Michael Merriman, a building operations engineer for Campus Recreation, is comfortable in almost any environment.
Stationed at the Activities and Recreation Center, Merriman monitors and services the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at ARC and several other recreational facilities on campus.
He's only been in that position for about two months, but it's the latest turn in a U. of I. career that started nine years ago at Allerton Park and Retreat Center.
Merriman had been doing building maintenance work from the Monticello area for most of his life when he saw the advertisement for an opening at Allerton. He worked independently on rental houses and had purchased and operated a local bar after spending 13 years as a maintenance worker at Carle Hospital.
And he had already spent a great amount of time walking the parks and trails at Allerton. He said he couldn't resist the opportunity to work at one of the most unique and beautiful attractions in the state.
"I was a little prejudiced because Allerton Park has always been my place to go," he said. "I already lived really close to the park, and I had been going out there for years to walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery."
The job was entry-level and had him working as extra help as a nighttime security guard.
After a few years, though, Merriman's extra effort led to a promotion and a new title, as supervisor of Allerton's housekeeping and security services. That job entailed making sure things went smoothly for the many weddings, conferences and other events held at the park.
"I really was hoping to get a grounds job there, so I was hoping to use the extra help job to get my foot in the door," he said.
His foot was in the door, but in six years the grounds job never materialized.
He said the job was satisfying but entailed long and odd hours, as employees were expected to work according to the ever-changing events schedule.
Then three years ago he saw the opening for a campus building and grounds position and he jumped at the opportunity.
That job had him doing lots of grass mowing and snow plowing with the seasons, but it still wasn't exactly what he wanted to do.
"They moved us around a lot and I worked all over campus," he said. "I got to know campus pretty well."
When his current Campus Recreation job opened up, he knew it was meant for him.
"I have more of a commute now, but I really wanted to work on campus doing something I really wanted to do," he said. "It's the first time in 25 years I've had a Monday-through-Friday job."
Merriman, along with his supervisors, is still working out the details and responsibilities of his new job, a newly created position. He said he already has a list of basic duties, but he expects that to expand over time.
"So far, it's been a learning experience for all of us," he said. "The job has expanded already, which I expect will continue to be the case. Building maintenance is one of those things that never really stops."
Changing air handler filters and monitoring system components is a big part of his day-to-day duties, as there are 27 handlers on the ARC building alone.
"And each one of them is big enough to park a car in," he said. "Anything that breaks down, I either take care of it myself or report to supervisors so we can bring Facilities and Services in."
He said his biggest adjustment has been conducting work in the presence of student traffic, and ARC is a campus leader in that.
"This place is almost always busy," he said. "You have to work around students and you have to work around events. It's a challenge, but there hasn't been a dull moment yet."
He said he's gotten nothing but support from co-workers since he arrived on campus and enjoys the communication and organizational structure that allows him to focus on the work at hand.
"The people here have just been great," he said. "I loved being out at Allerton, but I love it on campus, too. It's a completely different atmosphere."
Merriman has been married to his wife, Kathy, for 14 years and they have two children, a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.
He said most of his free time is devoted to his children's activities. He used to be an avid volleyball player, and took time out for skeet shooting, but said those hobbies have been put on the backburner as he devotes more time to raising his children.
He said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Our weekends can be pretty crazy," he said. "We end up going in all directions."