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Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

School's out for Summer!

Alice Cooper belted out a great tune, and that anthem still holds some relevance for maintenance managers — “School’s out for summer… Out for summer, out till fall…” — and that little break gives us the right opportunity to swoop in and perform some much-needed maintenance!

There was a time, not that many years ago, when the summers were partly reserved for maintenance activities. Those were great days; plenty of time to gain access to classrooms and residence halls, as well as auxiliary and common area spaces. Sure, there was a camp or conference here and there throughout the summer, but nothing that caused any great hurdle for the ongoing maintenance activities of the campus. As maintenance managers, we looked forward to the opportunity to have this time to breathe new life into our well-used classrooms, dorms, lobbies and corridors!

Wait, What’s Going On?

Unfortunately, those days are gone. Our institutions figured out that they could add income by renting all that idle space. What once was a purposeful, but evenly paced, summer maintenance plan became a tightly scheduled start, stop, and then hurry up sort of endeavor. In order to maximize income, camps began to start closer to dorm move-out dates and conferences started even sooner after the end of the spring semester. The need to perform minimum or triage-level maintenance and custodial services is the only thing forcing any sort of gap between check-out/school’s end and start of conferences or check-in for camps. The level of effort required to pull this off is significant, and requires a great amount of planning and scheduling.

Exactly what does this planning and scheduling look like? The decision to bring in these events is likely made a year or more out, and the planning should happen simultaneously. And as I’ve written recently, if Maintenance or Facilities/Physical Plant had a seat on the committee or group that makes those decisions, that would be a good first step. Knowledge of what is coming is helpful. Of most significance on these committees is the opportunity for our department to provide exact information on how quickly our facilities can truly be turned over for a new occupancy. No offense to our no-maintenance counterparts, but oftentimes their concept of time and space is incorrect. We’ve all seen it; these well-meaning people will simply draw the tables smaller on a set-up layout to show that they can get 20 tables into a space that can really only hold 15, or suggest that 100 dorm rooms can be cleaned and maintained in two days because that’s how much time they’ve allotted!

Make a Plan and Work It

The choreography of scheduling our various trades through these spaces must often be worked out down to the hour if we are to make some of these very tight turnovers possible. Prepare your employees mentally for what is coming. Many have been through this before, but for some this will be their first rapid-fire maintenance activity. In regard to facilities; attempt to walk the impacted areas a few weeks ahead of time to get an idea of the condition of the spaces and begin planning any major repairs. Additionally, from years of experience performing these turnovers, we know what miscellaneous parts and supplies we will need, including furniture parts, door and window hardware, lamps and ballasts, etc. When it all needs to happen quickly, we cannot afford to wait for materials to arrive, so order early. Also, determine who helps pay for these expedited turnovers. If there is overtime or contractors involved, be sure to have those costs covered by the conference department.

The upside to hosting these various events is great, and we as facilities leaders understand and support that. The exposure and additional income for the institution, not to mention local economic impact, can be significant. However, consider the side effects of repeated use with only short durations of maintenance, which can weigh heavily on a facility. Overuse with little opportunity for upkeep will cause a facility to age prematurely, and sooner or later we reach a point where no one wants to rent a worn facility. Worse yet, much of this additional use can have a negative effect on our core customer, our students!

In order to negate the effects of overuse, consider budgeting a percentage of camp and conference income to go toward capital renewal in the areas most affected by our outside visitors. The use of these funds helps cover the additional cost of fast-track projects, as well as provides for capital renewal to our facilities without our students needing to foot the bill. This then becomes a win-win in the grand scheme.

Plan ahead, be deliberate in your approach, prepare your employees and use income wisely and you’ll be singing right along… School’s out for summer!

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

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