Feature Article - October 2005
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One Stone at a Time

Tips for building your proactive maintenance plan

By Kelli Anderson

Perhaps the ultimate test of maintenance savvy is not just keeping a facility afloat in times of relative calm but seeing how it responds in times of crisis. For Wheaton Sport Center, a 26-year-old private fitness center and tennis club in suburban Chicago, a recent test of its maintenance management arrived when an 80-year-old city water main burst in front of the facility last year.

"The next thing you know, we're digging our parking lot out 12 feet deep, shutting our water off and going into our reactive mode," says Mike Gilligan, general manager of the facility. "But we're staying open."

Gilligan attributes their ability to keep business operating smoothly to their proactive and meticulous attention to maintenance details, which range from having five-year maintenance plans to hourly pool checks.

"Some things are reactive," Gilligan concedes, "but if you take things you have to do and plan it, it enables you to take care of things that do go wrong that you didn't plan for."

Enter the wisdom of proactive maintenance strategies. For many facilities, maintenance practices are reactive—waiting for that next thing to go wrong before lots of attention and painfully large sums of money are spent fixing it. According to one consultant at Texas A & M University's managing maintenance program, the difference in repair costs vs. maintenance costs is 30:1. Ouch.

Not to mention, that the results of poor maintenance practices can get pretty ugly. An HVAC system crash-and-burn or other major system failure increases repair calls, additional maintenance staff requirements and even turnovers, which are all typical results of poor maintenance practices. And let's be clear, if a facility looks unkempt (think confetti-like trash decorating the grounds, a sloppy lobby, less-than-sparkling pool water or grungy restrooms), the public will likely assume the worst about all aspects of a facility.

However, for maintenance practices done well, the shear volume of tasks can seem overwhelming, whether it's setting goals, devising standards, assessing conditions, evaluating results, and hiring and handling an effective maintenance staff, to name just a few. So how do you go from reactive to proactive or from adequate to outstanding without getting buried in the process? According to Gilligan, that rocky mountain is moved one stone at a time.