Numerous studies have shown adverse conditions in school buildings negatively affect the performance of students as well as teachers. Restoring facilities in the summer gives maintenance personnel an opportunity to address outstanding issues while many of the classrooms and common areas remain vacant.
As buildings host more classes and activities during summer, however, the timeframe for completing repairs tightens significantly. How do maintenance personnel carry out updates and upgrades before the next school year begins?
Construct an all-inclusive plan
An exhaustive schedule outlining both major and minor maintenance tasks allows facility managers to sync their work with the school calendar more effectively. This blueprint can allocate for simple jobs such as painting in addition to extensive repairs like refinishing a hardwood floor or renovating an HVAC system.
“You have a comprehensive capital improvement plan that lays everything out you want to do,” says John A. Bailey, director of school plants for Chesapeake Public Schools in Chesapeake, Virginia. “But the money piece of it is the most difficult part of it all.”
Bailey says he could devise a thoughtful strategy and identify 30 components that would benefit greatly from upgrades, but the work might cost $75 million, and the budget falls between $3 million and $4 million. Consulting his principals plus a record of equipment replacement and general maintenance helps narrow the focus.
“We look at those variables and put them all together, then we do some of our decision-making for the day-to-day work as well as the larger capital improvement work,” says Bailey, who serves as president of the National School Plant Management Association.
Software solutions such as SchoolDude and Q Ware can keep track of maintenance jobs and provide a running history of time and labor. These management systems also accept maintenance requests from teachers and other school staff, assign them to an appropriate employee and send reminders if any work order remains unresolved at its deadline.
“It’s very effective,” says Keith Watkins, director of facilities for Marcellus Central Schools in Marcellus, New York, which uses TeamWORKS software to schedule items like swapping out air filters. “It helps others realize the time spent in the field fixing all of the things that are required in a school district.”
Collaborate with other institutions
The constraints on availability and expertise encourage school maintenance officials to take advantage of government contracts and services when applicable. If management wants to upgrade an entire building to LED lighting, for example, the district might be better served outsourcing the work to a professional electrician instead of overwhelming existing staff.
“We utilize government bids when it makes sense,” says Watkins, who estimates his staff is responsible for maintaining 80 of 164 total acres. “We have a lot to do with the existing staff we have, so we try not to spread them out so thin that it frustrates them.”
Many schools engage in cooperative purchasing and partner with other districts to receive a discounted rate on jobs, supplies and materials. This approach can save each institution a considerable amount of money and free up additional resources that could be applied to pending maintenance items.
“We try to work with other schools to bundle our needs, and then go out to bid,” says Wayne Wideman, superintendent of buildings and grounds for CiTi, the Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation in Mexico, New York.
“We also use state contracts and government contracts for supplies and materials and try to economize our dollars as best as we can,” says Wideman, who serves as president of the New York State School Facilities Association.
Some districts bankroll a full-time architect to ensure their facilities satisfy the latest building standards and regulations. Chesapeake Public Schools utilizes both an architect and an environmental specialist, who acts as another “check and balance” for the district by verifying indoor air quality and testing for things such as mold, Bailey says.
“We’re always keeping up with code in everything we do,” he adds.
Network with industry peers
School facility associations at the state and local level represent a significant resource for pertinent information and insight. Joining these groups enables maintenance personnel to increase their contacts within the industry, which becomes especially handy as questions arise about new products and technology.
For example, Watkins says he can send out an email to his colleagues asking about a new product and receive almost instantaneous feedback that empowers him to gauge its value. “I would say that within 30 minutes I would have well over 50 email responses pertaining to people’s experience with that product,” he says.
Annual conferences organized largely through state and local associations present further opportunities for maintenance personnel to learn about trends. Wideman attended one of these expos a few years ago and was introduced to HVAC ultraviolet lighting, which uses the natural power of UV lights to control airborne allergens and microorganisms.
Today he employs the technology in the nurse’s office and cafeteria to help purify the air flowing into those areas. “We want to make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing for the students — that it’s safe and that it’s healthy — and that we’re moving in a forward direction in a positive manner,” Wideman says.
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