Maintenance Crunch

Maintenance Crunch

Two architects show how IHEs can avoid costly mistakes by using a facilities-assessment approach to maintaining campus buildings.

What's the harm in the occasional drip from a ceiling or crack in a sidewalk? For colleges and universities, plenty. Consider these scenarios:

Potential liabilities. Life safety or code violations, such as improper ventilation in science labs, non-compliance with respect to ADA, or trip hazards as a result of deteriorating sidewalks or ragged flooring, expose the institution to potential legal action.

Collateral damage. If not attended to, an unrepaired leaking roof, for example, will result in damaged ceiling tiles, potential mold from continuously damp interior finishes, and potential impairment of building systems, including electrical or technology infrastructures.

Reduced recruitment and retention. When physical signs of a deteriorating campus are visible, they negatively impact campus growth. Having fewer students can result in inadequate funding for the institution's operations.

But as the infrastructures of the nation's institutions age, planning and budgeting for deferred maintenance are increasingly crucial to the cost-effective operation of a campus. Funds are too often being diverted away from building maintenance and repair to more immediate, visible, or politically popular demands. As a result of the continuous deferral of some projects, educational institutions may incur even greater costs.

When parts of the infrastructure fail unexpectedly and are not accounted for in a budget, they can throw an institution into a state of crisis management. Even worse, if unattended to for long enough, facilities management can seem insurmountable. That is why it is important to create and use a system for identifying and managing your "deferred maintenance backlog."

A deferred maintenance backlog is the quantification of accumulated maintenance projects left unaddressed. A carefully and objectively prepared deferred maintenance backlog is essential to financial planning and budgeting. Many firms, including DSA Architects, offer databases to their clients to quantify the assessment process; the reporting can also be done within an institution.

Management consultant Peter Drucker emphasized the importance of "knowing what you don't know." A complete facilities inventory and assessment can help institutions eliminate those unknowns. The process leads to better and more timely building repair and component replacement, improved long-term planning, and the ability to garner support for investments in the crucial, but often neglected, infrastructure of college and university campuses.

A deferred maintenance backlog almost always exists. The key questions to ask: How large is the backlog? How long will it take to reduce the backlog given various levels of expenditure? Obviously, a large immediate outlay of funds can erase a deferred maintenance backlog. More likely, reducing this accumulation of past projects will take several years.

A sound facilities-assessment and deferred-maintenance planning and budgeting tool can:

Create an inventory of existing facilities, which can be easily accessible in database format.

Provide an assessment of the general condition of each building with a concise report of the information.

Make available a method of determining the Facilities Condition Index (FCI) of each building, each campus, and the institution as a whole for benchmarking purposes.

Supply a tool that assists institutions in meeting the goals of their mission statements through the timely maintenance of the physical backbone, the buildings themselves.

Assessments of this type were recently performed at Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and at Wayne State University in Detroit. OCC is one of largest community colleges in Michigan, with nearly 2 million square feet of buildings on five campuses. According to Vice Chancellor Clarence Brantley, the greatest benefit of the assessment was a good inventory. "Knowing how many buildings we had and their condition was critical," he says. "Now that we have this information, it's very easy to track and update."

Wayne State, the third-largest university in Michigan, with more than 11.3 million square feet of buildings, also reports benefits from the assessment process. "Having the necessary documentation to obtain board support to allocate funds was essential to us," says Jim Sears, associate vice president for Facilities Planning and Management. "Once we understood the deferred maintenance backlog, it gave us the opportunity to determine investment priorities."

Institutions that use this process identify unknowns about needed investments, garner support for expenditures, and improve overall management of physical facilities.

Experience has shown that a structured approach is needed to fully achieve the benefits of an assessment process. A random exercise in identifying problems is likely to create more problems than to result in a clear solution.

A solid inventory and assessment should include 10 steps. While some of them may seem extraneous, each adds value to the whole exercise, resulting in a cohesive and lasting result that can be updated from year to year.

Start with an overview presentation to the facility's staff to ensure buy-in and commitment.

Collect preliminary data, including building names, square footage, number of floors, and use types (including multiple uses for each building). Examples are academic, administration, science, library, athletic or recreation, dormitory, etc. Use types are determined to estimate the current replacement value (CRV) of each facility. What would it cost in today's dollars to construct the building? Science facilities cost more to construct than administrative buildings or dormitories, and this difference needs to be accounted for in order to complete the next step in the process.

Determine the CRV of each building and each campus, as well as the institution as a whole.

Spread the CRV of each building across the major building components: roof, structure, glazing, mechanical, electrical, interior finishes, etc. Base the calculations on standardized percentages and adjust where appropriate to reflect unique circumstances.

Conduct a walk-through of buildings to document and evaluate existing conditions of the building components and the facilities as a whole. Identify future potential maintenance issues based on estimated component life cycles and the history of repairs.

Incorporate information provided from previously conducted studies, including ADA compliance reviews and roof evaluations, to prevent duplication of effort. Utilize the information already collected so the value of these individual component studies is not lost.

Load the collected information into a customized database that is easy to update and maintain.

Use the database tool to calculate the current FCI, which is the dollar value of the One-Year Deferred Maintenance Backlog (DMB) divided by the CRV of the building. The One-Year DMB is defined as the dollar value of items that require repair or replacement immediately in order to safely use the facility for its current use or to prevent collateral damage. This figure includes life safety and code compliance items. The calculation results in a percentage that can be compared to nationally accepted standards and used to determine the condition of the facilities.

Analyze the data to generate short- and long-term recommendations for reducing--if not eliminating--the deferred maintenance backlog. These findings and recommendations should be summarized and presented to administration for approval of a funding plan that achieves the institution's goals with respect to the ongoing condition of its facilities.

Update the data on an annual basis and track the progress of the institution's FCI on a building-by-building, campus, or overall institution basis.

There is a saying that goes, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." With the numerous demands being placed on higher learning, it is often easy to forego making important decisions or scrutinizing the physical plant. A facilities assessment process enables institutions to:

Conduct a quick and cost-effective process to quantify an institution's deferred maintenance backlog and determine the level of funding necessary to reduce or eliminate the backlog and maintain the target FCI.

Provide institution personnel with a reliable database and reporting tool to easily update and maintain building records.

Gain support for the funding of building maintenance projects.

Create an accurate internal budgeting tool.

Capture facilities information in order to educate new staff on the current inventory and condition of each building.

Commenting on the benefits of conducting a facilities assessment, Brantley of Oakland Community College says: "The process made us aware of where we stood. We knew we had a problem, but we didn't have knowledge of the actual dollar cost required to fix the problem. Now, we're developing a 10- to 15-year budget."

In addition to helping with internal budgeting, the process has also garnered OCC funding support from the outside. "It's been of benefit in presenting capital outlay documentation to the state," Brantley reports. "It documents why we need funds. We had to go back to the citizens to increase the millage. Without this information, it probably would have been difficult to convince people of the need."

The facilities assessment approach presented here is only a starting point. Reducing an institution's deferred maintenance backlog is not a one-time expense. It requires that a well-coordinated, funded plan be put in place to maintain the facilities once they have been repaired--or time will again take its toll.

Marjorie K. Simmons is managing partner of DSA Architects (a member of the SHW Group in Dallas) and has a background in accounting and information systems. Anthony R. Duce, senior vice president of DSA Architects, has worked on higher education projects over more than three decades. They can be reached by visiting www.dsa.shwgroup.com.


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