How I Got Here: Stadiums Queensland facilities and operations manager Alice Dingley

by Sophie Berrill
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Alice Dingley, Stadiums Queensland

“I’m making sure whether we have 10 people or 100 people that the venue is safe, maintained and it’s looking good.”

Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken and demystify this often-misunderstood yet essential profession.

This week, we speak to Alice Dingley, a facilities and operations manager for Stadiums Queensland. Stadiums are a “whole other ball game” in the world of FM, says Dingley. With her small team, she manages the maintenance, assets, capital works, security, cleaning, waste and workplace health and safety to make sure her facility is fit for hundreds of different sporting events every year.

Facility Management: How did you get into facilities management?

Alice Dingley: Probably the same as most facilities managers: when you’re in school, you never think that you’re going to be maintaining a venue, then all of a sudden, you’re doing it! 

I finished up at school and worked at a fast food restaurant. I really wanted to get into administration, as I just knew that’s what I’d be really good at. I was lucky enough to get a position at a company that specialises in security and access control installation. I started there as an office administration assistant helping the team out with estimating, the stock taking of materials and engraving data plates. That was my real first gig in the building services environment.

From there I went to a company that specialises in kitchen, bathroom and flooring fitouts for new homes and renovations. I was responsible for a lot of estimating off plans for builders, as well as colour selections for clients, and scheduling deliveries and contractors for installations. That’s where I really started to grasp an understanding of how much goes into facilities, building and the entire industry, and I sort of fell in love with it from there.

FM: How did you start out at Stadiums Queensland?

AD: I started with Stadiums Queensland (SQ) as an administration support officer about eight and a half years ago at The Gabba. As an admin support officer, you help out all the different departments, and facilities was obviously one of those. I’d help the facilities manager out with work orders, working with and scheduling in contractors, and just generally getting an understanding of the stadium side of facilities, which is a whole other ball game – literally.

The facilities managers didn’t have any assistants when I first started, so a building services support officer position was created for The Gabba, which was to assist the facilities manager with the management of maintenance and capital works. I was fortunate to be selected for that position after a recruitment process, which was good because it was the first of its kind for SQ and I’m sure you would appreciate how us facilities managers need help; we need a team.

I was at The Gabba for seven years and I acted in the facilities manager position quite a few times during that stint, including for about a year and a half during the COVID period when we had 35 games of AFL, the AFL Grand Final and a multi-million-dollar major refurbishment

Then in 2022, I moved on to Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre (QSAC) to become the facilities and operations manager. 

FM: Does QSAC only host professional sport, or does it also host community sport?

AD: We host professional/high-performance training and competitions, but we do also have a lot of community sport.

FM: What other departments do you interact with in your job?

AD: At QSAC, we all work very well together. We have our events team and we have our grounds team who look after all the turf, the landscaping and a lot of the athletics equipment. Of course, we also have our administration team, our general manager and then we have our Stadiums Queensland corporate team made up of multiple business units, which is overarching and oversees and manages all nine venues.

FM: What does your current role entail as facilities and operations manager at Stadiums Queensland?

AD: For QSAC, it’s a bit of a unique role because I manage both facilities and operations. On the facilities side, I am responsible for all maintenance, including unplanned maintenance, preventative service maintenance and the condition-based planned maintenance. Being a large venue, there are of course a lot of assets within our facility that we manage. I also look after the venue’s capital works projects (which can include new structures, major renovations – any enhancements of a large scale)

On the operations side I manage the waste services, cleaning services, hygiene services, security services, CCTV, access control, and workplace health and safety.

I’m making sure whether we have 10 people or 100 people that the venue is safe, maintained and it’s looking good.

FM: How do you keep on top of all these responsibilities with your team?

AD: You’ve got to have great people with you. For me, it’s all about time management because one day it could be 80 percent facilities and 20 percent operations, and then the next day it would be totally different.

FM: Are security threats and emergencies quite a big part of managing stadiums?

AD: Yeah. The safety of our guests is a key aspect of all our planning. For events, we work closely with Queensland Police, ambulance, venue security providers and other key stakeholders and just ensure that we’re well-placed to respond to security threats and emergencies. 

QSAC has had about 150 events in the last 12 months, so I guess you could say we’re well-rehearsed on the planning required and we’re quick to notice any unusual circumstances or behaviour. We’ve learned to adapt to and respond to issues quickly.

Working through 35 AFL games and having the AFL Grand Final at The Gabba in Brisbane is something that obviously doesn’t happen very often.

FM: What are some of the biggest events on the calendar for you?

AD: For QSAC, no events on a major scale on the calendar. From now until about November we have an event on every day, including our nice school athletics carnivals, schools track and field regional and state championships and BRIS23 Kshatriya World Cup. We have a lot of athletics community and school events each year, which is awesome for us and that’s what we love doing. It’s our core business, from high-performance athlete training and competitions to community sports. 

The Brisbane Bullets basketball team will hold their first home game of the season at Nissan Arena on 29 September. 

We did just have Matildas on-site because QSAC was their training base camp for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, so that was obviously a little bit exciting for us. They were awesome to work with. 

FM: What are some career highlights for you?

AD: Becoming the first permanent female facilities manager in SQ, and also the fact that I’m both a facilities and operations manager. Not to do one department, but to do two, is an awesome development opportunity for me.

Another highlight was working and preparing for the 2020 AFL Grand Final – that was awesome. If I’ll be honest, I know 2020 with COVID was horrible, but for me that entire year was kind of a career highlight being acting facilities manager for The Gabba. Working through 35 AFL games and having the AFL Grand Final at The Gabba in Brisbane is something that obviously doesn’t happen very often.

FM: Some of that organising would have been a bit last minute, right?

AD: Yeah, it was. I think we found out early September we were hosting. COVID pushed the grand final back a bit, so it ended up being the end of October, but to plan an entire grand final in six to eight weeks was something else entirely.

FM: What are some of the trends you see in the management of stadiums?

AD: Sustainability. That’s huge for a lot, if not all organisations at the moment. For me, you start to think of sustainable measures when you’re managing projects and when you’re managing maintenance. It’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds currently.

I think customer service is another, so focusing on the overall customer experience. Not just, “Here’s the AFL game,” or, “Here’s the athletics event.” Although of course the event itself is the main reason why people attend our venues, for us, it’s also about the other things we can put in place to really enhance that fan engagement. That could be anything from different food options to signage to activations, as a start. Even for me from a facilities perspective, just refreshing some toilets by replacing the fixtures, painting and new signage – all of those minor maintenance pieces can contribute to enhancing the customer experience.

Technology’s obviously another big trend. What kind of technology can we have at our stadiums? Where can we put this technology? Will it work? Will it enhance fan engagement?

Finally, the multi-use nature of venues is also quite a trend. SQ works towards making QSAC and other SQ venues more flexible so that one day we can hold one small event and the next we can hold a totally different event of a larger scale. At QSAC, we host track and field events and we have football, but in the past we’ve held concerts. 

At The Gabba, the core business is AFL and cricket but more recently they’ve held concerts and the NRL. CBUS usually holds NRL, however it has recently hosted a concert and is planning for Monster Jam. It’s about opening up that availability where possible and making stadiums and venues more flexible to cater for different events. This also shows the flexibility and agility required from all our venue teams to prepare for a sporting event one day, then a concert the next.

FM: The Federal Government announced last week that they’re pledging $200 million to improve sporting facilities specifically for women and girls. How do you feel about this?

AD: That’s excellent news. I think the Matildas have been a big advocate for that over the last few weeks. It’s taken a little bit of time for women to be recognised in all these different sports that are traditionally men’s sports, so it’s awesome to hear that.

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