A Pending Disaster?

Living in a throw-away world is a very expensive place to live. Too many of us have bought into the “out with the old, in with the new” lifestyle — from fashions, to furniture, to cell phones, TVs — the list goes on. One reason is what some manufacturers refer to as planned obsolescence. How many people do you know who still use a five-year-old cell phone? Most of us trade phones every two years, need it or not! It is an innate desire to own something a little newer, a little better or a little sooner than is really necessary. We scrimp, save and continuously empty our wallets so we can own the latest thing. Conversely, little effort is put into taking care of what we already have. This is true of our school facilities as well.

School buildings cannot fall victim to our throwaway mentality. We have invested too much and need to do what it takes to protect that investment. When we look at the poor condition of many of our school facilities, we need to remember that it was not a lack a quality construction that caused the problems; it was more likely a lack of proper maintenance.

In 2010, more than $14.5 billion dollars of construction was put in place at K-12 schools across the nation. For many institutions, it was a difficult economic challenge to secure funds for these assets. For most institutions, funding the construction is where the investment stopped. Funding the maintenance of these buildings was put in the “think about that later” column. This message was echoed by the respondents of our maintenance survey where 74 percent reported that tight budgets have forced them to defer maintenance; 62 percent reported that not enough funds had been allocated to pay for the activities outlined in their Comprehensive Maintenance Plan; and that 54 percent did not have adequate staffing levels to maintain their facilities.

Not to scare anyone, but the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), in a 1990 report, determined an appropriate budget allocation for routine maintenance and repair should be in the range of two to four percent of the current replacement value of a facility. If we don’t start thinking about the maintenance of our schools as “essential,” we are headed for disaster — maybe not this year, but soon.