Who's Maintaining What?

Final Thought — 500 words Who’s Maintaining What?

In the January issue of School Planning & Management, executive editor Deb Moore wrote about the need for a plan to maintain schools. She pointed out that as long ago as 1983, a report indicated that $25 billion was needed immediately to overcome deferred maintenance problems.

By 1989, the estimate had risen to $41 billion, with one of four schools called“inadequate.” By 1999, the price tag had risen to $127 billion, and a more recent report said that it would take more than $268 billion to overcome deferred maintenance needs in our public schools.

Schools do spend a lot of money on maintenance each year but not enough to keep up with need. According to the annual survey of school construction that I prepare for this magazine (see SP&M, Feb ’06), school districts in the United States have spent more than $67 billion on maintenance and retrofitting of school buildings in the 23 years since the original needs assessment. That’s almost three times as much as was indicated at the time. But, of course, the maintenance needs grow every year, as do the costs. (The reported expenditures are only those that are part of construction programs and may not include annual maintenance budgets for such things as painting or rewiring a room or even a school.)

In 2005, school districts spent almost $3.9 billion on maintenance projects. Since each project is unique to the building involved, it’s not possible to establish any comparable cost figures, such as the cost of an average school maintenance project. But it is possible to look at what school districts report they are doing.

In the following box, the percentage of projects in which a particular problem was addressed is shown by school type. For example, 44.1 percent of all of the elementary school projects involved HVAC upgrades. An overhaul of the electrical system was included in 42.2 percent of the reported elementary school jobs.

HVAC and electrical work also lead among middle and high school projects, though in high schools, the order is reversed and the percentage of projects is lower. Plumbing projects and lighting upgrades are among the top five projects undertaken in schools of all types, and attention to flooring and carpeting ranks high in elementary and high schools but, somewhat surprisingly, not at all among middle schools.

Roofing, often the catalyst for undertaking retrofit of a building (it was once said that having a single pail in a hallway catching a leak was considered a minor annoyance; having multiple barrels out on every rainy day would catch the school board’s attention) is the sixth most frequent project.

Technology ranks relatively high in high schools with fiber optics and LANs among the 10 most frequently mentioned projects. Fiber optics are often included in elementary and middle school projects, but at this level, security and alarm systems get more attention and elementary schools often include storage and upgrading parking lots, neither of which gets attention in secondary school retrofit projects.

Top 10 renovations: Percentage of projects reported involving specified work Elementary Schools 1 HVAC 44.1 2 Electric overhaul 42.2 3 Plumbing 34.2 4 Flooring/Carpeting 27.6 5 Lighting 27.5 6 Roofing 21.5 7 ADA compliance 19.3 8 Parking lots 17.5 9 Alarms-fire 16.9 10 Fiber optics 16.4 Storage 16.4 Middle Schools 1 HVAC 47.7 2 Electric overhaul 45.5 3 Lighting 34.8 4 Plumbing 32.6 5 ADA compliance 23.5 6 Roofing 20.5 7 Alarms-fire 18.9 8 Tile 18.2 9 Fiber optics 18.2 10 Security 17.4 High Schools 1 Electric overhaul 39.8 2 HVAC 34.9 3 Lighting 33.3 4 Flooring/carpeting 32.8 5 Plumbing 26.9 6 Roofing 24.2 7 ADA compliance 24.2 8 Fiber optics 18.8 9 Tile 18.3 10 LAN's 18.3

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year."