Magazine article University Business

Why You Need Life Cycle Planning: The New Breed of Capital Renewal Planning Will Revive Your Campus-Even in a Down Economy. (on the Money)

Magazine article University Business

Why You Need Life Cycle Planning: The New Breed of Capital Renewal Planning Will Revive Your Campus-Even in a Down Economy. (on the Money)

Article excerpt

If you haven't been paying attention to the recent evolution in capital renewal planning, now's the time: The past five years have seen a true paradigm shift in the way higher education plans for capital renewal. An estimated 10 percent of IHEs now utilize some form of life cycle planning for capital renewal.

To put it simply, the old method--preparing a list of items in a backlog of deferred maintenance, and bringing it to the senior decision-makers for approval--no longer works. Presidents, provosts, and boards now expect to see multi-year plans that take into account both the current and future condition of the facilities, along with program needs. But that's not all; given the change in economic climate, they also expect clear explanations as to why capital renewal is needed. Fortunately, the tools for creating these multi-year plans have improved considerably over the past five years and are now available at a reasonable cost from vendors such as Diversified Intelligence (, VFA (, and our own firm, Pacific Partners Consulting Group (


Higher education institutions have always had the need to assess the overall condition of their facilities. However, until the late 1990s, the only reliable tool available to most of higher education was the Facilities Conditions Assessment. This conditions assessment (or physical plant audit) was performed either by an outside consulting firm, by internal staff, or by some combination of the two. Engineers and technicians would perform building-by-building, system-by-system inspections to document the physical condition of a campus. The inspection surveys usually covered the entirety of the physical plant needs, including utility distribution systems and hard-scape (courtyards, walkways). Audit teams consisting of university personnel and members of the firm examined selected components and judged the level of physical deterioration. Typically, these inspections identified areas of the backlog, including structures, foundations, and substructures; roofing and exterior walls; plumbing and electrical systems; safety systems; ceiling systems; floor coverings; interior walls; conveying systems; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems (HVAC).

The product of these audits was a list of backlogged maintenance needs by building component. The campuses were then responsible for prioritizing the items on the list and bringing this prioritized list forward to the appropriate senior leadership. Senior leadership would then review the list and decide what could be funded this year and what could wait. In the meantime, the comprehensive list was put on a shelf to gather dust. (Sound familiar?)

Unfortunately, there are a number of significant weaknesses to this approach. First, it only identifies today's backlog. The approach simply does not have the capability to determine future facilities renewal needs. Nor is it useful in distinguishing current renewal needs versus backlogged maintenance needs. Yes, a few campuses tried to remedy these deficiencies by performing regular condition assessments every few years. But they soon found that the cost of the periodic assessment programs was prohibitive.

The second weakness of the conditions assessment is that the high level of detail provided--while useful to facilities managers in determining work priorities--is, in effect, a list of building components requiring attention. It is difficult to turn this kind of audit into a long-term facilities renewal plan that can inform budget officers and legislators of the true state of need. A third weakness is that the conditions assessment has no way of explaining to the senior officers why the institution is in the condition (or state of disrepair) it is in. Finally, conditions assessments are expensive. A thorough conditions assessment can run over $.10 per gross square foot (gsf). …

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