With today’s flattening enrollment trends, more higher education institutions are approaching new construction projects with caution. However, these large projects can’t be altogether avoided. After all, the majority of buildings on most campuses were constructed before 1975, and many of these are in dire need of renovation, if not full replacement, to meet shifting needs while providing the comfort and performance expected by students and faculty.
More of those colleges and universities that are committing to major construction are doing so with an eye to the long-term operations budget. Savvy facilities managers and school administrators understand that limited facilities budgets must address not only the cost of new construction but the additional maintenance that will be needed to cover a new facility. Many schools are using cost reductions to fund new projects.
When this small private college in the Northeast committed to a $200 million investment in construction over the course of a decade, it did so with the intent of keeping operating resources at their existing level. The facilities department had to approach this challenge strategically to ensure it would have the funding to effectively manage its assets over the long-term.
A Strategy for Supporting the Facilities Budget
To stretch the existing facilities budget to accommodate a growing number of assets, it fell to the facilities management team to find ways to slow maintenance deferral and keep up the new spaces without need for any additional funds.
To achieve this goal, the facilities management team knew that it needed to focus on supporting and protecting the existing facilities budgets. Data was the answer to this challenge. By gathering data about the existing facilities, the department could ensure resources would be in place for routinely recurring keep-up investments.
This data was collected through a blend of benchmarking of peer institutions and a thorough analysis on the current performance of facilities across campus. The resulting information helped the facilities management team make a compelling case for putting changes in place that would ultimately streamline operations, reduce backlog and prolong lifecycles.
The early analysis process ultimately led to three recommendations:
- Benchmarking revealed that the college’s energy consumption was high compared to similar institutions. Lowering these expenditures could provide the cost reductions needed to fund maintenance and improvements.
- Increasing the spending on planned and cycle maintenance programs would slow the rate of deferral.
- The greatest impact could be made by focusing first on larger renovations and catching up with deferral in older facilities.
Because facility management had verifiable, third-party gathered information on hand, it was able to make a clear and compelling case for the value of keeping up with facility maintenance. By using data to demonstrate how assets across the institution compared across the board and with peer institutions, the department was able to secure the support it needed from the board of trustees. And with this support, facilities leaders were able to better leverage operating savings and secure new appropriations to incrementally increase their ability to steward existing assets.
A Pathway for Prioritization
This data not only helped secure crucial buy-in from key financial decision-makers, but it also created a pathway for prioritizing its large-scale improvements.
The first target for improvements was a number system and infrastructure upgrades related to energy consumption. The resulting improvements ultimately were able to achieve a 35 percent reduction in utility consumption per square foot. This also reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a sustainability initiative that boosted the college’s reputation. Moreover, by reducing energy expenditures, the college was able to free up capital to fund stewardship and decrease its deferred maintenance accumulation.
In addition, strategic investments in older facilities allowed the college to drive down the average age of its buildings. At the start of this upgrade process, 60 percent of the campus buildings had a renovation age over 25 years and only 18 percent of these facilities were newer than 10 years. In time, the percentage of buildings over 25 years old since their last renovation was reduced to 47 percent; 30 percent of these buildings were less than a decade old.
A Focus on Improvement
Ultimately, the college was able to grow its annual stewardship funding 160 percent in ten years. This funding helped stabilize the backlog demands. With backlog growth slowed, there were fewer unplanned emergency repairs and capital dollars could be directed to projects that genuinely improved the campus.