

“I’m involved either directly or indirectly,” he said.

Ben Cook, assistant to the director of Facility Operations, said Clark is modest about his work.

“He does some extraordinary builds and custom cabinets and other things around campus,” Cook said. “Anything that’s made to fit, he saves the University a lot of money by being able to build those things in house rather than outsourcing.”

Clark may not be in the spotlight, but his work is.

Clark has been the craftsman behind projects such as the new Welcome Center in Admissions and the renovated Prince Student Union building, the Student Life office suite, the broadcast boxes in Ariel Arena for WNZR and the shelves in the cardio and weight rooms.

Clark’s current project is designing and crafting a second handicap ramp for the Chapel.

“There’s a wheelchair-bound graduate this year,” Clark said.

“Administration was concerned that she would get equal footing,” Director of Facility Services Tony Edwards said. “That was a really neat thing and Jim is a part of that.”

Clark not only builds and repairs on campus, but he does repairs for the Grand Hotel in downtown Mount Vernon and MVNU’s satellite campuses in New Albany and Mansfield.

No matter what project he is working on, Clark keeps busy.

“There’s always more to do than time to do it,” Clark said.

Edwards said Clark doesn’t just work in the carpentry shop, but he helps in other ways on campus.

“He’s also a CDL licensed driver that will, on occasion, drive the shuttle,” Edwards said.

Clark is the only facilities employee with his CDL license outside of the shuttle drivers.

“A lot of people have the perception that we have a plumber that does the plumbing, a carpenter that does the carpentry,” Edwards said. But, “the mood of the campus may dictate what Jim or anyone else is doing at any given time.”

“We don’t have enough people to specialize,” Clark said. “We have to be general.”

Clark said he never knows what to expect on any given day.

“I never know and that’s a good thing,” he said.

The Facilities Department uses a computer system to track day-to-day work assignments. When work requests are submitted, they are reviewed by the front office or by Ben Cook.

“He’s in touch with everyone’s work flow and who perhaps has time and the skills to do a particular assignment,” Clark said.

Scheduling is “an ongoing issue” because in certain areas “there’s only a small window of time that we can actually be where we need to be,” Clark said.

Clark said his work stays at work, mentally that is.

“That’s by choice, but it’s also a discipline,” Clark said. “That’s so that I can make an effort to be more in the moment with my family.”

He carries a card of paper where he keeps his own daily to-do list, so “I can leave it there [at work] instead of storing it in my memory,” Clark said. “I try not to clutter my mind with stuff I can remember in other ways.”

The carpentry shop is not exclusive to Clark, but is accessible to all staff members of the Facilities Department.

“I’m kind of the bad guy out there as far as trying to keep it orderly and functioning properly,” Clark said.

Clark shared why he has returned to the university over the years.

“I don’t want to sound cliché, but what I enjoy most are the opportunities to interact with students.”

Clark said he also loves the unique projects that come his way.

“My personal disposition is I don’t prefer repetition,” Clark said.

While some projects are one-day jobs, others take extended time to complete.

For example, Clark renovated the WNZR radio station over a decade ago, and he said that was a long-term project spanning two months.

“I had to work with Mark, the engineer, but we didn’t have a lot of space,” Clark said.

“I’m left trying to incorporate these concepts into the space we have to work with.”

But that’s OK, because Clark likes a challenge.

“I enjoy problem solving and I like to think that I am able to think outside the box and not be bound by preconceived paradigms,” Clark said.

Clark said he embraces his trade as both a commodity and a craft.

“It really is a form of art, isn’t it?” Edwards asked.

“It is,” Clark said. “I see art all around me that was never intended to be art.”

Even a white wall in a building is a work of art for Clark.

"Somebody, somewhere, sometime, invested their time and energy to make that smooth and flat white wall,” Clark said. “Not everyone embraces the craft or the skill that is involved.”

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