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Building techs celebrate season in song

December 13, 2010

There had better not be any floods, sticking locks or burned-out, hard-to-reach light bulbs in any of the buildings on ASU’s Tempe campus Dec. 16, 17, 20 and 21. From approximately 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., on those days, the building techs will be wearing their “other hats” – and bringing holiday cheer and a little levity – as the FacMan Christmas Choir.

For the past dozen or so years, the building techs – the employees who solve all the little problems – have taken a few hours on several December days to go caroling around the campus. Not all the techs sing, so there’s no need for their clients to worry, said Tom Bailey, who takes care of the Bateman buildings.

“There are 18 techs, and only about eight go,” he said. “The others will cover for us.”

In the olden days, when there were just eight techs total, and they all went caroling with their radios on. If a call came in, that building’s tech would have to go take care of the problem. In the olden days, also, the group’s founder, Raul Zubia, would bring along his guitar to accompany the singers.

Now, there may be instruments, or there may not. Kim Chamberlain, who plays the harmonica and tambourine, often brings them along, and all the techs jingle their massive rings of keys during “Jingle Bells.” Sometimes retired techs come back to join the choir. John Higbee, for example, serves as the group’s MC, Bailey said. “He introduces us and tells a few jokes.”

Each year, the Christmas Choir prepares a new songbook with a new lineup of carols. The list may include “Jingle Bells,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

The choir gives “Winter Wonderland” its own special Arizona twist. After they sing “Gone away is the bluebird,” they finish the stanza with “Here to stay is the lizard,” and they flash a realistic-looking fake Gila monster. After all, the whole idea is to get people to think about something other than shopping and bills, Bailey said. “Everyone gets real tense around the 18th, 19th and 20th of December. This makes them relax.”

The building techs, according to Bailey, are all “jacks of all trades,” and are first-responders to any crisis in the campus buildings. Some of them, including Bailey, owned businesses and turned them over to their sons.

“I am a carpenter,” he said. “I had my own business and did all the fixture installations for Circuit City and Barnes & Noble. I traveled a lot, and was only home about nine days a month. One day, my wife said, ‘You don’t even know your grandchildren. Come home.’”

So he came to ASU, first in the carpenter shop, then transferring to the building tech department, where he now keeps the Christmas Choir organized.

Though the techs are serious about their work, Bailey said, the choir is for fun – and inspiration. “We don’t know music. We just sing!”

(Note: the FacMan Christmas Choir takes requests for caroling. There are a few spaces left for this year. To invite them for this year or next year, call (480) 965-3633 or send an e-mail to

This year’s schedule:

Wednesday, Dec. 15: 11 a.m., University Services Building.

Thursday, Dec. 16: 9:30 a.m., Computing Commons; 10 a.m., ISTB1; 10:30 a.m., Hayden Library.

Friday, Dec. 17: 8:30 a.m, Wilson Hall; 9 a.m., Farmer Education Building; 9:30 a.m., Student Services; 10 a.m., Undergraduate Student Services.

Monday, Dec. 20: 8:30 a.m., Health Services Building; 9 a.m., Language and Literature; 9:30 a.m., School of Human Evolution and Social Change, 10 a.m., Tempe Center.

Tuesday, Dec. 21: 8:30 a.m., Noble Library; 9 a.m., Psychology; 9:30 a.m., Armstrong Hall.