Mike Crosson is the director of higher education business for VFA (formerly Vanderweil Facility Advisors), Cambridge, Massachusetts; he can be reached at email@example.com.
Keeping the buildings of a school system or university in good condition is an enormous responsibility, and one that can run out of control without a comprehensive system of capital planning and assessment. Before the Massachusetts Institute of Technology adopted a technology-based strategy for facilities renewal and management, university officials relied on the memory of its physical plant personnel to document the conditions of the 119 buildings on campus and used spreadsheets to track its most urgent needs. Today, the school has established a strategic facilities investment policy, and the campus' condition plays a pivotal role of MIT's overall mission to remain one of world's top technical universities.
Fundamental change, in both business methods and decision support tools, is needed in order for higher education institutions to optimize capital reinvestment across large, diverse building portfolios. Meeting the facilities needs of a campus is an important step toward building an environment conducive to learning and educational innovation. Ultimately, an integral methodology for strategic and comprehensive facilities life cycle planning cannot be overstated. Traditional approaches must break from one-time building assessments and repair budgets and progress toward an ongoing life cycle-based facilities management approach. Facilities issues are continuous and dynamic, yet classic "master plans" and "project-based" approaches are still employed, despite the fact that they are generally static in nature and flawed by design. Evolving to a life cycle approach of facilities management requires enterprise-wide communication and consensus building regarding building conditions, needs, and planning guidelines across all departments and constituencies. Information flows between facility managers, department heads, budget writers, and executives, enabling all parties to adjust their priorities according to pressing needs. The process defines, refines, and solidifies core missions and goals, providing "buy-in" from key constituencies both in terms of financial and process support.
Accurate baseline information on the condition of the facilities, including both physical conditions and functional ability to meet program requirements, is the foundation of long-term planning initiatives. Improved policy and financial decisions can only be attained through analysis of accurate baseline facilities information, projections based upon proven models and established benchmarks. Popular benchmarks such as the facilities condition index can be supplemented with educational adequacy indices, as well as systems conditions ratios, etc.
The facilities condition audit is a proven method for gaining accurate baseline information. Audits can be performed in various levels of detail and are conducted by in-house staff, independent-third parities, or a combination of both.
To define targets and create benchmarks, a common industry standard is used - the Facility Condition Index (FCI). The FCI is the repair cost over the replacement cost of the building. As a description of the building, FCI transcends the traditionally used descriptions of "good" and "poor" and provides a quantitative benchmark. A building with an estimated replacement value of $25 million with an FCI of 0.1 would mean that $2.5 million is needed to repair the building. This now becomes a defensible figure that lends more credibility to budget requests and provides a better understanding of the building's condition. The FCI can also be rolled up to any grouping of facilities within an organization, allowing for quantitative and qualitative comparisons.
Automated Decision Support Tools
A technology-based decision support tool can be a powerful aid in the construction-versus-renovation decision-making process. Using the methodology, a building slated for demolition might be deemed worthy of renovation after a thorough condition analysis - saving a university potentially millions of dollars while ensuring facility quality.
In this approach, the Internet is utilized as an integral part of the system's widespread gathering and distribution of facilities data across complex, multi-site, and multi-structure university systems. For example, remote sites can input requirements and view progress versus tactical and strategic goals in a cooperative environment.
Such Web-based capital planning and management solutions provide long-range, multi-year "what-if" scenario analyses and project planning tools for prioritizing and optimizing corrective actions. The system also links organizational program needs and functional requirements to facilities. Most importantly, the system enables the creation of funding strategies and further utilizes the facilities conditions data to develop polished, concise reports that provide valid justification for facilities capital needs.
Higher education institution, especially public institutions, fare better at attaining the necessary funding for carrying out deferred maintenance, renewal, and replacement initiatives when they approach funding sources with a comprehensive outline for facilities capital planning.
UMass and UNC - Showcases for Success
The successful expansion of the UMass-Amherst campus during the past 70 years took its toll on some of the campusÕ aging buildings. The campus has grown considerably since the 1930s and experienced its biggest growth spurt during the 1960s when 57 buildings were erected. With 190 buildings and a total of 9 million square feet, the university has further plans for expansion. However, tracking and scheduling the maintenance and repair of existing facilities became a serious priority as the university found that many of its buildings require immediate attention.
"We were concerned with protecting the current value of the university's assets over the long term and investing in those assets to increase their value," said Jim Cahill, UMass director of facilities planning. "The university realized that deferring problems with its facilities would only require a greater investment at a later time."
UMass formed a comprehensive team to begin the process of assessing facilities conditions and creating a plan for the management of the university's physical infrastructure. During the initial facilities condition assessment, the UMass team determined that its goals should include benchmarking the current condition of the university's facilities portfolio, predicting future capital renewal needs, developing financial models, and providing tools for continued planning and management. The scope and degree of deficiencies was also assessed by identifying existing deficient conditions, prioritizing and categorizing the conditions, developing solutions, and estimating corrective costs.
UMass created a comprehensive planning approach and funding strategy for facilities management and developed a framework for action that included plans for deferred maintenance backlog reduction, renewal, modernization, new construction, and facilities operations. The comprehensive planning approach also addressed new construction projects in order to meet the university's evolving needs, provided for state-of-the-art technology, accommodated growing space needs, and replaced obsolete and badly deteriorated facilities.
Twenty-five buildings were identified as candidates for potential future demolition, representing a current estimated replacement value of $49 million. The comprehensive planning approach emphasized dedicating the facilities operating budget to preventive and ongoing maintenance and repair and linking operational funding to increases in facility assets.
Increasing enrollments also made facilities a priority concern in the University of North Carolina system, which is spread over 16 different campuses that are hundreds of miles apart. Within a six-week timeframe, the university needed to cost-effectively determine if enough space was available and if the current facilities' conditions could accommodate an increase. Without accurate, up-to-date facilities' condition data available, the necessity and costs of new projects could not be appropriately calculated.
"We needed a detailed account of the facilities' conditions at each campus," said Kevin MacNaughton, UNC's associate vice president for finance and university property officer. "The state's condition assessment program only dealt with deferred maintenance, and university-developed facility evaluation merely categorized renovation as A-, B-, C-, and D- priority level. The quality of information also varied from campus to campus, depending on resources available to conduct each assessment, and lacked overall consistency of information."
UNC established a uniform method of compiling accurate facilities conditions data using a Web-enabled capital planning and management solutions system. By responding to the system's online questionnaire about various aspects of each campus building, such as structural condition, accessibility, maintainability and climate control, UNC was able to compile data on campus facilities conditions and calculate each building's cost of repair or renewal.
Using the system, UNC ensured the collection of valid data and enabled collaboration across the 16 distributed campuses. The system subsequently created facilities' conditions reports that have aided in developing UNC's capital plan. A ten-year proposal for campus expansion projects, the capital plan includes the development of general academic and student support space, science and engineering labs, and an extended campus infrastructure. The University Board of Governors and the North Carolina General Assembly will review the capital plan in order to determine the amount of facilities funding allocations.
The APPA/VFA Capital Renewal Survey
APPA and VFA have joined forces to establish a Web-based survey of facility condition audit practices, as well as associated information regarding existing levels of deferred maintenance and capital renewal. This survey can be found at both the APPA and VFA websites, www.appa.org or www.vfa.com.
Information from the survey will be used to promote awareness of the increasing deterioration rate among the nation's educational facilities. It will be published by APPA to provide a better understanding of current status and trends, and to yield high-level facilities information. Please note that only aggregate-level data will be published, and all individual institution information will be kept confidential. We urge you to participate in this important ongoing data collection effort.