CBJ Snyder designed more than 170 of New York City’s public schools after the consolidation of the city in 1898. As the superintendent of New York City public schools, his intention was to create urban“Palaces of Learning.” These schools were designed to stand out in their neighborhoods, announcing the importance of education with their stately presence. Grace Dodge High School is one such school, sitting at an important crossroads at the southern tip of the Bronx Botanical Gardens.

By 2001, Grace Dodge High School was in such dilapidated condition that it required a $6 million dollar renovation to repair the school. Performed by Macrae-Gibson Architects of New York City, the effect of the renovation has been to restore the building to its noble presence at the intersection of Crotona Avenue and Fordham Road. The full project, finished in 2004, involved new roofs, windows, exterior doors and entrances, masonry, terracotta, parapets and new interiors; masonry was re-pointed and rebuilt in many areas, parapets were rebuilt and large quantities of terracotta throughout the structure that had cracked and deteriorated were replaced with new terracotta blocks, using molds based on the original pieces. This school is one example among many that shows that while it is possible to rescue school buildings from decay, it would be better to maintain them on a regular schedule.

It is believed that about 14 million students and more than one-third of all public schools are in need of major repairs and replacements. The National Education Association believes that it will cost $322 billion dollars to perform the needed repairs, renovations and technology updates to schools in the United States, with $268 billion dollars solely marked for construction.

Nonetheless, many costly repairs to a school are preventable; it is the adverse effect of deferred maintenance that robs school and community budgets of funds that are all ready in short supply. The procuring of such funds however, creates another obstacle. Although the majority of a schools financing comes from the state, the money is mostly intended or directed towards standards and operating budgets. Therefore school construction becomes the responsibility of local districts. The result: the maintenance of the school is deferred, causing poor building conditions and bigger costs that could have been prevented if a schedule and maintenance budget had been developed and followed.

Maintaining the Building Envelope

The biggest cost factor in school maintenance, which is also the most important and basic element, is the building envelope. It is generally not the absence of quality construction in the building that causes the damage; more often it is the deferred maintenance of the building envelope that leads to the deterioration of the structure. Such was the case with Grace Dodge High School. The original quality of construction was sound, yet deferred maintenance had caused the building envelope to deteriorate. To create a schedule of building envelope maintenance is the primary component in preventing the costly results of deferring maintenance.

Technically the building envelope is the area that separates the conditioned space of a building from the unconditioned space or outdoors; the outer most layer of windows, walls roofs and doors. The building envelope is the skin of the structure. Just as our skin protects our bodies from outside elements, a maintained building envelope protects a structures interior from water, wind and pollution, as well as maintaining a comfortable heating system. If poorly constructed or not maintained, the building will suffer. The same principle that says if you don’t wear a hat during winter 30 percent of your body heat will escape though your head, can apply to building envelope maintenance. If you don’t maintain a building properly, damage caused by moisture will increase, and costs will be higher due to heat and energy loss. However, if you wear a hat, you won’t get sick, and if you maintain the building envelope, maintenance and repair costs will be kept lower due to less of a need for high cost major repairs.

School facilities are fundamentally investments for the future, both financially and academically. If a facility is properly cared for and maintained, it will have a longer lifecycle cost and be more economical to a district. However, more than the affect on the school budget, the state of school buildings may have a stronger impact on a student’s performance than the combined influences of family, background, socioeconomic status, school attendance and behavior. A positive learning environment is more conducive and productive to students, teachers and communities.

The Maintenance Plan

In creating a maintenance plan for a schools building envelope, the plan should cover all exterior elements of the structure; roof, windows, exterior walls, foundation and doors. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CFHPS) also suggests the plan recognize seemingly small but important factors such as proper drainage, plant overgrowth, pest problems; as well as include recommend funding and clearly state the frequency of which inspections should and are performed. Also helpful is to include the tasks that can be performed in-house, and those that require outside inspection and maintenance.

After identifying the elements of the Building Envelope Maintenance Plan, a document with the following details should be made for each competent (walls, roof, etc.);

type (e.g. is the roof built up, single ply or metal) and manufacturer,

estimated area,

installation date,

warranty information,

contractor Information, and

records of repair and inspection.

In creating a timeline for building maintenance it is important to focus on the preventative measures, rather than repair. In the mantra of“Pay Now or Pay Later,” if repairs are made in a timely schedule and money is invested to repair minor problems, major repairs will be less frequent, less intrusive and disruptive and, most importantly, less expensive. Instead of unexpected significant repairs eating up funds from a budget, funds should be allocated appropriately and necessarily and budgeted for extensive projects. An additional benefit is that the overall lifecycle cost of the building will decrease as well.

The cost to develop a proper and proactive building maintenance plan might at first seem expensive and perhaps excessive, however the costs of fixing a minor problem are less expensive than waiting to repair the major damage often caused by neglect and deferred maintenance. A building maintenance plan should be thought of a way to protect the community’s investment in the school building, both financially by saving on life cycle costs in addition to academically and socially.