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Property Managers

10 checkpoints for every new school building


By Ajo Kurian, vice President, The Ashtin Group

The advent of a new school building is a positive investment in America’s future.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the decade between 2000 and 2010, the number of American public and private schools, elementary through secondary, increased by more than 7,200, while approximately 410 new post-secondary institutions arose during the same period.

The number of American schools is growing.

(The year 2012 saw the highest enrollment ever of American students, pre-K through college.)

The construction of a new school building is also an expensive investment for the stakeholders who have funded it.

School Planning and Management reports in its 2012 Annual Construction Report that school districts in the United States School spent almost $7 billion on building new schools, more than half of all education construction dollars spent, and that more than $6.6 billion is estimated to have been invested in 2012 on commencing the construction of new schools.

Experience advises that the decision-makers of new schools – and in fact, schools of every vintage – must look to 10 management checkpoints to maximize the ability of their school building to serve the community best, most cost efficiently, and for the longest possible time.

The 10 management checkpoints for school building administrators:

1. Choose the right facilities management company. Professional facilities management is critical to the operation of a school building. Decision-makers of school buildings nearing completion or newly-constructed should engage an independent, third-party management company as early as possible during the construction process and long before the first student crosses the threshold.

For all schools, and especially new school buildings, management should perform the nine checkpoints following this one.

Under all circumstances, management should provide the following services on an ongoing, contractual basis: Maintenance and preventive maintenance of all building-wide structural, mechanical, and aesthetic elements and 2 sustainability programs; management of major repairs and capital improvement projects; preparation and implementation of security and life safety plans; building staff supervision; establishment of purchasing and inventory tracking systems; budgeting and financial oversight; compliance with all governing laws and regulations; maintenance of accurate, accessible, well organized files and records; preparation for and attendance at regular and special meetings of stakeholders; knowledgeable and effective interaction with outside professionals including legal counsel, accountants, engineers, architects, and others; uninterrupted availability in the event of urgent or emergency situations; proactive solutions; and courteous, timely, and effective response to stakeholder concerns.

2. Document and catalogue all as-built plans and equipment for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, sustainability, technological, and security systems and warranties.

It is important to maintain critical documents.

It is surprising and troubling how many school administrators and superintendents cannot locate or identify the plans that built the building that houses their schools and the warranties that protect those buildings.

At best frustrating, the failure to maintain these critical documents and have them easily accessible could have dire consequences in an urgent or emergency situation. For obvious reasons, the younger a school building is, the easier it is likely to be to obtain and organize these important documents.

But regardless of a school building’s age, the documentation, cataloguing, maintenance, and retrieval of its as-built plans should be an imperative responsibility of the school’s facilities management company. 3. Conduct a third-party architect/engineer review of building construction to determine any defects. A school’s facilities management team should perform as an ‘owner’s representative’ on behalf of the school.

This allows the school’s stakeholders to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with the construction company and other professionals involved in the building’s construction. In the capacity of ‘owner’s representative,’ the management company should arrange for an independent review of the new building’s structural, mechanical, aesthetic, and green elements by an impartial third-party architect or engineer who will provide an objective report regarding the quality of construction, its conformity to specifications, and any defects.

Thereafter, the management company should be empowered to commission similar studies at regular intervals – ideally, every three to five years – in order to ensure the integrity of all operational elements. Administrators of existing school buildings may wish to instruct their management team to commission such a review if one has not been performed in the last five years.

4. Identify, establish, and implement maintenance and preventive maintenance policies and procedures. Professional facilities management must manage the maintenance and preventive maintenance of a school building’s structural, mechanical, aesthetic, and sustainability elements.

Structural, mechanical and aesthetic maintenance are a priority

For newly-constructed school buildings, and for all school buildings, the following maintenance and preventive maintenance programs should be in place: Establishment and implementation of a daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual, and annual maintenance and preventive maintenance schedule, (according to manufacturer’s recommendations or requirements where appropriate) for every structural, mechanical, aesthetic, and green element of the school building, including but not limited to all aspects of the food preparation area, and the scheduling of maintenance and repair work outside of school hours in order to preserve the greatest amount of uninterrupted instructional time; determination of the building maintenance staff structure (in-house or third-party), and the training and supervision of those individuals in all aspects of maintenance and preventive maintenance, thus minimizing the cost of outside contractors by increasing the scope of work building staff are competent to perform; inauguration and oversight of maintenance contracts for such systems as plumbing, electrical, fire safety, HVAC, alarm and surveillance, etc.; institution and implementation of a maintenance work order system to expedite efficient communication among management, maintenance staff, school administrators, and end users; and the ongoing monitoring and testing of building systems to determine any construction, manufacturing, and/or operational defects in equipment or construction materials.

5. Manage security and life-safety protocols. It is an unfortunate reality that the management of school buildings must include heightened attention to security and life-safety protocols.

It is the responsibility of professional facilities management to comply with emergency protocols for every emergency situation, from fire drills to lock-down procedures, and to work according to the instruction of the school administration to ensure that all building staff, administrators, educators, and others as appropriate, are knowledgeable regarding emergency policies and procedures.

6. Manage school facilities staff.

A school’s management company should be authorized to manage and supervise the staff that tends to the physical building. For newly-constructed schools, and for all schools, management should articulate a formal job description for each position, and should be empowered to hire, train, schedule, and evaluate each building staff member; process payroll; prepare all forms, reports, and returns required by all federal, state and/or local laws; and represent the school in all building staff-related matters. Of significant importance is the management company’s ability to indoctrinate a school’s building staff in the unique culture of the school in order to ensure effective communication, cultivate pride of position, and encourage the highest levels of loyalty and productivity.

7. Manage purchasing and inventory. It should be the responsibility of management to create and manage the processes of purchasing and inventory management for the school, and to establish productive professional relationships with all goods and services providers of the school. The purchasing and inventory process should include the generation of an annual purchasing schedule based on anticipated needs (e.g., the advance purchase of calcium chloride prior to winter), and ongoing supplies inventory based on the maintenance needs and functions of the building’s structural, mechanical, aesthetic, and green elements, and the equipment associated with those elements.

8. Assist in the creation of, and manage within, a realistic operating budget. The decision-makers of all schools must be able to depend with confidence on their management company to contribute to the creation of a realistic operating budget, and to manage the school building within that budget. This is especially important for new schools because a company experienced in the management of school facilities can bring to the budgeting process certain proficiencies, best practices, and cost saving solutions that may be unknown to the school’s decision-makers.

To be clear, it may or may not fall under the management company’s purview to address educational expenditures, but it is always the responsibility of management to address the expenses of operating the school building. Hence, a school’s management company should participate in the budgeting process; proactively recommend cost saving initiatives; introduce and implement a competitive bidding procedure; and negotiate and administer all contracts attendant to the operation of the school building.

With regard to financial management, the management company should: receive and remit vendor, contractor, utility, and other bills; maintain bank records and other financial records maintenance; and provide accurate, timely monthly and other financial statements, including summary of cash accounts, itemized statement of current year to date receipts and disbursements, list of unpaid bills, statement of journal entries, general ledger, and copies of all bank statements, and reconciliations, in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles.

9. Manage post-construction punch lists. In a perfect world, construction would be completed exactly to specifications, without any change orders, on time and on budget, and to everyone’s satisfaction. In the real world, this rarely happens.

The administrators of newly-constructed schools must be able to rely on the school’s facilities manager to work productively with the construction company, general contractor, architect, engineer, attorney, and others, to manage postconstruction punch list items to completion, at minimal cost (ideally, none), while maintaining a cordial professional relationship with these individuals so they are as willing as possible to satisfy.

The right vendor should understand the nuances of school building management.

10. Confirm initial and continued compliance. School administrators and school facilities managers know that the laws governing general building operations, and especially the operation of educational facilities, are voluminous. It is the responsibility of management to ensure that newly-constructed school building, and all school buildings, are in compliance with all local, state, and federal laws and requirements.

The management of every school building is a serious responsibility that is best performed by experienced professionals in this service niche.

It is incumbent upon the decision-makers, administrators, and stakeholders of all schools to engage management that understands the nuances of school building management, and for those responsible for the operation of new school buildings to engage a management company that is well versed in the unique complexities of managing newly-constructed educational facilities.

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