The Real Costs of Deferred Maintenance
Joseph Albright
Joseph Albright
Vice President, Technical Services,
K12 Schools, Sodexo North America

To keep overall operational costs in check some schools find themselves in scenarios where maintenance and operations (M&O), system upgrades, and/or repairs are purposely deferred to a future budget cycle or postponed until funding becomes available (known as Deferred Maintenance). Deferred maintenance may seem like a reasonable short-term fix. But, the fact is this is a growing issue with long-term adverse impacts. The effect of having to make repairs or replace systems creates an unanticipated financial burden. Having to close a school because of system failures affects not only the financial aspect (paying educators and staff for time when they can’t teach), but student success, and stakeholder confidence in the school’s leadership. Just think, one-sixth of the entire U.S. population spend over 8 hours inside today’s K-12 public school buildings each weekday. The impacts can be felt by the air occupants breathe, the sounds they hear and the discomfort they feel due to uncomfortable air temperature in classrooms, all important facets of optimal learning environments for academic performance.

Did you know:

  • For every $1.00 of maintenance deferred to a later date it costs schools approximately $4.00 of capital renewal?
  • For many school districts, deferred maintenance has created a backlog of critical projects, often triggering emergency repairs, typically costing 3-4 times more than scheduled renovations?
  • Buildings can depreciate at approximately 2% a year, the average US school building is over 45 years in age with high-cost mechanical systems requiring replacement?

The good news is 80% of school equipment can be kept operational and end of useful life estimated with preventive maintenance. The following are general recommended repair timelines for efficient performance of school facility components:

Item – Repair Timeline

Paint – 2 years

Carpet – 10 years

Roof Top Air Conditioners – 15 years

Boilers, Hot Water Systems – 24-35 years

Furnaces – 18 years

Unit Heaters (gas, electric) – 13 years

Unit Heaters (hot water, steam) – 20 years

Ductwork – 30 years

Cooling Towers – 34 years

Pumps – 10-20 years

Controls – 15-20 years

How can schools plan for continuous facility upkeep and reduce deferred maintenance costs?

More proactive planning and a less reactive (“fix it when it breaks”) approach can help schools reduce deferred maintenance costs. Preventive maintenance planning starts with a data-driven strategy built on tracked metrics and an understanding of the optimal project investment mix (envelope/mechanical versus space renewal) required for a district’s schools. It’s critical to assess the specific conditions, existing asset lifecycle data and critical equipment inventory using robust data collection. It’s also important to fully understand the conditions in your schools and how these facilities affect student and staff health, the environment, the local economy and overall community vitality. Strong data demonstrating school performance, incorporating information from comparable schools, are also invaluable when prioritizing facility improvements. Collectively, these data points and metrics can provide a compelling case for communicating the need for facilities funding.

In addition to limited financial resources, it can be difficult for schools to find the time to create a strategic plan and sort through the best way to allocate funding for their facilities. Partnering with a facilities management expert can help schools assess and develop a plan that meets the district’s goals and objectives.

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