Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Let's Talk About PM

Anyone who has had any type of operational responsibility has had a conversation sometime in his or her career regarding preventative maintenance. The conversation usually includes, “Is it really worth the time and money?” As you know, PM is implemented to ensure that you get reliable and efficient performance from the equipment in your buildings such as air handlers, cooling towers, water treatment, steam traps, sprinklers, alarms, roofs, HVAC equipment, boilers, air compressors, chillers, elevators, filters, fire alarm testing and automatic doors. Preventative maintenance can also include the servicing of your automotive fleet, mowing equipment and snow removal equipment. Organizations and their customers need to evaluate and develop plans that prioritize the buildings and equipment that should be included in a preventative maintenance plan. The purpose of any program is to help keep the equipment performing in excellent working condition and to never disrupt operational service.

Run to failure strategies often involve the thinking that is easier to ask for funding when a particular building system, such as a heating or cooling unit, is down for unscheduled repairs. But what happens if there is no funding? Sometimes budget cuts start at the operational levels when times get tough regarding the budget; it seems easier to justify eliminating a cost that is based on manufacturer’s recommendation, a vendor’s bid or designated intervals that can be exceeded. Have you ever heard someone say, “The building is brand new, why do we need to maintain it?”

Many organizations tend to land somewhere in-between regarding preventative maintenance, depending on organizational culture and budgetary responsibilities. The challenge is understanding the importance of preventative maintenance and to what effect it may help reduce daily operational costs.

How Does the Work Get Done?

Who performs the PM work; internal teams or external teams?

There may not be a right or wrong answer to this question, as much of the answer depends on the organization. There are different models for getting the work done. Some organizations use internal teams to take care of the preventative maintenance and others have outside contractors help with the work.

With the internal model, you get the historical perspective of the equipment and building infrastructure. The caveat with this model is that sometimes internal teams can become complacent, and there is always the concern of work being postponed in lieu of emergencies, absenteeism and vacations. Typically, the hourly cost is less expensive than the external cost of the service. Where it gets a bit tricky is when the legacy costs are included.

The external model allows you to define the scope, identify the level of service and then conduct competitive bids for the work and service. You should ask the vendor and/or the internal team to include a summary of the work — and either photograph and/or video the work performed — and also add any concerns related to the future performance of the equipment. Depending on the level of service, preventive maintenance can include measuring for normal wear, checking the equipment for any unusual deterioration and then repairing or replacing as necessary.

How do you know the work is being completed in a quality and timely fashion? Some organizations perform quality audits and review the work being performed by an internal team and then sign off. Organizations might also hire an audit team to review intervals, costs and quality of the service. They may also schedule the work using their work order/preventative maintenance software and expect their internal or external team to be there on time to perform the work prescribed.

Avoid Pitfalls

Sometimes failures occur when preventative maintenance is being performed. This is where records are critical for helping to determine a root cause of the failure. Be careful to avoid check sheets or information that are not using data to show the actual measurements of equipment.

Whether you are doing the work internally or externally, be sure to have the work that was performed detailed, as well as having data (when possible) to show what needs to be replaced and or monitored. When opening a new building or completing a renovation of an existing building, be sure to have the commissioning process include the preventative maintenance teams, whether they are an internal team or a contractor-based external team.

Ultimately, you will find that regularly performed preventative maintenance will help prolong the life span and the reliability of equipment while also keeping your equipment running efficiently.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Bruce A. Meyer, Ed.D., is assistant vice president of Campus Operations at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, appointed in April 2010. His team currently manages 5,000,000 square feet on a campus with over 20,000 students, faculty and staff.

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