Getting a Grip on Facility Condition Assessments

It’s no secret: Handheld pen computing devices enable facility managers and their staffs to perform regular assessments accurately, efficiently and consistently. They allow managers to identify all deficient conditions in relation to routine and deferred maintenance, capital improvement, repair, building and safety codes. They are effective tools for planning and carrying out maintenance and capital improvement programs. They are invaluable management information systems for projecting, justifying and allocating scarce resources.

Advanced technology allows for condition assessment data to be collected electronically on handheld pen computers in the field. Traditional methods of manual collection require subsequent transcription of the information into an electronic format. Handheld technology provides a level of standardization that cannot be achieved when individual staff members examine deficient conditions, each in his or her own way and often using unique nomenclature.

The handheld electronic method of collecting data provides consistency and control of data for all activities performed by members of assessment teams, from architects and engineers to facilities managers and technical personnel. It ensures uniformity in the data collection process and standardization of the deficiencies and the language used, regardless of the number of people involved in the assessment process or the number of sites being surveyed.

Choosing an Effective System

Not all facility assessment systems are equal. Specific features and characteristics are required to realize the numerous benefits of automation. The ideal facility assessment system has three components: a handheld pen computer, an assessment software application for collecting field data and a networked desktop environment for manipulating and reporting data.

The field data collection software should be designed to lead personnel through the inspection process using pick-lists and allow inspectors to make comments and sketches and record digital pictures. It also must contain a reference knowledge database that provides access to thousands of potential deficiencies likely to be found in a wide range of building types and systems. Typical categories for documentation include the roof, fa├žade and interior, as well as building systems such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical and related equipment. Facility managers can easily rank renovation and remediation projects by severity and anticipated life cycle.

For the greatest flexibility and power in accessing, analyzing and reporting the data, the deficiencies must be structured in a hierarchy of systems, subsystems and components. The field collection software should automatically offer appropriate recommendations for noted deficiencies. In addition, it should include search facilities within the reference knowledge database; a carry-forward feature to expedite data entry in the field; and the ability to catalog or inventory buildings, locations and equipment with related service life information.

In addition to software applications that automate the general building assessment process, administrators should look for applications that focus on the particular needs of the institution: facilities’ quality-of-life aspects, such as acoustics, cleanliness and appropriateness of lighting; and inventory and condition assessments of residence hall interiors, such as carpeting and furniture.

From Facility Assessment to Fundraising

The use by two universities of three different facility assessment applications illustrates the flexibility and power of this type of system. “Ivy A” selected Building Condition Assessment Tool (BCAT), which automates the general building assessment process, to assess conditions at hundreds of diverse buildings spread among several campuses.

Four university personnel were selected to perform the assessment. These four represent the typical assessment team -- an architect, HVAC engineer, plumbing engineer and electrical engineer. They were trained in use of the field equipment, field collection software and the desktop system. After completing the assessment on one campus, they contracted the assessments of the remaining campuses.

All data flowed into the master database, with assured consistency from one inspector to another. The institution planned to use the data to develop both short- and long-term maintenance and capital improvement plans.

“Ivy B” selected Building Environment Evaluation System (BEES) to evaluate and rate the quality of life aspects of their campus. The goals were to assure the comfort and well-being of current students, faculty and staff, as well as to enhance recruitment and fundraising efforts. They also selected Residential Inspection and Maintenance System (RIMS) to automate inspection, inventory control and maintenance of residential facilities. RIMS enabled them rapidly to inventory, repair and replace the finishes and furnishings in four residence communities.

A Management Tool

A specialized facility condition assessment application is a powerful information management tool, with the ability to store and track numerical data, perform number-crunching and accept new data at any time -- making it possible to deal more efficiently with cost estimating, budgets and scheduling. The system centralizes information, automatically “institutionalizing” the data to create a living baseline to work from and build upon.

An assessment program with these features enables facilities management departments to produce a variety of reports of varying detail relating to infrastructure, building systems, equipment and furnishings. It can aggregate deficiencies across a variety of categories, thus allowing economies of scale.

The program can facilitate the development of cost estimates for each item in all categories of work, calculate a replacement schedule for equipment based on estimated service life, provide related budgets for each priority ranking, and group work and plan projects, as well as generate summary reports by building, priority, system or any combination thereof. With life cycle costs built into the system, it calculates replacement costs and automatically allocates funding through time for known expenditures.

Overall, an effective facility assessment system yields benefits that can enhance the long-term value of the institution. It makes valuable information readily available not only to facility managers faced with a variety of short- and long-term maintenance issues, but also to administrators and boards of trustees who are involved in developing the institution’s budgets and master plans.

im Bhimani and Anthony Pantaleo represent WASA/TSIG Consulting, Inc., New York.