A woman on the team

One might imagine a team of burly men effortlessly handling heavy equipment as if it were mere feathers, but at least one member of the team does not fit this description. When Maud Courtens (38) enters the room to discuss her role in the Randwyck Library renovations, it is clear that she is the exception. Amidst a predominantly male team, this slender woman has been serving as an electrical technician since the renovations commenced in September 2023.

“I mainly focused on fire detection. Fire alarm installation, evacuation installation. Placing fire alarms and speakers in the right places to warn people to evacuate the building in case of a fire,” Maud explains.

The importance of precision

When entering a renovated building, it’s often the new interior that catches the eye, while the meticulously planned new electrical points, energy-efficient lights, and modern fire detection system are usually not the first things one notices. Yet, these aspects of the renovation require hours of meticulous planning and are sometimes crucial to saving lives.

“I enjoy doing it, but at the same time I’m aware that it must be done properly because lives depend on it,” Maud says regarding her work. “It’s a huge responsibility to ensure that the entire system functions flawlessly in the event of a fire. It’s crucial that every connection is made correctly, and the cables are meticulously laid out. Careful and precise work is very important.”

Maud speaks passionately about her job and the importance of precisely positioning cables along the ceiling and diligently following the technical plan to the letter. Several critical rules must be adhered to, including ensuring that the cables do not traverse the same space twice to guarantee optimal system functionality in the event of a fire. Even the slightest negligence or error could have life-threatening consequences.

Randwyck Renovation

Above: Building work underway at the Randwyck Library

Randwyck Renovation

Above: Maud Courtens

From fast food to technical renovations

It’s clear that Maud enjoys her work, and she shares how the workdays fly by as she rarely sits still. But, ten years ago, Maud wouldn’t have guessed that today she would be one of the few women in a male-dominated field involved in building renovations. In fact, for the first 13 years after school, she worked in fast-food restaurants.

“At one point, I had had enough. The working conditions were terrible, and so was the salary, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to do something where I had a real skill and I wanted to have a genuine career.” One day, she saw a man fixing a frying pan at the fast-food restaurant where she was working. “I watched him do it, and I thought: this is interesting! It looks like fun. And then I thought maybe I should do something like that, and become a technician,” Maud recounts.

She then started working and getting training in the industry simultaneously, and today, the job fits her like a glove. For her, it’s also not a problem to be one of the few women among the men.

“For me it is great,” she says. “I grew up with two brothers and I never was a girly-girl. As a child I never cared for dresses or dolls and much preferred playing with cars. Most of my friends were boys.”

Family influence

While her father was relatively handy, she doesn’t believe that this is where her technical inclination comes from. She describes her father as more of an artist than a handyman.

“He was very creative and enjoyed painting, drawing, and crafting. He was really good at it. He was also handy around the house and would sometimes fix things, but when it came to technical work like servicing the car or installing a kitchen, he didn’t do it himself.”

Although Maud was also creative and enjoyed crafting as a child, she never thought she would one day work as a technician. She also couldn’t imagine that her mother would give her a call instead of phoning her two brothers when something in her house breaks.

“These days it’s like: ‘Maud, can you come to fix this, or come to fix that,’” she says with a laugh. “My mom tells everyone that she has a super handy daughter.”

Diverse skills and collaboration

While Maud and her colleagues made sure every fire sensor was placed in exactly the right spot, a whole bunch of other technical personnel and construction teams worked together to shape the new library and ensure that what was designed on paper became a reality.

In this regard, the final responsibility lies with Ruud Duijzings, the project manager of Vastgoed Facility Services, or FS, as this service centre of Maastricht University (UM) is known. Since the Randwyck library’s renovation began, it has been Ruud’s and his team’s job to ensure the process runs smoothly from an FS perspective. While such a huge responsibility might give most people sleepless nights, Ruud says project management is almost second nature to him. After all, he’s been doing this kind of work for a very long time – 39 years in total, 23 of which have been with UM.

Above: Building work underway at the Randwyck Library

Above: Ruud Duijzings

Overcoming challenges and ensuring success

Nevertheless, this project had its challenges. According to Ruud, the most significant of these was replacing the Randwyck Library’s roof, an aluminum roof structure comprising glass plates.

“It involved transporting a vast number of glass plates to the top of the building, and they had to be handled in a way that didn’t pose a danger to anyone because the building was in use at the time. If even one glass plate falls, it’s one too many.”

While the building’s roof had to be completely renewed during the winter of 2023/24, it began to rain, and it rained almost incessantly.

“It was unbelievable. There was so much rain! Despite the downpour, the workers had to continue their work without allowing water to enter the library.”

Despite these setbacks, they succeeded, and the library, which becomes more beautiful each passing day, is set to reopen within four weeks thanks to the leadership of individuals like Ruud and the numerous workers who each contributed their bit to make the project a success.

Above: A sneak peek of the renewed Randwyck Library

Looking ahead

Ultimately, the expectation is that the library will truly be world-class once the doors reopen, marking a beautiful new chapter in this library’s history of more than 30 years. Fons van den Eeckhout, who has been working at the Maastricht University Library for 34 years, nowadays as a Medical and Health Sciences Librarian, still remembers what the Randwyck Library looked like in 1991.

“It was a modern building for that time. And it was meant to be a very modern library.”

But that was decades ago. In the meantime, the world and the academic landscape have changed, and along with these changes, it was also necessary for the library to adapt.

Since the library was first established in the current building in 1991, there have been a number of minor renovations, but this is the first proper facelift. Over the years, Fons often provided input from his role at the University Library on what adjustments were needed to adapt the library to better meet the users’ needs. He enjoyed doing so and looks forward to seeing the end result when the library reopens on 10 June.

“The objective is to align the library as closely as possible with the preferences of its users, and I believe that now, after all this time, we will finally have the best library we’ve ever had.”