Designing with the End in Mind: Maximizing Operational Efficiency

Facility design, construction, operation, and maintenance are becoming increasingly more complex and interdependent. Newer construction materials and techniques, green building products, technology, and control systems are changing and advancing more rapidly each day. These products come with stacks of maintenance manuals and dozens of warranty requirements. Rising energy costs, increased security concerns, and stricter environmental standards complicate the situation as well. It has become critically important to develop a master plan — a global understanding of how all decisions are interdependent in order to achieve peak performance and efficiency in a facility’s operation.

Improving the operational efficiencies of an educational facility is fiscally and environmentally responsible, and requires constant attention. Whether constructing a new building, renovating an existing facility, or maintaining a current building, early and continuous planning and improvement efforts are key to an effective maintenance program that can maximize the life of the building and minimize maintenance and operational costs.

Design professionals touch all stages of building construction and they are becoming more involved in the planning and maintenance of educational facilities. Development in the science of building design and documentation, and its application in facility management, are thrusting architects and planners into the center of this effort. Many are accepting this challenge with open arms. From planning to design, construction, operation, and maintenance, involving informed and willing design professionals early on in all stages of the process will ultimately deliver a more efficient facility, significantly impacting the bottom line.

Total Cost of Ownership

The cost of ownership of an educational facility goes well beyond the cost of construction, land, and furnishings. The operation of each school building is unique. Assessing the total cost of facility ownership involves taking into account all costs of acquiring, owning, maintaining, and disposing of a building or building system. For example, initial costs may include capital investments for land acquisition, construction, renovation, and for the equipment needed to furnish and operate a facility. Operational expenses for energy, water, and other utilities should be taken into consideration, based on factors such as consumption, current rates, and price projections. Non-fuel operating costs, maintenance, and repair costs are other factors, although estimates can vary widely because operating schedules, and because standards of maintenance can differ from building to building, even if they are of the same type and age. Calculating the timing for capital replacement needs of building systems depends on the estimated life of the system. Design decisions concerning materials and products are often based upon non-monetary benefits or costs for which there is no objective way of assigning a dollar value, such as the benefit derived from a particularly quiet HVAC system or from an expected but hard-to-quantify gain in productivity due to improved lighting.

For new construction and renovations, it is important that this complex and interwoven analysis be performed early in the design process to allow for refinement of the design. For example, a comparison can be made between project alternatives that fulfill the same performance requirements but have different initial and operating costs. A high-performance HVAC system may increase initial cost but result in dramatically reduced operating and maintenance costs, and may therefore be more cost-effective in the long term.

Stages of Design

A completely integrated approach to design not only results in the creation of the best end product, but also has the potential to save time and money. At every stage of the process, design professionals can ensure that each decision is focused on maximizing the life of the building while minimizing maintenance and operational costs.

Early in the design phase, for example, engineers and architects can perform energy modeling to determine the most efficient system. Post-modeling analysis may recommend changing the window types, insulation values, roof colors, lighting systems, or mechanical systems.

During the pre-design and the design phase, school administrators and design professionals can evaluate materials and design based on first costs and total life-cycle cost analysis. A life-cycle cost analysis factors in the usable life of the product, the maintenance cost, the initial cost, and the energy savings over the life span of the product. Total life-cycle cost estimates must consider the maintenance costs of materials such as floor coverings, fixtures, interior and exterior surfaces, as well as replacement costs and timing of major building systems and components.

Later in the design phase, building commissioning should be incorporated into virtually every project delivery effort. This two-part process uses a third party to review the designs of the architecture and engineering team during the development of the designs. At the end of construction, the same third-party field verifies that all systems are actually operating properly to ensure maximum efficiency.

After construction, maintenance management systems allow the district planning and design teams to evaluate the efficiency of the facility in operation and the value of the decisions made upstream. By collecting data and implementing best practices gained from lessons learned at other facilities, design efforts can be tweaked to be more effective and thus deliver more efficient and sustainable projects.

For example, through Steed Hammond Paul’s PointGuard Facility Maintenance Program, the design professional performed an analysis of gas and electric utility costs for Monroe Local School District in Monroe, OH. The effort determined there was a significant reduction in monthly utility costs that began during mid-2006, as compared to the costs incurred in 2005. Total cost of gas and electric utilities was reduced by $55,000 from 2005 to 2006. This analysis confirms that the maintenance management program delivered by the design professional and the school maintenance staff is impacting their bottom line. The program provides stakeholders with documented evidence of the tasks performed and delivers increased value.

Digitally Shared Knowledge

Design professionals continue to gravitate toward the most advanced design programs available in the industry. The latest and most promising is Building Information Modeling (BIM), which employs a fully integrated software system for designing, documenting, constructing, and maintaining a building. This design tool allows for the seamless transition from design to construction to facility management. BIM combines all design and construction documents and maintenance information into a single, three-dimensional model, resulting in a faster, higher-quality design process and easily accessible database of facility management information.

BIM software translates the information entered into two-dimensional floor plans, elevations, sections, or three-dimensional renderings, allowing for complete visualization of the concept in two and three dimensions, depending upon the desired application. All maintenance equipment and procedures are incorporated into the drawing file during design and production, and more specific information is continuously built during construction. Historically, the process of searching, assembling, transferring, and managing building information has been a source of enormous waste and frustration to owners. BIM offers the continuity to efficiently deliver accurate data to building owners and operators, without the waste of redundant efforts to find and assemble the information. Warranty periods, system training schedules, and operations and maintenance manuals can be digitally imported, tracked, and reviewed. End users have the ability to select any piece of equipment and see the required maintenance tasks, as well as enter and track performed services. BIM provides a continually updated record of renovations, which improves planning and management, giving building owners the ability to take better care of their facilities and extend the life of their systems.

A properly assembled Building Information Model serves as a live, interactive, three-dimensional working tool for the life of the building.

Maintaining Educational Facilities

A successful maintenance plan requires the involvement of relevant district, construction, and architectural/engineering personnel who are willing to share information and cooperate to develop an effective result. Assessing the school district’s current maintenance structure and maintenance budget, and evaluating and developing an effective training program for district maintenance staff, are key components to a properly prepared plan.

A quality maintenance plan answers questions about all of the various tasks that must be performed to maximize a facility’s life span, including what needs to be done, how to do it, how often to perform the maintenance, and who is responsible. The plan provides the detailed maintenance tasking for all the new facility assets and places these activities in context with the overall objectives of the plan. A school district’s administration can use this information as a reference for ensuring the successful completion of preventive maintenance activities, enhancing the ability to make informed decisions about developing and staffing a comprehensive maintenance plan.

At Monroe Local School District, for example, PointGuard is responsible for maintaining and servicing 466 pieces of equipment, re-lamping of all interior light fixtures over a three-year period, and conducting a required inspection program for three hydraulic elevators. These assets are serviced at a variety of intervals, some as frequent as every month; others quarterly, semi-annually, and some annually. In total, approximately 1,044 services are performed per year on these pieces of equipment, or an average of 87 activities per month. In addition to the regularly scheduled activities, the team meets often with school district maintenance staff to monitor the program and to addressing specific issues as they arise. Involvement can range from HVAC, electrical, architectural, health safety, equipment, or site issues. All preventive maintenance activities are captured in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to be used to make informed decisions about maintenance and capital expenditures. A key added benefit is that the program provides documented proof that the school administration is acting as a good steward of public dollars.

Taking Responsibility

The green movement, sustainability, and LEED are all concepts within the building delivery process that are founded on the premise that efficient use of our natural resources is becoming increasingly necessary. It seems to be a natural extension to integrate ideas to ensure the successful operation of facilities. Embracing this philosophy provides architects and school district leaders with an opportunity to make a difference in the building delivery process by being held accountable for the ways in which we impact the world and its resources.

Jerry Dirr, Construction Administration for Steed Hammond Paul, is a former school business manager and can be reached at 513/381-2112 and at [email protected]

Ron Hicks, AIA, LEED-AP, is vice president for Construction for Steed Hammond Paul and can be reached at 513/381-2112 and at [email protected] For more information on Steed Hammond Paul or PointGuard, a service offering of Steed Hammond Paul that provides a single point-of-contact solution for operation and maintenance, please visit