I woke up yesterday morning and the news was reporting that 67% of the country was covered in snow. As a result, schools were shut down in many parts of the nation and for some schools too many snow days have meant that spring break is being canceled.

The snow and ice also brings school maintenance into the spotlight because of the tradeoff between liability and school system maintenance budgets.

School Maintenance, Liability and Capital Budgets

Almost every school district in the U.S. has been impacted by budget cuts. School districts attempt to absorb budget cuts by cutting teacher headcount, services and maintenance. However, when maintenance budgets are reduced, schools run into a number of potential operational and liability issues that can have parents and voters wondering if the school boards are making good decisions.

When snow and ice pile up, school maintenance capabilities and decisions come under scrutiny as a result of:

5 School Wintertime Maintenance Problems

  1. Utility cost increases due to poorly maintained heat pumps, boilers, window leaks, door closing problems and energy losses.
  2. Ice and ice dams not found or fixed that force water back into the building or cause structural damage. Pipes can also freeze.
  3. Playground equipment is not cleared allowing corrosion/rust to set in. Without regular preventive maintenance bolts become loose through the constant contraction and expansion of metal bolts/nuts.
  4. Roofing problems are exposed by leaks or energy loss.
  5. Snow on the outside means water (melted snow) on the inside.

School Maintenance and Liability

If maintenance is not funded properly, snow and ice create a number of liability issues as well. The biggest liability comes from sidewalks, stairs and walkways that are not kept cleared of snow and ice. Children fall, get pushed or run on a continual basis, without constant inspections, snow and ice not cleared is an accident waiting to happen.

A broken bone or serious injury that can be attributed to poor maintenance is an Attorney’s dream. The cost of one successful lawsuit will have voters questioning school board leadership as well as their ability to understand the basic premise of maintenance which is Pay Me Now or Pay Me MORE Later.

The Long Term Capital Budget Problem for Schools

Our nation is littered with schools that have been so poorly maintained they are just a step above being condemned. This number of schools slipping into this category is growing due to cutbacks in both maintenance and capital budgets.

New schools are not being built and renovations are being delayed due to capital budget issues at the State and Local levels. A popular trend is to use what little capital budget there is to build or rent portable buildings. The drawback is that portable buildings are not built as well or last as long.

There is a solution, but it requires that school boards have a better understanding of how proper maintenance will actually lower operating costs, minimize potential liability claims and assist in better capital budget planning.

What is Proper School Maintenance?

It is important to note that proper school maintenance does not mean an increase in headcount. In fact, proper school maintenance starts with a plan to organize the workflow including work requests, inspections, maintenance so that more maintenance can be performed with the same amount of staff.

The tool of choice is the same that industry and businesses use, which is EAM CMMS software. An EAM/CMMS enables schools to:

  • Automate manual work order processes such as filling out a work requests, scheduling inspections and producing a work order.
  • Identify potential problems early such as ice building up or loose playground equipment. Proactive preventive maintenance is then scheduled. This reduces unplanned maintenance repairs, keeps assets in better condition and lowers operational costs.
  • Track all work orders throughout each school using the school’s CMMS. Management reports identify trends or recurring problems enabling school facility managers to plan system wide fixes/changes reducing unplanned repairs as well as set system wide standard operating procedures.
  • Lower capital budget requirements. An EAM enables school facilities to manage assets from the planning stage through retirement. Better asset and maintenance management lengthens the useful lifecycle of assets. For example, HVAC, Roofs, Plumbing will not need to be replaced as often.
  • Increase energy efficiency. Well maintained HVAC and boilers require less energy and therefore lower utility costs. In addition, windows and doors that close properly will reduce the energy drain.

The key to a well maintained school is not a huge budget, instead the key to success is planning and the use of modern EAMCMMS tools.