How do your schools look? Paint fresh? Grounds manicured? Not a brick out of place? Or does your budget end up elsewhere? While cosmetic exterior maintenance may not head facilities managers’ to-do lists, everyone agrees that it’s important. The following describes how some colleagues around the country keep on top of their school’s exteriors.

The Envelope Please…

“I look at three things first, when deciding where my maintenance dollars go,” reports Ken Anderson, administrator for Central Support Services, Beaverton School District, Beaverton, Ore.“Are my students safe, are they warm and are they dry?” Once these basic needs are seen to, Anderson tackles the exteriors of his district’s 46 schools. His biggest problem right now is stucco failure.

“This product has been used in California with great success,” he says.“But with our wet season, water gets behind the surface and causes hairline cracks, leakage and mold.” Oregon weather, however, can’t hold a bucket to the extreme conditions Dean Henrick, supervisor of buildings and grounds, Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District, Ketchikan, Alaska, sees. “You’d think cold would be our issue, but I haven’t seen a zero-degree day in years,” he says. “Two hundred annual inches of rain is our pressing problem.”

To keep the water out of the seven schools under his care, Dean has used ceramic tiles in remodels. He is also pleased with Hardiplank. “It looks like cedar siding and performs well,” he says.

No matter what material buildings are constructed of, a regular paint cycle plays a key role in keeping the exterior fresh. Most interviewed keep their buildings on a five- to seven-year cycle of repainting. While a fresh coat of paint seems the easiest and most cost effective way to beautify a building, one district had to take the roller back into its own hands.

“Our district is decentralized, with each school responsible for its own operational maintenance,” explains Mike Brown, manager of facilities services, Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton Canada. The district recentralized funds for exterior painting, and now the exterior of all schools are repainted on a seven-year cycle.

More than just looking tired, not painting some building materials can cause failures. “Soffits and fascias will start to deteriorate if not maintained,” says Tom Wagner, director of operations and maintenance, Homewood-Flossmoor High School. And schools with T1-11 siding, like some in Anderson’s district, must be repainted regularly or the product begins to delaminate.

Up On the Roof

For our panel, maintaining the roof means constant inspections. “Leaves, debris, moss and even kids find their way up there,” says Anderson. “You have to be vigi

ant in taking care of minor damage before it becomes major.”

While most roofs perform under warrantee, Henrick posts a word of warning. “Your agreement is only as good as the installer. If the contractor moves out or goes bust, you’ve got problems.”

I See You

Windows present other maintenance challenges to our panel. Brown estimates he spends $250,000 replacing windows annually. Each year, he and his team inspect and rate each building’s windows and attack the worse scorers first. “We usually replace a whole elevation at a time,” he says.

Some older schools in districts around the country still have wood frames with single-pane glass in their windows. “These can be time consuming to fix,” admits Anderson. “We replace these during remodels with the more energy efficient upgrades.”

Anderson also tries to buy tinted glass. “It saves energy by helping control the room temperature,” he says. “It is also serves as a security feature as outsiders can’t see clearly into a classroom.”

Breakin’ Out

Intentional damage to windows, vandalism and graffiti ugly out the best looking schools. And it’s expensive. “I see about $30,000 to $50,000 of vandalism costs in a year,” says Ketchikan’s Henrick. Schools experience everything from broken windows to kicked in ceramic tiles to aggressive graffiti.

Everyone agrees that taking care of this kind of damage quickly is important. “Removing graffiti and fixing vandalism keeps things positive for the students,” says John Maples, director of operations MSD Wayne Township Schools, Indianapolis. “We try to attend to the problem immediately, before the kids see it the next day.”

Anderson agrees with this approach and will even pay his staff night and weekend rates to get the job done. “It is more cost effective,” he explains. “We used to put graffiti removal on the back burner and the problem got worse and worse. If you remove the ‘tag’ before the offenders and their friends see it they start to wonder why they did the damage in the first place.” This aggressive campaign has paid off in a significant drop in offences.

Sometimes these crimes can benefit from better environmental design. Brown and his staff have used such passive measures as selective tree pruning, limiting vehicular access and installing motion sensor lights. Schools that see an inordinate amount of window breakage are fitted with shutters that are secured during the evening and summer months.

Dude, Where’s my Board?

Sometimes students do a lot of damage, albeit unintentionally, with skateboards, scooters and other toys. Hand rails, retaining walls, decks, stairs and planters have all become places to jump, slide and “grind” for these extreme sports fans. The result is worn paint, broken stair noses and cracked masonry. Sure it’s ugly, but left unattended, jagged and worn surfaces can become a safety issue.Sometimes all it takes is a stern word from teachers and principals to shoo skaters away. The proliferation of skate parks has also alleviated some of the problem as they provide safe, appropriate places to play. However, sometimes a district must take further measures.

“We fabricate our own bright red metal clips to put on benches, rails and other smooth surfaces,” says Anderson. “But we have to install these in a safe way. If a clip is on a very steep handrail the skater may not see it until it’s too late and take a bad fall. That’s why we make them red. Hopefully this will warn the skater to not even try the stunt.”

Keeping It Green

Well-manicured grounds present a polished face to the public. Landscaping, however, poses its own challenges depending on a school’s locations. “With our rainfall, watering is not an issue,” reports Henrick. “But we didn’t even have lawns or landscaping. I’ve taken it on as part of the maintenance program and put in an acre-and-a-half of lawns and brought in many trees from Seattle.”

Wagner, whose two buildings sit on 97 acres, has the opposite problem. “We only irrigate the athletic fields,” he says. “Native plants run in the waterways, whether you like them or not.” A crew works on mowing, weeding and trimming, and keeps most of the landscaping dollars close to the buildings, where the plantings are most evident.

Some school districts don’t have parent or student volunteers helping with the landscaping. “We tried, but parents weren’t that interested and the insurance liability was too great,” says Henrick. Anderson, however, has to pay a staff member overtime to oversee student/parent landscaping. “If a tree is pruned incorrectly and has to be replaced, it will cost $200-300 dollars. That’s more than a full day of overtime,” he explains. “We encourage community involvement, but it pays to watch closely.”