Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

Abstract: Facilities Maintenance and Operations

Facilities maintenance is on the threshold of radical change, driven by higher education forces such as demographics, accountability, and competition and by technical issues such as information technology advances, sophisticated research environments, antiquated buildings, and environmental and safety rules.

Relationship to Institutional Mission

The facilities management department provides a physical environment to support the university mission. Physical assets are a large investment; although some historical buildings must be preserved, most buildings are maintained, renovated, or disposed of to meet institution needs. Preventive maintenance is key but is not visible in the short term and can be minimized or postponed if funds are limited. Effective maintenance addresses buildings and grounds; structural, electrical, and mechanical systems; housekeeping; painting; window washing; and the like because appearance is key to the institution mission (e.g., APPA Center for Facilities Research definitive study). Facilities managers should participate in planning and construction of new and renovated facilities to ensure compatibility with current systems and facilitate training and maintenance. Managers must make cost-effective decisions (e.g., in- house versus contractor services). They must focus on awareness and current and future costs of compliance (or non compliance) with cost, safety, environmental, solid waste, recycling, and hazardous materials rules (e.g., OSHA, ADA, EPA).

Customer  Service  and  Communications Facilities managers cannot set standards or declare success; they must understand and communicate with customers and stakeholders about maintenance expectations (and acceptable failure risk levels, driving preventive maintenance) and must explain if requests are unreasonable or uneconomical. The pyramid model of communication with (and education of) customers has formal policies and guidelines (top) and informal communications between customers and front-line workers (bottom); communication amount, intensity, and influence on organization effectiveness increase from top to bottom. Each of the management layers in current organizations filters and interprets  senior messages and directives; visits work  sites, conducts shop walk-throughs, and periodic meetings to provide unfiltered information up the chain of command. Often, a formal (preferably) or informal representative from each major building serves as the primary communication link, usually initiates service  calls, receives advance notice of work schedules  and shutdowns (and notice of completion), attends formal, semi annual or quarterly meetings,  and  provides feedback on customer expectations and perceptions. A customer services representative on the facilities staff (dedicated or collateral duty) coordinates and communicates with facilities managers and users and serves as an  ombudsperson.  Facilities  organizations must receive, track, and follow up on service requests.

Organizational Concepts and Needs

The hallmarks of effective facilities organizations are leadership, open communication, and trust at all levels; strong customer service focus; authority and responsibility as close to first-line workers as possible (given diverse work sites, often minimal supervision, and customer contacts); and adequate resources. First-line supervisors most directly influence first-line employees; senior managers provide support.

Organizational Forms

In contrast to teaching and research organizations, facilities maintenance and operations must administer diverse work groups (e.g., work requests, maintenance, preservation, renovation, building services,  utility systems, energy) and perform related administrative and support functions (e.g., cost accounting, contract management, procurement, data system management, facilities engineering, architectural services).

Trade Shop Organizations. Traditional facilities management organizations have centrally located (and possibly satellite) craft or trade shops based on construction industry trades. A control center creates preventive maintenance and customer-generated work orders, issues them to shops, and provides accounting input; this responsibility sometimes is decentralized by shop (e.g., at multiple-campus schools). Each shop is responsible for trade maintenance and repairs, but sometimes a separate shop manages preventive maintenance and relays needed repair work requests to the appropriate shop.

Multi-craft Organizations. Multi-craft maintenance teams are now more common. In one model, trade teams regularly visit or sweep buildings to perform preventive and other maintenance. In a variation, craft personnel skilled in multiple trades address all routine maintenance, usually completing more than 90 percent of preventive maintenance and 80 percent of routine calls, referring the rest to specialty shops.

Zone Maintenance Organizations.   A more sophisticated multi-trade skills model new to many public institutions, zone maintenance divides the campus into zones and assigns craft teams to each, supported by shops or contract services. Team size varies with complexity, use intensity, and size of zone buildings. Teams are composed of a team lead and often 6 to 15 field workers (highly skilled, experienced, and entry level) and are headquartered in the zone, facilitating communication with customers. Zone teams have decentralized responsibility and decision-making; control and fund maintenance and repair by support shops and contractors; and coordinate completion of work orders issued by the control center. They fix clear responsibilities, require fewer supervisors, and eliminate the need to coordinate among trade shops.

Materials Management

With planning, job materials are at job sites when work starts. Preventive work supplies are prepositioned in mechanical or secure rooms; maintenance vehicles carry commonly needed materials; and a system for delivery to work sites can be created for unpredicted (or all)  needs. Workers only rarely return to a shop, warehouse,  or  vendor.  Inventory  maintenance  is  costly,  so managers use just-in-time delivery, relying on vendor inventories. Shops store some materials because needs (often for small quantities) are difficult to predict, but inventories are hard to manage and kept to a minimum. Emergency equipment and spare parts are stored in secure areas that can be accessed by after-hours and repair crews, inventoried, tracked, reviewed in terms of risk (not turnover), and charged (with labor costs) to a building or system.

Industrial Engineering and Work Control Industrial engineering, maintenance and service, and particularly preventive maintenance principles are defined in quantifiable work units, enabling effective work scheduling, comparisons of work output to standards, and efficiency analyses. The most common techniques are (1) formal random work sampling, a statistical approach to quantifying productive, indirectly productive, and nonproductive work and identifying needed process, training, and supervision changes; (2) work measurement, the application of quantifiable time standards to work elements; (3) value  engineering, based on life-cycle costs and cost-effective design; and (4) work simplification, based on reviews of each element of job tasks.

Using Contract Services

Facilities managers make difficult decisions  on  the correct mix of in-house and contractual services. Contractors are appropriate when (1) technical demands (e.g., integrated building systems, sophisticated building controls, security, energy management)  or  legal,  code, or licensing requirements (e.g., asbestos, lead paint, hazardous waste), are not met; (2) workload is seasonal  or unpredictable (with hidden costs of keeping staff productive at all time); or (3) costs are lower (e.g., lower benefits; low-skilled and labor-intensive work such as housekeeping). Contractors carry higher costs for administration, quality control, and inspection and feedback. Competitive bidding (fully defined scope) and open-ended negotiated or bid contracts (indefinite quantity; time-based unit costs or hourly rates) are common contracting vehicles. Emergency services must be properly documented and specified in the contract or provided in-house.

Construction and Renovation Projects

Many facilities departments perform small construction and renovation projects, but problems can arise (e.g., no fully defined scope, work in occupied spaces, no competitive bidding because of time, need to strictly separate maintenance costs, depth of in-house trades needed for workload surges), so contractors might  be best even for small  jobs.  For  large  projects, maintenance and front-line personnel should review designs to reduce start-up  and  subsequent  operating and maintenance costs.

Want to contribute to the APPA BOK? Learn more here.