Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Unsung Heroes

The school year is winding down and most students are off to summer vacation. The same can’t be said for the facilities and maintenance staff at our schools and colleges. Their summer “to-do” lists include everything from cleaning spaces to repairing or replacing carpet, ceilings, lights, windows, locks, HVAC and mechanical systems to completing small-scale capital improvement programs or finishing up facilities that will open in the fall. Already a herculean task, they are now being asked to do this with fewer staff, less money and buildings that are on the verge of falling apart.

Maintenance budgets at many institutions have been cut and the effect is becoming noticeable. Once-available dollars are being withheld or diverted to salaries, unfunded mandates or more popular/visible projects. Unfortunately, too many people involved in the shuffle of dollars have no idea how devastating the consequences of deferring maintenance can be. The lack of resources (people and dollars) has reduced planned maintenance and all but eliminated predictive and preventative maintenance in many schools. Many institutions are left with barely enough staff and dollars to handle emergencies.

When The American Society of Civil Engineers released their 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, schools scored a “D” — a near failing grade. The Center for Green Schools reports that a half trillion — yes trillion — dollars is needed to update our schools. Their researchers estimated schools spent $211 billion on upkeep between 1995 and 2008, but needed to some $482 billion. The gap — $271 billion — is a number that will double over the next decade and will continue to grow exponentially unless action is taken.

An APPA report on higher education states that higher education institutions own some of the most valuable real estate in the world with some of the most significant architecture, specialized research facilities and beloved sports complexes. They also report that aging buildings, combined with rising materials and energy costs, can make the physical campus a drag on the institutional budget.

It is not often that we stop and thank those who work in our facilities, custodial or maintenance departments. They deserve our praise. They play a huge role in creating educational environments that keep students and staff safe and healthy. They are digging in, looking for efficiencies and doing their jobs even with their hands tied behind their backs!

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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