When I was invited to write this column, I decided to emphasize the role that a quality maintenance program plays as part of an overall facility management plan. As a practicing facilities planner who has developed and implemented strategic facility plans, I felt it was important to share the successes of this type of an approach. This column is the first in a series that will suggest an approach that can be used by all districts.

In School Planning and Management’s 2004 Construction Report, Paul Abramson reported that just under $20 billion of school construction was put in place nationwide last year. Most of this construction involved a significant amount of planning and design, including input from stakeholders at the local school level, in order to ensure that the educational needs of the students were met.

While these new facilities represent a significant amount of money, their numbers are only a fraction of all of the schools nationally. Existing school buildings represent about 95 percent of the facilities that now serve the nation’s students. We cannot lose sight that many of these facilities have fallen victim to deferred maintenance and will need significant work. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the dollars expended in 2002 was spent on retrofit projects or maintenance-type modifications, and most projections indicate future spending will be even less. While the funds that were spent on needed repairs are very important, they have done little to reduce the enormous backlog that currently exists. And, that backlog will only continue to increase in future years.

School districts and facility professionals have done an excellent job of planning for new construction and additions/modernizations, and they have spent countless hours working with the stakeholders to make those efforts succeed. What is now needed is a similar effort to address the needs of these buildings once they are built. This effort has to result in the development and implementation of a quality maintenance program, which is one part of an overall facilities management strategy.

What is a quality maintenance program? I would submit that it is a sustained strategy with the following characteristics, which I will refer to as the “five Cs.”

• Comprehensive — the program must address the issues on a broad front, covering all building elements and equipment; compliance with all mandates and code requirements (ADA, asbestos, mold, etc); addressing all types of maintenance including deferred maintenance; and include a high-quality cleaning program that will reduce future costs.

• Continuous — the program must be implemented on an annual basis, through a long-term period without gaps in funding. This will prevent starts and stops, and institutionalize the overall effort.

• Consistent — the program, while funded annually, must plan for efforts through a multiyear period, such as five years, so that future needs are identified and enable flexibility to prioritize projects to respond to funding variations.

• Creative — the program must be flexible to enable new methods of operation or management techniques to be implemented, as well as use nontraditional funding sources.

• Commitment — the program must be developed with involvement of all stakeholders, including government officials. There must be a commitment by all to achieve the goals and provide resources to implement the program.

Obviously, developing that commitment to a program is the most difficult part in the creation of a sustained effort to address the maintenance needs. It requires that all of the stakeholders participate in the same systematic planning process used for planning new schools and, if successful, will develop the same ownership by all of the participants for the maintenance needs of the buildings as is developed for a new school. Only then will it be possible to sustain the program during a long period.

All of this sounds daunting — that’s because it is! It requires a lot of hard work and effort, but doing nothing will only continue the downward spiral of the condition of the nation’s school facilities.

Next, in Part 2 (May, 2004) — Getting started and funding a strategic maintenance strategy.