Backlog of facilities maintenance projects creates major challenges and new opportunities for college campus leaders

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The combination of aging buildings on college campuses and budget cuts that have reduced campus facilities investments has led to an historic rise in the backlog of deferred maintenance projects, according to a new report by Sightlines LLC.

“Our report indicates that it’s time to change the conversation surrounding campus facilities management,” said Jim Kadamus, vice president of Sightlines, a leader in helping academic institutions better manage their facilities and capital investment strategies. “American colleges are never going to have enough money to address all of their facilities maintenance needs, so it’s crucial for higher ed business officers and facilities management professionals to define policies and strategies that optimize investments to address their deferred maintenance backlog challenges in a systematic way.”

To help direct this new conversation about campus facilities management, Sightlines just released its 2013 report, “The State of Facilities in Higher Education: Benchmarks, Best Practices & Trends.” The full report can be downloaded at http://www.sightlines.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/The-State-of-Facilities-in-Higher-Education-2013-Benchmarks-Best-Practices-Trends.pdf.

The report contains a number of important findings, such as the following:

  • From 2007 to 2012, deferred maintenance project backlogs have increased by 15%, with the rate of increase in the backlog accelerating from 2010 to 2012 due to aging campus facilities and reduced spending on maintenance.
  • The majority of buildings on campuses (58%) are over 25 years old and there is a problem brewing on public campuses in particular. Public campuses experienced a building boom in the 1960s and early-1970s, so 42% of public campus space is between 25 and 50 years of age; those buildings will be reaching the 50 year-old mark in the next decade and will be at significant risk of major problems without capital investment.
  • The economic downturn had a huge impact on college campuses, with a drop in capital investment on facilities from $5.50 per gross square foot (GSF) in 2009 to less than $5 per GSF last year.
  • Facilities operating spending has grown less than 2% per year from 2007 to 2012, which has led to a reduction in maintenance, custodial and facilities staff members on campuses, meaning fewer personnel are maintaining more campus space.

“The data in our report can help frame the new strategic discussions that need to take place now on every American college campus, from the boiler room to the board room,” said David Kadamus, president and chief executive officer of Sightlines. “These discussions need to include how the institution can create a comprehensive annual facilities spending plan that slows the rate of deferred maintenance, how to set priorities by grouping certain campus buildings into project portfolios to increase the impact of each dollar invested, and how to create a capital plan that ties into the school’s mission in order to gain broader support and drive to a better long-term impact.”

The Sightlines report also reveals the good news for campus leaders, identifying some very specific steps that can be taken now in order to deal with the problem of deferred maintenance. The goal is to create the knowledge base that will help colleges better serve students and faculty by making sure that American campuses continue functioning as world-class institutions of learning and innovation.

Sightlines works with more than 500 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada, helping academic institutions across the country bridge the gap that separates finance and facilities, and give facilities executives the information they need to inform future facilities planning and make key financial decisions on campus.

About Sightlines

Founded in 2000, Sightlines works with more than 500 college and university campuses each year. Their ROPASM (Return-on-Physical-Assets) service provides a holistic approach to defining capital needs and provides an independent view of campus performance, reliably benchmarked against peer institutions. Academic institutions use ROPASM to defend budgets, secure additional funds, evaluate new construction, rebalance budgets, assess maintenance backlogs, determine proper staffing and service levels, and successfully present budgets to boards. Sightlines was named to the 2013 Inc. 5000 list, an annual report from Inc. Magazine of the fastest growing privately owned businesses in the U.S., for the fifth consecutive year. For more information, please call 203.682.4952, go to www.sightlines.com.