Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Keeping Up Appearances

Appearances

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

Chocolate or vanilla? Paper or plastic? Making choices is hard, but for college facility managers choosing how to spend maintenance dollars can be particularly trying. It’s not like any of these professionals are blessed with an overabundance of funds. “I’ve worked at three different schools and there’s never been one that had all of the resources they need,” says Alan Burr, director of facilities and construction, New College of Florida in Sarasota.

Still, Burr and his colleagues make choices that keep their campuses safe and in good working order while still honoring historic buildings. How do they do it? CP&M talks to three facility professionals charged with making the hard choices.

UVA: The World is Watching

Founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville is more than a first-class school. Its Academical Village is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization considers it to be of outstanding cultural importance to the common heritage of humanity. It’s also a working part of the school, where students live and learn.

Appearances

PHOTOS © CHIP LITHERLAND

If that’s not enough pressure for the facilities department, there are the other structures, from plain vanilla classrooms to state-of-the-art research facilities that demand upkeep. In total 547 buildings require attention. How does UVA keep up?

“We’ve been fortunate that the state legislature and the school’s governing body support ongoing capital maintenance reinvestment over deferred maintenance,” says Mark Webb, programs and informatics director, UVA. However, it wasn’t always that way.

Webb and his team employ the Facility Condition Index (FCI) as a high-level metric to judge the overall condition of their building portfolio. The FCI for a building is calculated by dividing the cost of a repair — say replacing a boiler or fixing a control system — by the building’s current replacement value. A structure with a 0 to 5 percent FCI is deemed to be in excellent condition. When you get up into the 15 percent range there’s a significant impact to programs.

Appearances

PHOTOS © CHIP LITHERLAND

“Ten years ago the FCI for the whole campus was rising above the 10 percent mark,” remembers Webb. “It was starting to affect the quality of education that we deliver.” It was also becoming a huge financial liability, one that Webb estimated to be, “around a quarter of a billion dollars.”

Webb presented his findings to UVA’s Board of Visitors, who stepped up and started funding projects. As a result, by the end of fiscal 2015 the school’s FCI is back down to a healthy 5 percent. Work included the expected, like roof replacements, HVAC and elevator maintenance, along with repairs to the historic Academical Village.

“These buildings require specialty craftsmanship,” says Webb of the façades that require lime mortar and interiors that demand plasterwork. Webb admits that maintaining these buildings is expensive, but comparable to the cost of renewing an older research building. “We were renovating the Rotunda and a 1960s chemistry building at the same time and the cost per square foot was almost the same.”

Appearances

PHOTOS © CHIP LITHERLAND

New College of Florida: Juggling Act

New College of Florida in Sarasota also boasts historic buildings. Set on the former winter estate of circus magnate Charles Ringling, the state school is an honors college with a student population reaching nearly 850. Among its 600,000 square feet of buildings about half a dozen are original structures built by Ringling and maintained by Burr and his staff.

“The same pot of money goes into maintaining all of the structures,” he says. Burr admits that historic, high-profile structures like College and Cook Hall which house mostly administrative functions gets attention first, “unless there’s a possible impact to education.”

Burr’s main focus is keeping all of the structures safe and watertight with a focus on roofing, flooring and HVAC systems. And yes, as this is Florida all buildings, even the original structures, have air conditioning. “We had the AC go out in one building over the weekend and students were reporting water coming out of the ground,” recalls Burr. His team fixed the problem in under 24 hours.

Along with repairs and general cleaning, Burr’s staff is also charged with grounds maintenance. Garden-variety specimens fill most of the campus. However, a handful of exotic plants — like camphor trees, banyan trees, sausage trees and an African tulip tree that the Ringling family planted on the estate — require special attention.

Burr reports that his budget for this work has remained constant over the last two years. He is not complaining. “No school’s mission includes looking pretty,” he says. “Our calling card is our academic performance.” Still, he manages to keep things looking inviting enough that the bay front College Hall is a sought after spot for weddings and events.

Appearances

PHOTO COURTESY OF DABEPA

University of Montana: Open Spaces, Empty Coffers

Working within an ample budget is easy; a restricted budget is a bit harder, but what if there’s no budget at all? What do you do then?

“One year the state legislature allocated us zero dollars for deferred maintenance,” says Kevin Kresbsbach, interim director for facility services, University of Montana in Missoula. “Last year we got something, but it wasn’t enough.”

Blame the school’s dwindling enrollment and other financial pressures facing the state, but that doesn’t make Kresbsbach’s job any easier. “It’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ sometimes,” he says of the decisions he and his team have to make.

Of course life safety remains the primary concern, with fume hoods and fire alarms topping the priority list. “We also preserve the assets by keeping roofs in good order. But painting is on the bottom of the list. We paint on an 80-year cycle.” That may be bit tongue-in-cheek, but there are places on campus where older carpet is patched with duct tape.

The university also has older buildings, and Kresbsbach reports that these are actually easier to maintain. “They have steam radiators with a hand valve, if the room is too hot you just turn the valve,” he says. New buildings with controls are trickier, as the technologies age and turn over much faster. “We’re addressing these life-cycle costs now and learning how to take care of the buildings over the years,” he says.

Kresbsbach laments his situation and, as the state’s population is not expected to increase in the foreseeable future, doesn’t see a quick way out, but remains upbeat and proud of his school. “This is a world-class facility in a beautiful location,” he says. “There are lots of positive things here.”

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

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