New Tools of the Trade

Maintenance management means you have to keep track of everything -- how many mops and brooms you have, what spare parts are currently in inventory, where everything is located, what needs to be ordered, which buildings need repairs, whom you have available to do the work needed and what they’re trained to do, how much energy your buildings are using and when, and on and on -- a task that can take on the proportions of muddling your way through an English hedge maze.

Effective management means keeping a handle on all those things, but maintaining the reams of paper required to stay on top of everything generally is time consuming and imprecise. Yet streamlined management can be mere keystrokes away as technological advances address the nuts and bolts of school maintenance.

Asset management systems software can assist school maintenance departments in centralizing and integrating information, making it possible to track district assets, personnel and related costs and provide a mechanism for efficient scheduling, ordering and reporting. “It’s an efficiency tool,” says John Johnson, executive vice president of Oklahoma-based TMA Systems. “You can manage your whole facility with this.”

The specific functions of these software systems can vary depending upon the product chosen, but all address basic maintenance management functions. While each system requires an initial period for setup and input of information, which can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, once that is done these systems can afford measurable results in a short period of time.

What They Do

According to Kerry Meade, vice president for marketing of South Carolina-based Datastream Systems, Inc., information the system is designed to address includes information technology, facilities and maintenance, equipment, transportation fleets, personnel and training, and historical information. “There’s no limit to the types of assets we can track,” he says.

Physical assets, from air conditioning units and furniture to projectors and television/media carts, can be catalogued by location, acquisition date and warranty, item description, repairs and repair history. Information on vehicles can include make, model, purchase date and price, warranty data, routine maintenance, mileage and even fuel consumption.

Systems keep track of time, materials, and inventory and roll up all the costs, Johnson says: “You can keep work histories and cost histories on equipment.”

Keeping track of warranty expirations can be of major importance, since routine maintenance by unauthorized technicians often will void a manufacturer’s warranty. Systems can flag this information, alerting supervisors when warranty-related issues may arise.

Repairing district equipment and facilities can run a maintenance department ragged. Maintenance departments are plagued by constant phone calls requesting repairs or status reports on those repairs, says Kay Murphy, president and CEO of Applied Computer Technologies of North Carolina. With maintenance management systems, repair orders can be generated via computer and progress is trackable online. “It stops the phone from ringing and reduces the amount of paperwork,” she explains. Once the repair is done, a history can be kept on the repaired item, allowing maintenance to know about any work done, when it was done, by whom, and what parts were used on the repair.

Systems also can be set up to flag preventive maintenance, such as servicing HVAC, vehicles and boilers, allowing departments to address these items before they become emergencies. Items can be listed by unit, identification number, location and scheduled maintenance interval.

Work orders can be sorted and scheduled, preventing duplications. Repairs can be ordered to facilitate efficiency, such as all repairs in one building or all like repairs. Parts needed for repairs can be located in the system inventory and marked for use.

Keeping track of your personnel is simplified. Now you can keep information on employees by job title, training and certifications, and track their on-the-job time and equipment used for each job.

Tracking inventory can save time and dollars by insuring that parts and equipment are in stock when needed, keeping track of where they’re warehoused and when they were placed in stock. This can prevent item duplication, damage or outdating. The system also can notify the appropriate individuals when items need to be restocked and can generate purchase orders for those items.

Assets, such as furnishings and equipment, can be maintained in inventory, including item descriptions, manufacturers and vendors, asset identification numbers, preventive maintenance and location of those assets.

Systems allow for streamlining reporting functions to address the accountability issues faced by school districts. These can be broken down to the various projects being handled, costs for materials, the status of projects and so forth. The software also can generate graph charts for presentations.

The functionality of the various maintenance management systems is varied and expanding and those school districts currently using them are finding them invaluable.

Using a Management System

Maintaining the facilities and equipment in any school district is a day-to-day challenge. But imagine if your maintenance department had to service a rather geographically large district -- say about 50,000 square miles?

That’s the mandate for Frank Johnson, inventory and preventive maintenance manager for the Bering Strait School District in Unalakleet, Alaska. His department maintains approximately 182 buildings, including schools, utility buildings and state-funded teacher housing, plus vehicles and equipment, in 15 villages where access is available only by air because there are no major highways.

The Bering Strait School District began using its software-based maintenance management system in 1997. “We’re using it pretty religiously,” Johnson says, because it helps to facilitate the maintenance documentation required for state funding for the 3,000-student district.

According to Johnson, the district uses the maintenance management system for tracking all work orders and personnel, as well as scheduling preventive maintenance. This streamlines operations by allowing his department to do things ahead of time, instead of on a crisis basis. For the Bering Strait district, this saves on emergency travel expenses for the itinerant tradespeople who work for the district and on plane fuel costs.

Vehicle maintenance also is tracked by the system, since the Bering Strait district must service not only cars and trucks, but snow machines, all-terrain vehicles and airplanes. Assets and parts inventory, and purchase order requisitions are handled by the system. Johnson adds that the district also will use the system for tracking fuel, electrical and water utility usage.

The Broken Arrow Public School District in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been using its management system for about seven years and “we track everything on it,” says Bill Miller, executive director of maintenance, operations and construction services. That includes all maintenance activities for the 15,000-student school district, construction and repairs, as well as paging employees.

The 100-percent paperless system has had a tangible effect in streamlining the district’s recordkeeping. Before installing the management software, there were nine four-drawer file cabinets crammed with paperwork, Miller says; however, those have been pared down to a few under-the-counter cabinets.

All repair orders are filed via e-mail, he says, adding that he can pick an air conditioner anywhere in the district and pull up its entire repair history. The system also keeps routine maintenance schedules, such as the one for the schools’ roofs, to track regular maintenance. This, Miller says, enables his department to do almost 24-hour turnaround on work.

Numbers Talk

According to Murphy, maintenance management software runs about $5,000 and up, depending upon the scope of the program chosen and upgrades. Meade says costs are figured on a per-user basis for the system, the platform required and the number of modules purchased. While most function on a PC platform, using Windows 95, 98 or NT, some are available for Macintosh.

To date, Frank Johnson says his district has spent approximately $25,000 on the system and anticipates purchasing further updates, while Miller says Broken Arrow’s district has spent about $14,000.

Yet the direct savings figures resulting from use of the management systems are impressive. The Bering Strait School District notes savings amounting to about $80,000 annually and the Broken Arrow Public School District cites savings of between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.

“This (the maintenance management system) is a sleeper,” Miller says. “It’s a bargain.”

Robbin Rittner-Heir is a Dayton-based freelance writer with experience in education issues.