Saturday, April 21, 2007

Maintenance and Decisions

Thursday evening, I took the public tour of the Central campus. During the tour Maintenance problems and other issues were obvious. We walked by a heavy metal I beam that had a hole rusted through it. One member of the tours asked rhetorically "How many times has maintenance walked by that?"

When the Central was opened in the late 1950's, All the I beams were intact and freshly painted. The restrooms were all spotless and fresh smelling. The lighting was modern and the floor and ceiling materials used fire retardant materials for increased student safety. The gymnasium was an innovative design. The campus style layout was seen as having many advantages. The centralized heating and cooling plant was both efficient to operate and forward thinking, allowing the buildings to be used year round.

Fifty years later, rust and corrosion are everywhere. Drains have trouble draining. Asbestos that was used for fire proofing is now recognized as a possible health hazard and makes such simple tasks as installing new light fixtures a challenge. The restrooms in many buildings have an unwelcome distinctive aroma. Most doors and restrooms are too small for wheel chair accessibility. Add it all up, and you get a bond election.

Some problems, such as the problems with asbestos, couldn't have been foreseen when the high school was built. Some, like classroom sizes, are based on changing ideas in education and would require major construction. Most of these problems really have one thing in common: Maintenance, or more accurately the lack there of.

To keep a facility in good condition requires a commitment to maintenance. It has to start before construction, with maintainability a key part of the design process. The tunnels under the campus were joked about in the tour, but they are a key part of the maintainability of the campus. Some of the problems we were shown, such as those in shower rooms and restrooms, showed the original design didn't include maintenance access to in some key areas. This is expensive to add after the fact. Another part of maintainability is material selection. Take floors for example. The cost of routine cleaning and other maintenance will surpass the installation cost very early in the life of a floor. Cleaning and replacing a cheap floor could easily cost several times what a better floor would cost over the life of the floor. The same applies to the rest of the building materials. All of these factor determine the long term or life cycle cost. One common estimate is that the maintenance costs over 30 years will be about 3 times construction costs, not accounting for inflation. That means we should spend on average about $1million per year for maintenance on a new Central if it is built. I expect we should be spending roughly that amount on the the current campus.

So now we come to my real question. How much have we spent and are we spending on facility maintenance per campus? The SAISD 2006-2007 budget book includes just over $11million for plant maintenance and operations. Is that enough, and is it being used wisely? The maintenance problems I saw on the tour of the Central campus indicate otherwise. Is this a case of treating buildings as throw away items? Are we doing maintenance by bond election?

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