Understanding the Facility Assessment Process

A facility assessment is a picture of the physical and functional condition of an existing facility or facilities.“It’s used to understand the financial requirements needed to maintain a building,” says Carl Rabenaldt, a senior vice president with Houston-based 3D/I, which provides design, construction and information technology services for the built environment.

Frequently, a facility assessment is used to develop an analysis of the cost to renovate vs. the cost to replace.

Importantly, a facility assessment allows campus administrators to understand the amount of deferred maintenance a building, group of buildings or entire campus has as a first step in searching for additional maintenance funding.

A facility assessment includes an examination the physical condition and the functional condition of a building. Here’s what you can expect to be covered in each part of the assessment.

The Physical Condition

This part includes a review of the mechanical and electrical systems, structural integrity and building envelope. It also includes hazardous materials, accessibility and sustainability.

1. Mechanical and electrical systems:“You want to verify that the capacity of the mechanical and electrical systems is adequate for their current and intended uses,” says Bruce Risley, AIA. He’s a vice president in the Irvine, Calif., office of PinnacleOne, a construction consulting firm based in Phoenix. “It’s particularly important on the electrical side,” he continues. “There are a number of buildings that were designed in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that lack today’s technology requirements and so, oftentimes, the electrical systems are undersized for present needs.” This step also looks at code compliance of the mechanical and electrical systems.

2. Structural integrity: This is a review of physical deterioration. For example, if assessing a steel frame building, have the joints rusted, and are they showing signs of failure? In California, this step also means looking at seismic standards. “Buildings constructed in the ’70s may not be adequate for today’s seismic expectations,” Risley notes.

3. Building envelope: Here, experts make sure that a building’s integrity is sound. They look at energy efficiency, the roof, windows, doors, exterior skin and more.

4. Hazardous materials: Buildings constructed 30 or more years ago often include asbestos (both in insulation and flooring) and lead paint. The assessment shows if this is true in your facility. It also shows if there are mold conditions from either water infiltration from the outside or moisture trapped on the inside. “Hazardous material issues can become costly and are often drivers in the decision to renovate or replace,” Risley observes.

5. Accessibility: Here, experts are looking for ADA compliance. Do restrooms meet standards? Is the path of travel accessible to wheelchair users and people with other impairments — both inside and outside the building? Are doorways wide enough? Do elevators meet size standards?

6. Sustainable design issues and energy issues: All sustainability issues come into play when analyzing an existing building to determine whether a remodel can be done in a sustainable manner. Can you properly sort out the demolition materials and be responsible for the sustainable removal of debris? Can you bring in sustainable/renewable materials? This step also looks for ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy demand.

The Functional Condition

This part of the assessment includes educational standards, technology, acoustics and lighting, and suitability to purpose.

1. Educational standards: This step asks, if you were to remodel the facility, can it be done so that it meets modern educational standards? Are the room sizes adequate for the types of learning that is occurring or will occur? Are the room configurations appropriate?

2. Technology: “This is a huge issue when looking at functionality,” says Risley. Experts evaluate whether the existing classroom space has adequate data and power connections for multiple computers and/or wireless laptops. They also check for appropriate connectivity for modern audio visual materials.

3. Acoustics and lighting: Here, acoustic performance in every classroom, as well as the acoustic separation between rooms, is evaluated. Also included is a thorough look at lighting, such as the type of lighting used (direct and/or indirect), lighting controls and daylighting.

4. Suitability to purpose: This step determines if a facility, designed to an outdated purpose, can be renovated to serve a current purpose. For example, if a facility was originally designed for teaching auto mechanics, and that program is no longer offered, can the building be adapted to accommodate a new program?

Other Assessment Elements

If the facility assessment includes more than one facility, or perhaps even the entire campus, there are additional elements that must be taken into account, including the following.

1. Utility lines: If the facilities staff has no idea where utility lines are placed, a survey must be completed to capture this information.

2. Utility capacity: As mentioned above, it must be determined if there is adequate utility capacity to serve facilities for both current and projected uses. But energy issues also come into play when looking at site issues. For example, if renovating multiple buildings, is it better to keep localized heating and cooling or consolidate it into a central plant?

3. Power cogeneration and self-generation: This step looks at the possibility of generating power on campus to reduce peak load conditions that result in high utility rates. For instance, can photovoltaics or microturbines be installed?

4. Landscaping: This issue can’t be left to last-minute consideration, as it affects more than campus beauty. For example, one issue that’s drawing more and more attention, says Risley, is drainage control. “There’s a real strong push to make sure storm water gets properly collected and treated before it’s allowed to drain off into adjacent sites.”

Using the Facility Assessment

Once the facility assessment is complete, it’s ready to be put to use. Both Risley and Rabenaldt have wisdom to share with administrators who find themselves at this junction.

Risley cautions administrators who plan to use a facility assessment to analyze the cost of renovation vs. the cost of replacement that there’s more to the decision-making process than the dollar amount on the bottom line. “You have to look at the impact on the educational environment during that work,” he says. One example is finding temporary housing for the classrooms that are removed when an old building is torn down. He recommends that administrators work closely with their professional team so that all issues are considered upfront.

Rabenaldt notes that many administrators use an assessment to life cycle their buildings. “Beyond looking at what needs to be replaced today, administrators want to know what needs to be replaced in the future,” he says.

Life cycling includes about 40 major components of a building and breaks each component into a timeline for maintenance and replacement. “Now you have a complete picture of the facilities and their needs, including what’s currently wrong, and what needs to be replaced in the future,” says Rabenaldt.

Before embarking on a facility assessment, it’s important to know why it should be done — what are you going to do with the information that’s gathered? Once that question is answered, the process of gathering information on the physical and functional condition is comprehensive and yields solid information.

Facility Assessment Trends

Like most higher education issues, the facility assessment process has its trends. Both Rabenaldt and Risley point out what they’re seeing today.

Sustainable design and energy efficiency: “LEED has really caught fire in the educational industry,” says Risley. For example, he says that the Los Angeles Community College District has adopted LEED as a requirement for all of their new facilities. Further, they’ve adopted a measure whereby all of their facilities will be at least 10 percent locally power generated.

Selective facility assessments: Rather than conducting an assessment on every campus building, administrators are analyzing just the facilities that need it, says Rabenaldt. This eliminates having an overabundance of data to maintain.

Efficiency in space use: Risley notes that administrators are taking a close look at capacity and load ratios. They’re also looking at the amount of support space that’s necessary for a classroom, with the dual goal of reducing the cost of renovation and/or construction and future maintenance.

Statewide assessments: “We see that more and more states are beginning to put assessments and thus, life cycles, in place for their university systems,” says Rabenaldt. For example, his firm completed a facility assessment for all of New Mexico’s 29 colleges and universities. Also, his firm recently completed an assessment of each of California’s community colleges. And he notes that Florida is starting to move in that direction now.

Technology integration: This trend is about having enough power and connectivity, whether wireless, wired or both, for multiple computers — and doing it in as thoughtful and efficient a manner as possible. Risley notes that administrators must balance technology integration capabilities with the flexibility of integrating it where they want and need it so as to not overspend and build too much infrastructure.