Facilities (Managing Assets)

Thinking Outside the Box

I have been doing some radical thinking. It involves thinking substantially outside of the box. Or perhaps inside a different box. I suggest that we can alleviate or mitigate a number of facility challenges to which we have not been able to expose any satisfactory alternatives.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

With my plan, we’ll eliminate that annoying perpetual increase in deferred maintenance. No more training our O&M staff on constantly changing technologies in building automation and other IT systems. No longer will we have frustrating issues with our space management, with utilization and “ownership” being out-of-date concepts. We will spend less on training and stocking inventories. In fact, issuing RFPs to select service contractors could be on the edge of becoming truly a boilerplate issue.

Designing new buildings in this age of online classes will be less challenging, as we no longer struggle to complement our existing buildings. Vandalism and tagging could decrease (or we might not care), or become easier to resolve. Building donors might have less of a voice in designing monuments to themselves or to their family heritage (okay, maybe I’m dreaming there). Department chairs and college deans would have less to argue about as regards “mine is nicer/bigger than yours.” Conversely, we in Facilities would less frequently hear “How come you don’t (maintain, clean, operate, etc.) my building as well as you do theirs?”

So, say you, what is this wonder solution?

Here’s My Plan

Let me set the stage. Recently I was reading an article regarding how we, as FMers, really like steel buildings. That struck a favorable note with me. Don’t get me wrong. I am not likely to recommend we build all steel buildings for our academic and administrative endeavors. That would be too tacky.

But, it stimulated my imagination. I wonder if we could achieve many or all of the benefits I mentioned above if we design and construct buildings that are designed to last only 10 years, instead of the 50 years or more that appears to be the norm today.

Just imagine. We could build them using materials that could be easily and almost totally recycled after the 10-year life expectancy has expired. It might be possible to build a box-like structure, relying on recyclable wood, that some might actually consider almost attractive. Any technology introduced into such a facility, such as a building automation system, would potentially be barely unsupported by its vendor before being replaced. As teaching delivery methods and perspectives “evolve,” remodeling classrooms and lecture halls will become unnecessary.

The few windows we might introduce could remain unwashed, thereby generally improving their “R-rating.” Floors, bare concrete, could be generally unfinished, sanded and buffed to a nice shine, eliminating carpeting and its unavoidable need for replacement once it “uglies” out.

LEED shmeed. Make the building cheap enough, barely meeting building codes and engineering standards, and simple enough that your traditional-minded maintenance approach can keep it functional. Any increase in energy costs would be offset by a more substantial reduction in O&M. Since the buildings are programmed, designed and constructed with a 10-year life cycle in mind, there is very little chance that a serious deferred maintenance issue would evolve. What could be better? We would no longer need to convince the guys and gals with their hands on the purse strings that deferred maintenance is inevitably the result of a perceived lack of performance. Upgrading and remodeling would become an outdated concept.

Maybe? Or Maybe Not?

If a mental rendering is evolving of buildings that resemble the “temporary” structures built by the military during and after WWII, you are probably not far off target. I still see many of those buildings today, even on college campuses, to prove my point!

Or wait! If so many are still around, what does that do to my theory of building for a shorter life cycle? Is the Pentagon still authorizing the construction of that type of building? I don’t think so. Are they (and we who have them) still spending beaucoup bucks keep them safe and operational? Yes? Are they acceptable to senior-level administrators, budget authorizers and our students? No? Never mind then.

My idea must suck air. We are thus eternally committed to building and maintaining high-end facilities, challenging us for the programmed 50+ years.


This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at [email protected].