Feature Article - October 2014
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More Consideration Needed for Long-Term Facility Upkeep

By Deborah L. Vence

Whether you are building a recreation facility, park or playground, having a maintenance management plan in place from the start is key to ensuring long-term upkeep.

However, experts say that such a plan often isn't included in the budget at the start, and, many times, the first thing to get cut.

"It's becoming more so, but generally speaking what they are asking developers and architects' to do is provide an estimate of cost for maintenance for a facility. And that isn't adequate. If you are going to contract with someone, you need to have a list of the 'things' that need to be maintained, and whether or not by definition, a preventive maintenance element is a cyclical maintenance or corrective maintenance, generally speaking," said Bill Beckner, senior manager of research for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

"Most departments I'm familiar with don't have a maintenance plan," he added. "They do what they did the year before. They don't necessarily look at the how and the why."

In fact, a significant maintenance deficit exists in the United States where billions of dollars worth of work would be needed to bring public facilities to a sustainable level.

"They have been undermaintained," Beckner said. "A large part of it is that jurisdictions don't have a plan when they are asked for funding. The way to get the money is to do the maintenance management plan."

What's more, deferred maintenance often is the first thing to get the ax.

"For some clients, it's just standard operating procedure. You see that in a lot of school districts where [there's a] bond package. If you look at the project list, it's full of roof replacements and mechanical replacements and system upgrades," noted Stephen Springs, AIA, principal at Brinkley Sargent Architects. "[They're] spending bond dollars [on such replacements]. It's a problem for a lot of public entities. [They] don't have the ability to be as nimble as a private entity. They can't adjust their fees without going to council—it becomes a political conversation."

And, "When budgets get squeezed, you get involved in deferred maintenance problems," Springs added. "It becomes a set of dominoes that's hard to stop falling. Even when budgets tend to normalize again, you are behind."

Thus, the bottom line is that whether it's a ball field or a building, you need to know what has to be maintained, and that has to be built into the annual maintenance plan and capital development plan.

The Earlier, The Better

And, the sooner, the better.

To secure a spot in your budget for long-term maintenance, discussions about a maintenance management plan should take place from the very beginning, during the pre-design phase.

"We do programming and feasibility design, upfront stuff. During that initial time, we always have user stakeholder meetings, during the pre-design phase," said Troy Sherrard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, partner and architect at Moody Nolan Inc.

"Before we start designing a building, we meet with everybody who is involved. Those pre-design meetings open a pretty big window about what we're actually doing here. Some do have a good maintenance program. So, the key is, the more we know upfront, they can adjust accordingly, based on the initial conversation," he said.

For instance, some owners with a budget to develop a park or a site never include maintenance as part of the budget.

"Ultimately, it's up to them [to discuss maintenance]. The best conversations are early on. [They need to ask], 'How do they see this building in 50 years?'" Sherrard said. "We try to be the best long-term solution, regardless of what the owner may tell us. That's what we're set up to do. The more you can talk about the design and maintenance upfront, [the better]."

Usually what ends up being more important to owners is how the building or site will look on opening day. Many times, the initial 'wow' factor is what's most important in the beginning. That takes precedence over the long-term conversation.

Nevertheless, everybody involved in a recreation project should be brought into the conversation early on to discuss maintenance.

"They all have opinions. There are ways of maintaining a building. There are a lot of new products out every day to be maintained differently. [For example], wood gymnasium floors, we always go for a suspended wood floor that has shock absorption," he said.

But, many maintenance programs are more about cleaning gym floors as opposed to how to clean sports surface products.

"On two levels, when it gets into the sports floor finished products, the first is the use of the environment. There are better ones that will last longer, but cost more," Sherrard said. "[It's important to] be talking early on. [You need to ask], 'What spaces are your priority? What spaces are going to get the most use?'"