Manuel Bautista: 'A constant source of encouragement and camaraderie'

Manuel Bautista, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, is a plumber and pipefitter who was recently promoted to a lead position in Student Housing  Maintenance. Born in the Philippines, Bautista has worked on the Farm for 10 years.

L.A. Cicero Manuel

Said Manuel "Manny" Bautista: 'I'm always looking for ways to improve the buildings in my area.'

A student facing a clogged drain or toilet can read detailed directions from Student Housing on which kind of plunger – standard or flange – to use to solve the problem.

Thankfully, though, the directions for both predicaments end with the same reassuring refrain: If plunging doesn't break up the clog, submit a fix-it request.

For many students, that would summon Manuel "Manny" Bautista to the scene.

Bautista, who recently marked his 10th year working at Stanford, takes care of the heating, cooling and plumbing systems in two dozen campus residences, ranging from historic Roble Hall to stylish Munger Graduate Residence.

All told, those student neighborhoods, which include five fraternities, house nearly 2,000 students.

In Roble Hall, an elegant, Beaux Arts residence built in 1918, he tends to the needs of the vintage – and temperamental – cast-iron steam radiators in dorm rooms, as well as the pipes that transport steam heat from the campus cogeneration power plant.

In Munger Graduate Residence, a contemporary  apartment complex that opened in 2008, he  keeps an eye on the computerized – and temperamental – thermostats installed in individual units, ranging from studios to four-bedroom apartments.

Bautista was one of three people chosen to receive the 2011 Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

The other two award winners are Dean A. Eyre III, program assistant for the research advising team in Undergraduate Advising and Research, and Peche Turner, department manager in the Department of Computer Science.

They will be honored on Tuesday, May 17, in a ceremony that will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the central courtyard of Lagunita Court (on Santa Teresa Street, across from Roble Field). The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking permit for the 2011-12 academic year.

The "go-to" guy for answering questions

Bautista recently was promoted to a lead position in the Student Housing Maintenance Technical Trades Shop, in recognition of "his hard work, dedication to quality and his desire to always take care of the students in his buildings," said Robert Horn, technical trades manager.

In his new position, Bautista is the official "go-to guy" for answering questions from fellow technicians about heating, cooling and ventilation. Sixteen technicians work in the shop, including plumbers, electricians and appliance mechanics.

"Manny is a constant source of encouragement and camaraderie to his fellow workers and other staff members he encounters every day," Horn wrote in a letter nominating Bautista for the Amy J. Blue Award.

"He is admired and respected by all of his peers. He is always the first one to respond to any type of emergency call that may come into our shop and will find time to help or advise his coworkers no matter how busy or full or his own work load is."

Horn said Bautista's high standards and commitment to excellence in all facets of his work is "truly remarkable" and serves as benchmark for other technicians.

Bautista seized the opportunity presented by talking about the award to spread the praise, saying he did not achieve the special recognition on his own.

"I had the help of my colleagues in the shop," he said.

No more crawling in the dirt under Roble

When Bautista first took over responsibility for Roble Hall in 2002, the aging residence hall had many problems.

"Students were complaining that they couldn't sleep or study because of the knocking coming from the radiators – a sign that steam traps in the radiators had failed and were letting raw steam rush through," he said.

Bautista spent weeks working in the crawl space under Roble, where he found and replaced dozens of bad steam traps, installed new pipes and moved its steam regulators – which break down high-pressure steam from the Cardinal Cogeneration Plant into low-pressure steam used for hot water and heating – into the basement.

"I got that building to quiet down," said Bautista, who wears a light blue shirt with his name embroidered in white lettering above one pocket and the multi-colored logo of "Student Housing" embroidered above the other pocket.

"I relocated the steam regulators to a service-friendly spot, so no one would ever have to crawl in the dirt again to adjust the steam pressure or to service the actuator," he said. "I also built a new steam manifold for Roble's heating system to replace the original one, which was impossible to service."

Bautista said he is now enjoying the fruits of that labor when "fix-it requests" take him to Roble, which is located on the east side of campus on Santa Teresa Street.

"That system is my legacy to Roble Hall," he said.

A few years ago, Bautista spent winter closure working on one of the "younger" buildings in his territory – Florence Moore Hall, which was built in the mid-1950s and renovated in 1994. He installed seven new water regulators and built a new manifold for the heating system.

"I'm always looking for ways to improve the buildings in my area that will make life easier for me, and ultimately, our students," he said. "Again, I could not have accomplished all this without the help of my colleagues in the shop."

A native of the Philippines adopts the Bay Area

Bautista was born in a small town in La Unión Province in the western Philippines, where he grew up swimming in the South China Sea.

He earned an associate degree in marine engineering at the Philippines Merchant Marine School in Manila. After a stint of on-the-job training on inter-island ships, Bautista was certified to work internationally. He was soon hired by a Swedish company to work on a crude oil tanker. The company flew him to Portugal, then put him on a small pilot boat that sailed into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

"To board the super tanker, I had to climb up a rope ladder – it had wooden planks for steps – hanging down 30 feet on the side of the ship," Bautista said. "The tanker had unloaded its shipment of crude oil, so the ship was riding high in the ocean. I had to jump off the pilot boat to grab the ladder. It was so scary. If I had missed the step I would have ended up in the ocean."

Bautista started out as a "wiper" in the engine room, where he cleaned tools and the work area. Within a year, he was promoted to "motor man," the person who operated, maintained, repaired and installed pumps. After two years, Bautista had had his fill of life at sea – a job in which he was on call 24 hours a day.

He immigrated to the United States in 1988, joining relatives in San Diego. After working for a time in southern California, he landed a job as a plumber and pipefitter at the U.S. Naval Air Station on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. The Navy, which closed the base in 1997, recently signed an agreement to transfer the 400-acre island to the city of San Francisco.

Bautista, who arrived at Stanford in March 2001, is based in the Student Housing Maintenance Shop on Escondido Road, located across the street from the Graduate Community Center.

At his desk, he keeps photographs of his wife and two sons, now aged nine and 16, as well as the newest member of the family, "Rhino," a golden-and white corgi that happily joins the family on weekend outings.

"We like to go walking in places where dogs can walk off leash, like Mission Peak regional Preserve in Fremont and Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley," Bautista said.

"We've climbed to the top of Mission Peak – that's a four-hour hike. My dog has short legs, because corgis were bred for herding, but he can make it all the way up and back without a problem. He makes us all tired," Bautista added with a laugh.