Keeping Up With Facilities and Maintenance

This month’s issue of College Planning & Management focuses on facilities — from our 2012 Living on Campus report to our 2012 Education Design Showcase.

Colleges and universities own some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Despite aging facilities and budget cuts, they are doing an admirable job protecting the assets they have. The funding gap is being counterbalanced by the extra efforts of their facilities maintenance staff. Leadership has improved and complacency has been replaced by employee engagement — two welcomed (although somewhat unexpected) benefits in these tight economic times.

Even with all of their efforts, the amount of deferred maintenance is a growing concern among facilities departments. In our annual survey on residence halls facilities, the issue of deferred maintenance came in second only to student/parent expectations on the list of “top concerns.” While these two issues seem to focus on different areas, they are really connected in many ways. The condition of facilities has a profound effect on recruiting and retaining both students and staff. In fact, our survey tells us that 91 percent of institutions feel that the quality of their on-campus housing is a determining factor in whether a student will attend their institutions.

Quality is more than curb appeal. Too often “curb appeal” wins the battle over real maintenance issues because it is visible. Outside we landscape and plant flowers, while inside the infrastructure falls apart. We allocate funds for “emergency” repairs, solving immediate problems, but ignoring the source of the problem — the need for regular maintenance. A great deal of “regular maintenance” requires staff, time, and accountability, not money. Colleges and universities need to be sure to thank their staff for their efforts to keep facilities running and the lights on. After all, maintaining our existing facilities should have the same 
significance as building them.