How to Prioritize and Complete Renovation Projects

Professionals overseeing facility requirements at higher education institutions must evaluate numerous building and infrastructure needs each year. Renovation projects, and prioritizing which projects get done first, require extensive research, communication and close cooperation between all members of the project team.

The experts contributing to this article agree that three components -- program requirements, need and available funding -- are the driving forces when it comes to prioritizing projects. And once projects are prioritized, several critical elements can greatly affect their successful delivery.

Master Planning

At the heart of every renovation program is a master plan, which guides all facility decisions and enables the administration and facility personnel to prioritize and to obtain project funding.

The master plan is built on extensive investigation and discussion among members of the administration, academic representatives and facility personnel. A variety of media may be used to gather information, including surveys and discussion groups. Further master plan development requires that all participants thoughtfully and thoroughly document the facility needs of their respective areas based on program requirements and changing user expectations.

For example, academic personnel must thoroughly document the program requirements of their respective areas, including the development or elimination of major programs that may significantly affect their facility requirements. They must also detail technology and other provisions that will be required when a building is renovated.

“As a state institution, we are required to submit a six-year capital improvement plan to the State of Kentucky every two years,” says Dr. G. Dewey Yeatts, associate vice president of facilities management at Murray State University in Kentucky. “We must continually prioritize our needs based on the university’s program, service and user requirements. Our master plan is critical to knowing where we are going, ultimately helping us to identify which projects we must ask to have funded first.”

Yeatts and other facility staff at Murray State oversee a physical plant that involves 94 buildings on the university’s main campus. The facility master plan, coupled with maintenance requirements, is essential to ensuring that each facility operates at maximum efficiency and that the university is using its space as wisely as possible.

The Value of Communication

One of the greatest challenges, according to Yeatts, is to communicate the need to balance any university’s observable facility requirements with those that are unseen: “Facility staff must be able to effectively communicate the importance of infrastructure needs to university administrators and state officials if they are a public institution. Nobody gets excited about spending $1 million on underground switch gear or other ‘unseen’ renovation projects. Putting that money into a building renovation is preferable from an aesthetic and visibility standpoint. But many times unseen projects must take place first to enable the successful completion or operation of a larger or more visible project. Having a current master plan that details the importance of renovation projects, both seen and unseen, is necessary to obtain funding and to successfully communicate the value of each project.”

Vicky Davidson, assistant vice president for facilities planning and management at Wright State Univer-sity in Dayton, Ohio, agrees with Yeatts. “We must request facility funds from the state, so our planning is critical to prioritizing both new and renovation projects. We talk extensively with our faculty and administrators to understand their needs,” she says. “Our challenge is then to plan for and implement projects according to a schedule that is most appropriate for everyone.”

Funding Challenges

Davidson and other facility personnel at Wright State University are responsible for 61 buildings on the main campus. And there is never enough money to meet all the facility requirements in a given year.

“Our allocation for capital improvement projects from the state is approximately $12 million every two years,” states Davidson. “Prior to our last submission to the state, we had requests for $87 million in capital improvement projects, about half of which were renovations. All requests were very valid, but the available funding was obviously short of what everyone would have liked to receive.”

The good news for Davidson and facility personnel at other institutions is that funding from other private sources can move a project from a wish to reality. Wright State will be able to proceed with two projects that were further down on the priority list because of research money and a private donation that the university has received. In addition to moving specific projects forward, these unexpected financial resources often enable other projects to be moved up the priority list.

Ingredients for Renovation Success

Once projects are prioritized, several key ingredients can make or break a project, and communications and the team top the list.

1. Communication: “You can’t say enough about the high level of communication that is required with the user before and during a project,” notes Davidson. “The majority of individuals on the academic side of the house will be involved with one major renovation during their careers. It’s the facility person’s job to make certain that everyone understands the entire process and that we work together to design the best facility possible.”

Ohio State University’s main campus in Columbus comprises more than 22 million square feet in 404 buildings. Communication between project team members is critical to ensuring that all project requirements are fulfilled.

“Everyone on the project team has to be open with regard to what is required and expected,” states John Kleberg, assistant vice president, business and finance at Ohio State. “We continually stress communication within each project team. By thoroughly and openly communicating throughout the project we can help to avoid surprises.”

2. External Consultants: The partnership with external consultants, which has communication as a cornerstone, is very important, according to Kleberg: “Our consultants must understand our mission and challenges. We hire external consultants for projects that cannot be handled by our own staff because of time or other constraints. Our consultants must deliver aesthetically appropriate projects. But they must also design functional projects that incorporate our facility standards into the fabric of the structure.”

Kleberg notes that this is especially true for renovation projects, where adhering to the university’s design standards is very important. “We have extensive building standards,” he notes. “As facilities are renovated, we use systems and materials that match our standards. By standardizing doors, windows, light fixtures and other components, we can save time and financial expenditures on the maintenance side of the facility equation. Our consultants must understand not only the program and design requirements for a particular project, but how the project meshes with our overall facility program and standards.”

3. The unexpected: Obviously, circumstances may arise that can change any priority list. Natural disasters or other events that significantly damage or destroy a building can necessitate the diverting of funds from a project at the top of the list to an unexpected need.

Facility professionals who work closely with administrators and academic representatives will be able to gain a thorough understanding of the institution’s program, service and user requirements. As a result, they will be able to prioritize and complete renovation projects that are aesthetically appropriate, efficient and economically responsible to the benefit of all users.

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