Facilities (Learning Spaces)

How To Stop Deferring Maintenance

Believe it or not, some school districts don’t worry about the cost of deferred maintenance - because they don’t defer it.

America's Public Schools earned a higher grade than the nation as a whole on the 2013 infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The country received a “D” for the pathetic, run-down condition of its infrastructure.

Deferring Maintenance


Public schools did better, although not enough better to brag. ASCE gave the condition of public school infrastructure a “D+” — not very good at all. According to ASCE, the cost of modernizing and maintaining public school facilities in the United States totals $270 billion. That’s up $143 billion from 1999, when the $127 billion cost of deferred public school maintenance stunned everyone. Instead of fixing that problem, we’ve allowed it to more than double in size.

Absent firm measures to address the problem, it will only get worse and more expensive.

How expensive? Engineers have developed various ways to estimate the future cost of maintenance deferred today.

David Tod Geaslin, a principal with The Geaslin Group, a Houston-based maintenance consulting firm, has developed what he calls the ”Inverse-Square Rule for Deferred Maintenance.

The rule states that “Any part that is known to be failing and left in service until the next level of failure will create an expense equal to the square of the cost of the primary failure part. If a $100 component is failing, and you don’t fix it before it fails, repairs then will cost $10,000.

Geaslin also explains the cost of deferring maintenance in a different way: If the invoice for parts and labor to replace that failing part would have cost $667 before the failure, the cost of repairs after the break down would be 15 times the preventive maintenance invoice.

How can you turn your maintenance system around so that your work replaces parts before the equipment breaks down?

Answer: You can hire a third-party maintenance provider or you can adopt their methods.

“The problem is that most K-12 maintenance groups are reactive, which is the most expensive kind of maintenance,” says Leon Koehler, associate vice president, operational excellence with Philadelphia-based ARAMARK Education, an outsource maintenance provider. “No more than nine percent of a district’s budget should go to maintenance and operations. If you are spending more, you have opportunities to cut expenses.”

You can find those opportunities by assessing your maintenance performance against industry benchmarks. Then to take advantage of those opportunities, you will start up a computerized maintenance system, standardize with the right materials, parts and tools, get state-of-the-art training for your crews and modify your organization to take advantage of the opportunities you discover.

Assess Your Performance

When ARAMARK takes on a new school district, the first step is to assess the performance of the current maintenance and custodial systems. An assessment compares industry benchmarks with the district’s performance.

“We typically get our benchmarking data from the Council of the Great City Schools,” says Jim Bostian, senior vice president, operational excellence, with ARAMARK Education.

An example of an industry benchmark would be the number of square feet a welltrained custodian using the right equipment and chemicals can clean in a given time. Another example is the number of square feet a maintenance technician can cover, if he or she has the right tools and proper training. On the landscaping side, how many acres can a properly equipped and trained landscaper cover?

Benchmarks also cover inventory levels for materials, utility costs per square foot, the cost of services purchased from vendors.

Of course, ARAMARK normalizes the benchmarks for the size of the district to ensure true comparisons.

“We benchmark everything,” Bostian says. “Then we will collect the district’s data and compare it to the benchmarks. A good assessment is a roadmap of savings opportunities. Some larger school districts have seen tens of millions in savings by tailoring their operations to the industry benchmarks.”

Right Way To Get On the Computer

“Part of our start up involves inventorying everything and putting it all on the computer,” Bostian says. “We input data about all of the mechanical systems, floors, walls roofs as well as the people and their training levels.

“For instance, we’ll put an index number on the boiler and set the computer to kick out a work order about what to do to it monthly, quarterly, semiannually and annually.

“In addition, we’ll track corrective maintenance on a daily basis. At the end of the year, we’ll know how many hours was spent on each item and what the remaining life expectancy is.”

The vendor of the computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) you choose is important, too. ARAMARK, for instance, uses a package from TMA Systems. What you would buy from TMA would differ from what ARAMARK uses because TMA tailors its product to satisfy ARAMARK’s approach to managing maintenance.

You should develop a relationship with a vendor that will tweak its product for you as you gain experience and want the computer to automate additional tasks or to present data differently.


Bostian recommends standardizing everything that can be standardized. Why? Many districts have different kinds of toilets, Bostian says. That means inventorying flush valves and other parts from several different vendors. Standardization reduces inventory costs because you won’t have to buy as many parts. But the volume of the same parts that you do buy may in some cases qualify you for volume discounts.

Standardization also improves maintenance work, because everyone trains on the same equipment and learns the same procedures. “Southwest Airlines flies one kind of jet because it holds down maintenance costs,” Bostian says.

Standardize everything right down to colors of paint used across the district, he recommends.

Right Training and Right Tools

Did you know that cleaning carpets with soap could cause them to get dirtier faster? “When you use soap to clean carpets, the soap leaves a residue that is difficult to remove,” says Koehler. “The residue collects dirt. We use electronically activated water to clean carpets. It cleans them better than soap and doesn’t leave a residue.

“We’re looking into the possibility of cleaning carpet with ultra violet light.”

State-of-the-art maintenance and custodial methods evolve constantly, so it is important to develop maintenance and custodial training programs that keep you and your crews up to date on the latest methods and the tools required for the job.

Take Advantage Of Opportunities

When assessing one new client, ARAMARK’s benchmarking study indicated that the district had too many painters and carpenters on staff and too few senior people in other trades.

“The district had low-end HVAC people, plumbers and electricians and was paying them and then buying outside services,” Bostian says. “The double hit inflated the budget.”

ARAMARK brought the department’s capabilities into line with needs by raising the level of HVAC people, plumbers and electricians with new hiring and training. They reduced the numbers of painters and carpenters in the department as well as the outside services that had to be purchased. “The reorganization saved millions, reduced the budget and tripled the number of work orders,” says Bostian.

Another client resisted ARAMARK’s recommendation of a performance-based contract and asked for a contract with a guaranteed number of hours. “That district was leaving money on the table,” says Koehler. “After a year or two, we suggested reducing labor and investing in the right equipment and tools — equipment and tools they should have been using all along.

“For instance, they had schools with 100,000 square feet of floor space. A riding floor machine can clean 100,000 square feet in three-and-one-half hours. So now, instead of a cleaning crew spending many hours cleaning those floors, one person does cleans those floors in an afternoon, and we reinvest the crew’s hours elsewhere.

“These kinds of programs drive out inefficiencies.”

In this case, driving out the inefficiencies saved $6 million.

The key to getting off the corrective maintenance treadmill is the assessment you do at the beginning. Assess your program by comparing what you do with industry benchmarks. Study those comparisons and figure out where you’re performance isn’t standing up to best practices.

Figure out the problem. Is it a staffing issue? Do you buy too many outside services to do work you should do yourself. Can you do that work yourself, or do your people need better training. Have you failed to invest in the right tools? Is a lack of standardization driving up your inventory and maintenance costs?

As you answer these questions by reorganizing your staff and the way your people work, you should begin to catch up on deferred, corrective maintenance and start to generate work orders that will prevent breakdowns and calls for repairs.

Do it right, and after a while, you’ll start to run out of maintenance work that has to be deferred. Eventually, you will overcome the problem.