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Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Can It Wait?

deferred maintenance 

PHOTO COURTESY OF LEBANON VALLEY COLLEGE

Even in the best of times, keeping up with the maintenance demands of any campus poses challenges. But when funds tighten due to economic downturns, needs can pile up quickly.

“We were moving in the right direction, especially in private colleges and universities, until about five years ago,” says Lander Medlin, executive vice president of APPA, the Alexandria, VA-based association serving educational facilities professionals.

While economic conditions have slowly improved, the not-surprising result has been a historic rise in the backlog of deferred maintenance projects. A 15 percent increase has been reported for such projects from 2007 to 2012, thanks to the double whammy of aging campus facilities and reduced spending on maintenance.

Long-Standing Problem

The problem actually goes back decades, according to Willem van der Pol, director of facilities operations at Cal State Fullerton, who reports a backlog of approximately $150 million at his institution. That comes from a total approaching $2 billion for the 23 campuses in California’s state university system.

“Higher education facility management professionals have been talking about it since the seventies,” he says. He cites a 1989 report, The Decaying American Campus: a Ticking Time Bomb.

“The issue is about extending the life cycle of buildings through timely replacement of components that are at, or beyond, their predicted maximum age,” he says. “A roof needs to be replaced before it starts leaking so it doesn’t destroy other building components. Mechanical systems need to be replaced to ensure efficiency and eliminate breakdowns.”

The basic problem, van der Pol says, is the lack of a funding mechanism for this type of scheduled maintenance.

This year, however, Cal State Fullerton has made significant progress as the university has begun restoring maintenance funding.

“There is broader recognition of the importance of supporting facilities-related issues,” he says. “And this promises to be the first step of a turnaround that will get the maintenance and operation back to par.”

Edward DesPlas, executive vice chancellor of business affairs for the Dallas County Community College District, notes that the long-term challenges posed by deferred maintenance can be seen in a variety of actions taken by colleges.

“Look at the solutions that have emerged and grown to assist colleges and universities cope with deferred maintenance,” he says. DesPlas points to performance contracting, lease-purchase arrangements, maintenance tax note funding and increases in student building use and/or parking fees.

“I think these show that it’s a problem in higher education,” he notes.

Dallas officials recently moved the district’s deferred maintenance list into what they are calling a “planned maintenance” mode.

“We adopted a new mindset,” DesPlas says. “We came to understand and accept that once our list of projects were accomplished, a new list had developed and required attention.”

A key element is the recognition that maintenance and repair needs are not a one-time need.

“We’d always kept a rolling five-year list of projects,” DesPlas says. “Now we have earmarked a portion of our operating budget that provides a budget for one-fifth of the list each year.”

The move was aided by a modest increase in local property taxes, he adds.

deferred maintenance 

PHOTO COURTESY OF THIRTEEN OF CLUBS

WHAT’S IT WORTH TO YOU? When looking at a deferred maintenance backlog, gathering accurate data (as well as cost data) through facility condition assessments (FCA) will help create a benchmark to analyze the effect of investing in facility improvements. Industry associations, including APPA, have developed this benchmark, known as the Facility Condition Index (FCI). Basically, the FCI is the ratio of deferred maintenance dollars to replacement dollars. To calculate the FCI for a building, divide the total estimated cost of deferred maintenance projects for the building by its estimated replacement value. The lower the FCI, the lower the need for remedial or renewal funding relative to the facility’s value.

Know the Numbers

David Tod Geaslin, a principal with The Geaslin Group, a Houston-based maintenance consulting firm, has developed what he calls the “Inverse-Square Rule for Deferred Maintenance.”

The rule states that “Any part that is known to be failing and left in service until the next level of failure will create an expense equal to the square of the cost of the primary failure part. If a $100 component is failing, and you don’t fix it before it fails, repairs then will cost $10,000.

Geaslin also explains the cost of deferring maintenance in a different way: If the invoice for parts and labor to replace that failing part would have cost $667 before the failure, the cost of repairs after the break down would be 15 times the preventive maintenance invoice.

How can you turn your maintenance system around so that your work replaces parts before the equipment breaks down? Answer: You can hire a third-party maintenance provider, or you can adopt their methods. You can also find opportunities by assessing your maintenance performance against industry benchmarks.

Then to take advantage of those opportunities, you will start up a computerized maintenance system, standardize with the right materials, parts and tools, get state-of-the-art training for your crews and modify your organization to take advantage of the opportunities you discover.

Never Easy

A reality is that catching up on maintenance tends be shooting at a moving target, even when funding increases. At Cal State Fullerton, for example, the campus sewer system is overdue for a major overhaul, and mechanical systems are well beyond their expected lifecycle. As a result, according to van der Pol, the services delivered are inadequate, requiring more resources and at a higher energy cost.

At the same time, competition with other needs, such as meeting expectations for building cleanliness, is an ongoing reality.

“Keeping custodial care in the budget can be considered a base-level expectation, but resources for maintenance and repairs are typically reduced, if not eliminated, when funding cuts occur,” DesPlas says. “The planned projects are too easily shelved for ‘better days’ when funding becomes available.”

Constant diligence can help, at least to some extent.

“Pay attention to what others are not going to notice,” Medlin says. “Out of sight is not out of mind when it comes to facilities. Focus on things that people aren’t seeing, especially those that could cause safety or reliability issues.”

Of course, support of the primary mission should be paramount.

“The most important factors for campus leaders to consider are the facilitiesrelated elements that affect the ability to provide a quality learning environment,” van der Pol says. “The number-one concern always has to be the well being of all those using the facilities. Because of the maintenance and operational conditions of older buildings, older systems are much less efficient, and therefore relatively more expensive to operate.”

Pointing to APPA’s long-established priority matrix for facilities maintenance projects, DesPlas notes that life/safety issues top the list. He recommends that campus leaders review those priorities and plan accordingly, adding that many repairs and system replacements or upgrades are not just a “pay-me-now or pay-me-later” relationship, since too often the latter becomes very costly.

“Find resources to fund the planned maintenance list,” he says. “It’s our job to protect and maintain the sizeable investment we have in facilities.”

Looking to the future, van der Pol envisions new approaches. “We need a new vision for facilities management in higher education,” he says. “‘Business as usual’ won’t cut it much longer. Everything is changing, and so we need to be prepared to come up with better solutions.”

As examples, van der Pol advises against regarding deferred maintenance, capital renewal needs and compliance with growing restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions as separate issues, with separate funding sources and processes.

“We need to look at the combined opportunities and pursue investments that will actually pay off in the future,” he says.

Expert Resources

For more information, check out these publications available through APPA at its website (www.appa.org/Research/CRDM.cfm):

  • Thought Leaders 2012: Campus Space... An Asset and a Burden, by APPA (2012)
  • Strategic Capital Development: The New Model for Campus Investment, by Harvey H. Kaiser and Eva Klein (2010)
  • Buildings... The Gifts That Keep on Taking: A Framework for Integrated Decision Making, by Rod Rose, with David A. Cain, James J. Dempsey and Rich Schneider (2007)
  • Charting a New Course for Campus Renewal, by Rod Rose (1999)

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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