Business

Taking Stock of Your Facilities

facilities management

PHOTO COURTESY OF AEI CONSULTANTS

One of the primary challenges facing higher education is the prioritization of facility management budgets amid rising costs. Maintaining campus facilities is an often-overlooked but critical component of operating an educational institution.

University and college campuses require constant and consistent maintenance to manage their facility assets, which so many invest in. How can a college or university’s facilities management and maintenance staff strategically determine a course of action—and the best use of budget—for a campus that could include dozens, or even hundreds, of individual buildings?

High-performing facility and asset managers seek out a thorough evaluation of their campuses and implement a comprehensive asset management and capital planning program. Universities and colleges can establish a centralized process for maintaining their facilities. A centralized program can strategically align the maintenance, management, renovation, and construction of campus facilities with the school’s mission.

In this article, we’ve outlined the processes for and benefits of campus-wide facility assessments and capital planning for educational institutions.

Start With a Comprehensive Evaluation

The buildings that make up the campus or campuses of a college or university can vary greatly in size, design, materials, use, and vintage. They can be decades to hundreds of years old, or they could have just opened their doors last month. They can be composed of wood, brick, metal, glass, concrete, stucco, tile, or any combination of a wide variety of materials.

As such, they all have unique needs that must be addressed at different times. Establishing and adhering to a prioritized budget and strategic action plan, based on urgency of need and cost-effectiveness, can potentially reduce spending by tens of thousands of dollars annually.

The key to facility management on college and university campuses is identifying critical needs for immediate repair and then outlining specific time frames regarding system refurbishment, replacement, or upgrade.

A university is likely to have dozens—if not hundreds—of in-house maintenance and engineering staff who play a role in the upkeep of its facilities. However, it is generally not practical to have in-house staff take on a campus-wide assessment project of this scale on their own.

Thus, the first step that an institution’s management team can take to centralize asset management and establish efficient capital planning is to partner with an expert third-party firm to undertake an extensive assessment the current condition of a campus’ facilities, or Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA).

An FCA involves evaluating the condition of all buildings and their systems. Every structure can also be reviewed for ADA compliance and energy efficiency enhancement opportunities.

A Technology-Driven Process

The evolution of field data collection and geo-coding imagery technologies has made comprehensive campus assessments possible on a larger scale and scope. The process is easier and more comprehensive than ever before. In an instant, data collected as part of a facility condition assessment can be transferred into a cloud database, stored, and made readily available to reference for facility staff for years to come.

For example, AEI Consultants recently worked with the University of Alabama on a full campus-wide facilities checkup. This assessment was completed as part of the school’s all-campus strategic improvement plan. The entire campus-wide assessment included an evaluation of 260 buildings—roughly 10 million square feet—with some of the oldest structures built with the founding of the university in 1869.

As a first step, the capital planning team reviewed the existing maintenance history, available blueprints, historical cost data, and energy audits prior to conducting on-site work.

Second, they meticulously evaluated academic teaching and office facilities, residential dormitories, and operational buildings, as well as sports stadiums and complexes.

To manage a campus-wide facility and asset assessment and to ensure accurate cost estimates, high-end hardware technologies and software were utilized that collect, transfer, and record all data during inspection.

Tablet-based assessment software allowed for the easy capturing, organizing, and delivery of data. An iPad tablet system was employed, which enabled the assessors to take photos, scan barcodes, notate condition and age, and identify replacement costs based on a fully developed cost library.

The full facilities condition assessment and capital plan will culminate in the summer of 2018 with a series of meetings with University of Alabama stakeholders. This will finalize an impact-oriented strategic plan that considers greatest-need scenarios and establishes budget priorities. According to the university’s facilities management team, they expect this comprehensive campus assessment to assist in the implementation of a more proactive planning process, as well as usher in a new link between thought and action for the institution.

A Solid Deliverable for Long-Term Success

Through completing a campus-wide assessment, colleges and universities can eliminate the paper trail of years past that many institutions still depend on to keep record of their facilities.

Following the campus-wide FCA, an institution’s management team received a comprehensive report summarizing all data collected. This included facility condition indexes (FCIs), which present the cost of maintenance versus the cost of replacement for building components and equipment as well as a variety of budgetary graphs, charts, and tables that prioritize the recommended replacement or maintenance costs. Worth noting; an FCI is a measure of condition relative to the reproduction cost of the facility.

The FCA reports provide yearly budget projections that are prioritized and categorized for use by the institution’s facility managers. Ultimately, the FCA reports will help the institution’s management to maximize its financial investment in infrastructure and financial assets, keeping budgetary priorities in line with current facility conditions and long-term budgetary goals.

The FCA assessments for the University of Alabama also implement a site-based barcode system. Through a centralized database, staff members will be able to track any building system’s age, maintenance history, manufacturer, capacity, replacement cost, and more, with simply a handheld mobile device. From this information, referenced from system barcodes, staff members can file work orders with perfect precision and track projects to completion.

Knowledge of asset condition and history is no longer hidden away in files or inside the heads of specific employees, but instead will exist in a central repository that can be accessed as needed. A centralized database of asset condition and cost will ultimately help maintain clear, actionable goals for facility management over the long-term.

The Bottom Line

Participating in and seeking out a comprehensive and thorough evaluation is the first step in finally transforming the relationship between thought and action into one of coherence and collaboration.

Campus facilities assessments can ensure that strategic choices are made regarding day-to-day maintenance and long-term capital planning. An updated, centralized database will improve asset management and budgeting processes for years to come.

Further, the subject college or university as a whole will benefit from a more efficient allocation of the institution’s facility asset management budget.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

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