The Ultimate Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Assessments of Educational Facilities

Facility assessments are a critical tool to understand how each element in a building portfolio is performing — and to determine where investments are most needed. While traditional educational facilities assessments provide valuable insights, these technical engineering documents can become overwhelming lists of problems.

By conducting assessments at a higher level, however, you can deliver a planning tool that institution stakeholders can quickly grasp and act on with confidence.

1. Don’t provide an overwhelming list of needs without a framework

Do make sure your list is framed, targeted and clear

Most educational facilities assessments are highly detailed inventory lists, broken down at the component level. While this level of detail is valuable for the individuals who will ultimately fix the problems, it does not facilitate decision making or securing the necessary capital.

Taking a broader approach to presenting campus facilities assessments eliminates much of the detail and makes it easier to prioritize campus improvements. When portfolio elements are ranked according to their significance to the overall campus mission, decision making becomes relatively straightforward.

As you begin your facility assessment, make sure you have the end goal in mind. Are you looking to improve the entire campus, or a part of your facilities portfolio? What will you do with this information? To whom will you present it?

If this assessment is a tool to help you organize your planning, that’s one thing. If you’re using it to forecast for future needs, that’s another goal entirely. Knowing your audience, and clearly articulating your argument to them, will help you to make a stronger case for funding.

2. Don’t get caught up in specific technical details

Do gather details, but focus on the macro level

All of the information gathered during an educational facilities assessment can be valuable. As a facilities manager, having highly detailed information about your facilities’ problems can later speed the process of working with designers, engineers and contractors to target solutions.

When you’re working to identify resources, however, you should be working at a different altitude. Here, the goal is to engage leaders in defining a strategy, so that you can pick the individual projects. This macro level understanding of problems can help you develop the right argument for directing limited resources to the areas that will provide the greatest benefit to the campus community.

Does the campus’ entire electrical system need improvement? Will an upgrade create cost savings that can be reinvested into other improvements? Or maybe the building envelope is due for an upgrade. Could this project provide a fresh look to dated facades while improving the comfort in the least popular dormitories?

3. Don’t turn your list of conditions over to someone else and move on

Do stay involved and work with institution stakeholders to understand issues

In many instances, these laundry lists of problems are written in technical jargon that decision makers may find opaque. When communicating with financial decision-makers on campus, it’s important to explain the problems at a high level. Rather than detailing a challenge in precise but technical language, explain the consequences of ignoring the problem. Provide a framework to understand the problem — how, if left unaddressed, it will impact the institution’s ability to achieve its mission.

4. Don’t deliver the list as an ultimatum

Do recognize that your assessment should be focused on prioritization

Delivering an extensive list of technical problems can be perceived as an ultimatum. Overwhelming in scope and filled with minutia, detailed assessments can be misconstrued as manipulative and alarmist. And it becomes easy for a board of directors or other decision makers to them turn down. To counter this tendency, organize and prioritize your recommendations. Make it clear that not everything has to be addressed right away.

But there is another pressure working against the process, as well. Facilities departments usually compete for funds with faculty salaries, student financial aid, and other highly visible campus needs. Because maintenance and other facilities expenses often occur out of sight, their needs may not seem as crucial as funding students and staff.

Competition for funding has made deferred maintenance commonplace across the nation — a problems that is more significant on some campuses than others. At many schools, there aren’t enough operating dollars to cover the maintenance needs of the institution, even before competing expenses are factored in. That creates a very challenging environment.

The solution is straightforward: use your institution’s overall goals to prioritize your projects, and plan to address your full portfolio incrementally over time.