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​Q and A from Create & Maintain High-Performing Education Facilities

Q and A from WebinarOn a recent webinar, speakers Henry L. Green, HON. AIA, President of National Institute of Building Science; Jay Pearlman, Associate Vice President of Marketing from Sightlines, a Gordian company; and Dwayne Pierre-Antoine, Director of Operations for the Great Lakes Region at Gordian gave spoke on the funding challenges facing schools today, and how best to plan, design, prioritize and manage building repair and updates to maintain high-performing education facilities. Viewers asked questions after the webinar to gain a greater understanding of facility assessments, prioritizing deferred maintenance and more.

View the full webinar on-demand by clicking here, and you can hear the entire Q&A session.

Here are several questions and answers from that session:

Question: We have a renovation project that we’d like to complete before students get back to campus this fall. How long does it take to get a price on a particular project through the Job Order Contracting process?

Answer: Great question. Once you have a JOC program in place – either your own program or through cooperative purchasing agreements – the process is very quick, because the work has already been bid, in the form of a master JOC contract. So once you have identified a project, all you’re really doing is developing the scope of work, and a price proposal with the contractor. You’re not going through the design-bid-build procurement cycle for each project. This significantly reduces time, costs, and administrative effort, which results in an expedited construction start time.

Question: Our campus has a large mix of facility types and ages, and we’re often having to prioritize and make a decision on which buildings to invest our funding. Do you have a general rule of thumb on which we should tackle first?

Answer: There is no general rule of thumb, but there are some best practices that we see quite a bit that are extremely helpful. Dwayne started to talk about how it’s very important that you begin by understanding your liability, and that can be accomplished in a number of ways. It can be a very extensive conditions study, it can be a lifecycle study, but it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. Also within the context of historical spending, operations, some of the things that I spoke about. When it comes time to make the case, and actually present and requisition funding, that’s where it gets a little complicated. We work with a lot of schools that have fallen into what I call the black hole of the big scary number. When you present how much your deferred maintenance really is, oftentimes that doesn’t compel action; it actually paralyzes it, somewhat, in that it becomes very easy to ignore the problem and not act. So what you want to do is, instead of framing it out in terms of an insurmountable liability, you want to try to tie that to Mission, and you want to try to tie that to Finances. And that is – don’t come with a list of boilers and roofs, because you’re going to get lost in the detail of that. You want to bring together a group of enhancements that further the mission of the institution. For that, we recommend breaking the campus down into different groupings or portfolios. The whole idea behind that, is that not every building has to have the same strategy, the same objective, and therefore the same standards. So it’s okay to have a group of older spaces that have a different investment strategy and standard than a group of brand new spaces. Try to segment the institution in a way that highlights mission, highlights a financial strategy, and ultimately can create a constituency for change at the institution itself.

Question. Funding is a big issue, so we have a large backlog of projects that we don’t have the resources to complete. Does Job Order Contracting help with deferred maintenance projects?

Answer: Yes, once funding is secured, Job Order Contracting is a very valuable project delivery method to quickly complete a deferment backlog. It gives you greater control over your budget with very accurate construction costs, which helps you make data-driven decisions when prioritizing your backlog list for completion. In other words, you’re spending more time starting work than procuring work.

Question: Have you found that structural materials used in school – such as wood, steel, concrete – have an impact on total project cost.

Answer: Yes, I think they do have an impact on project cost, and I think that exploring ideas of different materials will have an impact on your overall project cost. It’s usually determined in your design process.

Question: Would you say that a facility condition assessment is incomplete without a life cycle cost analysis?

Answer: It’s not that it’s incomplete, it is a little bit of a different study. A true deferred maintenance study is really looking at deficiencies as they stand today, and most providers in the market today are actually looking ahead, as well. It’s actually very helpful to not only look at components that are not functioning today, but to have an idea about where the life cycle of everything else stands as well. And that’s for a very simple reason, that is, if you’re managing expenses – both capital and operational – it’s good to know what waves are coming in front of you. It’s good to know if you have a preponderance of life cycle needs in year five or year eight or year 15 from now. Because what you don’t want to do – and what happens quite a bit – is the conversation with the board or the town or the school board, which is, “Hm, capital for maintenance. We already solved that problem three years ago. Why are you asking me for more?” So, creating the understanding that a commitment to physical plant is an ongoing conversation is one that is really important. So it is very helpful to make sure that deferred maintenance studies and life cycle studies are actually moving, living documents.

Question: Do you have any data that identifies the typical percentage of investments school districts are investing in major maintenance through their annual budget?

Answer: Sure, on the college side, we have resources online, if you look at www.sightlines.com, that actually look at annual aggregates of spending across a whole host of schools – and that would be everything form capital dollars to operational dollars as well. So those are out there for everyone to read.