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On the Right Track

Holistic building assessment and tracking tools and techniques help tell the facilities story.
University Business, Feb 2008

NEW CAMPUS BUILDINGS get celebrated-except in one particular office. "The maintenance department just cringes. They know they just went in the hole," says Matt Munter, senior vice president of facility assessment firm EMG, which conducts facility condition audits. After all, rarely does an older building go away (or maintenance staff increase) when a new one opens.

While college and university facilities are built to last 100 years or more, funding has not traditionally kept up with maintenance needs, hence the birth of deferred maintenance backlogs and tools such as the Facility Condition Index, which gave campus officials a simple way to decide which buildings were in most dire need of repair. The FCI is still used today, but "the average campus across the nation has substandard facilities because of continued insufficient funding," says Dan Harrison, executive vice president of ISES Corp., a provider of facility condition surveys. "It's always easy to get money to build a new building, but it's never easy to get money to renovate."

To help officials-and their own teams-better understand the importance of keeping buildings in good shape, facilities administrators have begun to track, and then share, the condition of buildings in a more comprehensive way. "We've been performing condition assessments for many years, and our clients as well as the process are becoming more and more sophisticated," says Mark Heroux, an associate principle at Sebesta Blomberg, which helps IHEs realize the best possible functionality, efficiency, and maintainability for their facilities. Compared to condition assessments of the past, which would tend to sit on a shelf until the next assessment came along, today's software-based documents can be updated regularly to reflect completed projects.

Administrators are thinking about facilities in terms of total cost of ownership, says Clay Kline, vice president of professional service consulting in the Asset Solutions division of MAXIMUS, a provider of facilities management software. "Everything has always been a slice and a snapshot. ... People wanted to slice and dice further." So rather than labeling a building's condition as a whole, facilities leaders now examine the condition of components. "You could have a fairly good FCI on a building and have a component of that building, such as the roof, in really bad shape," Kline notes.

As a result of this more holistic outlook toward buildings, facilities staff can better present the case for funds to those with budgetary power. They're telling the facilities story so that there's a greater chance for a happy ending.

FACILITIES SNAPSHOT: Nearly 300 buildings, about 6 million square feet

IN THE PAST: When Tom Shewan arrived at FSU as director of maintenance a few years ago, he realized that although the university was using a product to assess its facilities already, the department needed help with prioritizing projects. "You're picking a project because you think [the building is] the worst, but it may not be the worst," he says. "There's always some political element about what's done first." He looked to new software for a more reliable picture.

MOVING FORWARD: FSU is transitioning to the FacilityMAX product from MAXIMUS, which will keep the assessment information up-to-date as small-scale assessments are done to reflect completed maintenance projects. "We want an ongoing look at our facilities," Shewan explains. That hard data will help determine which project priorities to fight for.

PRESENTING THE BIG NUMBERS: "With better information, you can justify getting more money," Shewan says. While his team is well aware that the entire backlog can't be financed, he says he'll point out that putting the money into renovating a particular building could wipe out a particular percentage chunk from the total backlog.

PROCESS AT WORK: Constructed in 1913, the William Johnston Building served as the center for the entire food service operation on campus for more than 60 years. Today it's a classroom building. Shewan calls it "the building that keeps on taking." Despite the need for renovations over the past decade or so, the building was passed over in favor of putting money toward new building projects. But thanks to facilities department data, renovation plans-which include tearing down a section of the building and renovating the rest-are underway.

OUTLOOK: Each department will help keep building data current so that Shewan's department has an accurate picture. "We're trying to make it a culture of assessment, rather than a one-time snapshot type of thing," he says, adding that they hope to avoid the costs of a full assessment in the future.

FACILITIES SNAPSHOT: 159 buildings, 11,000,000 gross square feet

IN THE PAST: The university had used the FCI to track building conditions, explains Richard Pifer, associate VP for University Facilities and Services. But the process "didn't address issues like code compliance and changing programmatic requirements."

MOVING FORWARD: The team brainstormed how best to understand each building's funding requirements over time, and then developed a spreadsheet covering everything from floor-to-ceiling heights to modifications needed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements-"all the things you need to know to change the use of the building," Pifer says. Key to the new Integrated Facilities Assessment process is conversations with building occupants to ask about future hopes and issues. The IFA process helps in prioritizing projects and also helps occupants in discussing renovations with Pifer's team.

PRESENTING THE BIG NUMBERS: Senior leaders will have "a keener appreciation about the true costs of renovations," Pifer says, adding that he anticipates "extended discussion at all levels of the institution."

PROCESS AT WORK: Hutchison Hall, a 1970s-era science building, contains more than 300,000 square feet and is used for chemistry, biology, and physics. The IFA has allowed science department leaders to evaluate the costs of renovation versus building replacement, Pifer says. With a new science building of that size running at more than $400 per square foot, the total cost would be "well over $100 million," says University Architect Paul Tankel. IFA data showed that "reusing the existing building would be significantly less expensive."

OUTLOOK: Most higher ed institutions have gone away from the FCI in favor of a broad-based approach, says Tankel. "There's just a far more enhanced sense of what's going on."


DO include building needs as part of master planning.

DO present a clear business case to those who control funding.

DO explain about the true cost of owning a building throughout its life cycle.

DO warn of the economic impact of not spending the money on renewal.

DO talk in terms of return on investment and saving on investment.

DO caution about the impact on the institution's core mission (e.g., teaching, research) if buildings aren't maintained.

DO remind officials that facilities condition has been shown to affect students' desire to choose a school.

DO show "gory" pictures of nonmaintained buildings.

DO give examples for how the total cost per square foot has dropped for a properly maintained building.

DON'T simply provide FCI numbers anymore, because they don't provide a complete picture.

DON'T assume officials understand your measurement tools.

DON'T let officials think that a replaced building component (e.g., the roof) can be checked off a "done" list; as soon as it is replaced, planning should begin for when it will next need replacing.

DON'T feel the need to go it alone; third-party consultants can help prepare or actually make presentations to the board of trustees or state legislative committees.

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