How to Categorize Projects & Buildings to Reduce Maintenance Backlog

This post is the fourth in a 5-part series that addresses deferred maintenance on higher education campuses and how facilities managers can categorize projects and buildings to help reduce maintenance backlogs. 


When it comes to righting the current trend of excessive deferred maintenance at colleges and universities, facilities managers can benefit from learning to categorize projects related to campus buildings. A simple system like this helps a manager to balance the competing budget needs of different buildings. It can also make presentations to financial stakeholders easier to understand. An effective classification system will consider these types of costs:

  • Keep up costs (“Current Need”) are the annual investments needed to ensure buildings will properly perform and reach their useful life.
  • Catch up costs (“Renewal Need”) are the funds needed to combat the accumulation of repair and modernization needs.

Differentiating between these types of costs is important since not all buildings are equal. Categorize projects by timeframe and urgencySome have more immediate need for refurbishment, while others can continue to operate as they are for several more years with moderate upkeep. Still others are ripe for tear down to make way for new construction and expansion.

The current trend in higher education has been to focus on new construction at the expense of older buildings. Over the years, that increases the amount of catch up costs that must be funded, but budgeters often still weight spending toward new construction because they feel it will make the school more competitive in courting students and faculty.

When maintenance is deferred beyond the keep up and catch up phases, plant and equipment systems eventually suffer costly major, even catastrophic failures that must be addressed immediately as emergency repair costs.

In order to categorize budget requests, facilities managers should evaluate each building based on three criteria:

  • Condition
  • Function
  • Impact of improvements (How does improving this building affect mission or financial performance?).

By grouping buildings, facilities managers can assess risks and identify the best opportunities for focusing investment. They can then develop building portfolios that reflect the campus mission and strategic direction. This guides the investment across different portfolios in a multi-year strategy.

Facilities managers should focus first on the projects that, if not addressed, will displace academic programs or students. Then turn to the systems and maintenance projects that are past due. This may include scheduled maintenance that has been deferred year after year due to limited funding.

Once the most pressing projects are funded, planned and executed in the multi-year plan, and as resources allow, it is time to turn attention to the systems and facilities that are expected to hit their end-of-life within the next 10 years.

It is prudent to balance investment in maintenance projects over time. A multi-year plan that balances costs can stabilize and eventually reduce an institution’s deferred maintenance burden. But there is a cost of waiting. If the school fails to adequately plan and fund projects, the frequency and expense of emergency repair costs will increase.

The key is to start somewhere.

And once you start acting, measure results. Success breeds success.