There’s a perception that the fundamental purpose of capital planning in higher education is to implement investment strategies into new and existing campus space. This is not an unfounded interpretation. The focus of these efforts is often an idealized future where these investments pay off in one way or another. But the creation of an effective, actionable capital plan can also have direct operational benefits that may be realized even more quickly than anticipated.
When developing the capital plan for a campus, a needs assessment is typically an early part of the overall facilities analysis. Such an assessment allows for a detailed understanding of where challenges or problems exist that will require investment. When done effectively, an assessment not only daylights the most critical facilities concerns, it can also help organize those challenges across the campus into portfolios of need. Leadership may wish to enhance programmatic offerings, improve impressions of the campus or increase facilities performance. A careful inclusion of all campus pressures is essential when allocating limited dollars.
Large scale capital investment to resolve long-standing and chronic needs will always garner the greatest attention, and in many cases deservedly so. These big projects provide opportunities to deliver tremendous improvements all at once for areas of recurrent need and perhaps even great risk. They can engage donors or other financial contributors, and visibly demonstrate organizational commitment to community improvement. Typically, these investments will also yield performance improvements for the staff who operate and care for the space. Energy efficiency gains are a reasonable expectation of all capital projects as well.
These last two items are important areas of focus for smaller project priorities. A careful review of assessment projects should identify places on campus where modest investments in equipment can yield immediate energy savings, even in buildings that will not otherwise be receiving broader near-term benefit. The replacement of aging HVAC equipment, additional controls technologies and lighting retrofits or upgrades are all common needs that may be tackled more swiftly than large scale capital projects and will yield energy savings that accelerate the investment return. If these areas of investment coincide with intense work order activity and maintenance/service issues, significant employee time can be freed up to refocus on planned maintenance pursuits. This will help extend the life of other equipment and systems on campus that are not yet in need of repair or replacement. Even something as benign as the targeted replacement of an aging carpet may not only improve the visible appearance of a space, it can release cleaning time and money currently expended in a losing battle to make a space more attractive or even safe.
A facilities assessment is a valuable tool for consideration when developing long-term capital expenditure strategies. It can also be a source of smaller project activity that will positively impact operating costs and create efficiencies in both dollars expended and employee time invested. Releasing money and time to more productive efforts is always good.