Sightlines Report Finds that 51% of Buildings on College Campuses Now Approaching Critical Lifecycle Thresholds

Sightlines’ 2014 State of Facilities in Higher Education report shows backlog in facilities maintenance projects continues to grow, but points way to pro-active strategies

The large amount of buildings constructed on American college campuses between 1951 and 1990 – buildings that represent 51 percent of all space on those campuses – are nearing or have already reached critical lifecycle thresholds and are in need of either renewal or replacement, according to a new report released today by Sightlines.

“Our report documents that facilities maintenance projects on American college campuses continue to grow as academic institutions have been unable to secure enough capital funding to bring these buildings up to full repair,” said Mark Schiff, president and chief executive officer of Sightlines, a leader in helping academic institutions better manage their facilities and capital investment strategies. “The reality is that no single strategy will work to eliminate this backlog. However, innovative campus leaders have been able to develop pro-active capital plans that address this facilities problem in a systematic way.”

Other important findings in Sightlines’ “State of Facilities in Higher Education: 2014 Benchmarks, Best Practices & Trends” report include the following:

  • Capital spending is down 10 percent from 2007

At $5.07 per gross square foot(GSF) in capital spending last year, institutions have been unable to secure enough capital funding to consistently get back to pre-recession levels, which were inching closer to $6.00/GSF at the time.

  • Campus facilities operating budgets have grown by only 1% annually since the recession

With negotiated salary increases and the rising cost of health care, it’s clear that most campuses have fewer staff to maintain buildings and manage campus grounds than they did prior to the recession.

  • Maintenance project backlog is up 17 percent since 2007

Backlogs continue to rise and there is no indication that trend will moderate soon. Campuses are now approaching $100/GSF in backlog maintenance, a level that most experts cite as the point where maintenance can no longer be pro-active.

In addition to benchmarking these tough fiscal realities, the report also includes a number of specific steps that campus leaders can take in order to combat their immediate facilities management challenges.

“Individual campuses and public policy makers need to consider developing capital plans that have two key elements,” according to the Sightlines report. “First, on a shorter-term tactical basis, the capital plan should address the immediate building needs that are already past due and are having a negative impact on the performance of the buildings and academic programs. Second, taking a longer-term view, a more strategic plan is necessary to balance the need to continue to address any remaining deferred needs, while also anticipating and addressing new lifecycles as they come due. This dual approach will address the current deferred maintenance needs, but will also assure that campuses slow the rate of growth of deferred maintenance and are not put in the same situation in the future.”

For example, according to Schiff, facilities operational practices that are pro-active at extending the lifecycles of key expensive building components – such as HVAC, electrical systems and roofs – are imperative for any fiscally challenged university.

“A Sightlines study of public universities in one U.S. state found that campuses that steadily increased planned and preventive maintenance over time saw a 25 percent reduction in overall work orders,” said Schiff. “Pro-active maintenance is not only a good idea when it comes to managing university facilities, it will save money in the long run.”

Building upon the findings from the inaugural “State of Facilities in Higher Education” report in 2013, this year’s report analyzes new trends and benchmarks, provides insight into the challenges impacting higher education, and shares best practices for how campus leaders can fund and manage their facilities in light of these challenges. The full report can be downloaded at