K–12 Infrastructure

How Smart Asset Management Can Keep Students Healthy

The landscape of health has changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and no industry was more impacted than education. Though the health and safety of students and faculty have always been at the top of priority lists, COVID-19 increased pressure to keep buildings safe via space planning and maximization, HVAC management and additional cleaning.

Although the U.S. has officially declared an end to the COVID public health emergency, the concept of a healthy educational facility has taken on a new meaning, especially as Hurricane Hilary impacts daily life in Southern California, leaving flood watches and warnings in its wake. Coupled with record hot temperatures in the central U.S., HVAC systems in particular are working overtime to purify the air and keep students cool. Schools must handle not just the health threats of today, but potential issues in the future — a challenge for facilities managers that rely on analog communication or paper-based systems to keep track of tasks, inventory, work orders, maintenance schedules and more.

So, how can facilities managers continue to prioritize student health and safety with limited budgets and competing infrastructure priorities?

The State of Education Infrastructure

A recent State of our Schools report found that the average age of a U.S. K–12 school is 44 years old, meaning it’s critical to focus investments on improvements to counteract aging infrastructure. Further, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card rated the nation’s school facilities in D+ condition, demonstrating the ongoing struggle to upgrade and maintain building systems that ensure facilities are free of health hazards.

These poor infrastructure grades, combined with resource, labor, and environmental challenges, raise concerns for education infrastructure. And while technology offers solutions, a recent study of 520 C-Suite, operations executives and IT decision makers showed that there’s still a lack of understanding of technology’s value (33%).

Schools in economically challenged and underprivileged areas are especially at a disadvantage as well. Due to the lack of funding and age of facilities – which are only getting older – students are at an increased risk of health and safety problems. According to the State of our Schools report, rural districts serving high-poverty public schools have funded capital improvements at almost half the level of the national average—$2.3 million on average per school compared to $4.3 million per school.

How Strategic Asset Management Can Help

The good news is that more intelligent management of assets has been proven to help educators assimilate and execute both short and long-term infrastructure priorities to support health and safety.

Utilizing technology to gather real-time data on all aspects of facilities – from HVACs to heating systems to rooves – enables facilities managers to gain insight into the state of their assets, providing proof-points to support decisions about asset health. Beyond increasing transparency and communication with stakeholders, this data allows them to easily access workflows and inventory, monitor assets for performance or efficiency, and plan for preventative and predictive maintenance that will prioritize both student health and the overall health of the building.

Further, systems like HVAC may contribute to increased heating and cooling costs, resulting in a hefty heating bill due to lost energy. By empowering teams with connected technology, decision makers can get ahead of any increased costs by identifying utility waste and increasing efficiency across the facility.

As facility and operational leaders continue to do more with fewer resources to keep schools safe and healthy for students and staff, technology and enterprise asset management (EAM) will continue to provide opportunities for schools to strategically plan infrastructure updates, make the most use of limited funds, and increase efficiency.

The Road Ahead

Schools provide critical services and can’t risk the safety or quality of education of the students in their care. And with communities demanding safer public and private schools, and states and municipalities also starting to require—under strict penalties—increased transparency and action toward safety, balancing these costs with other ongoing infrastructure needs will be crucial. To keep operations running smoothly, it’s crucial to have the right data to help make the smartest spending decisions possible.

About the Author

Rob Begg is the VP of Portfolio Marketing at Brightly, a Siemens company.