Facilities (Learning Spaces)
How To Stop Deferring Maintenance
Believe it or not, some school districts don’t worry about the cost of deferred maintenance - because they don’t defer it.
- By Michael Fickes
- January 1st, 2014
America's Public Schools
earned a higher grade than the nation
as a whole on the 2013 infrastructure
report card issued by the American
Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The
country received a “D” for the pathetic,
run-down condition of its infrastructure.
PHOTO © GINKY (SOUTHERN FARMHOUSE)
Public schools did better, although not enough better to brag. ASCE gave the condition
of public school infrastructure a “D+” — not
very good at all. According to ASCE, the cost
of modernizing and maintaining public
school facilities in the United States totals
$270 billion. That’s up $143 billion from
1999, when the $127 billion cost of deferred
public school maintenance stunned everyone.
Instead of fixing that problem, we’ve allowed
it to more than double in size.
Absent firm measures to address the
problem, it will only get worse and more
How expensive? Engineers have developed
various ways to estimate the future
cost of maintenance deferred today.
David Tod Geaslin, a principal with The
Geaslin Group, a Houston-based maintenance
consulting firm, has developed
what he calls the ”Inverse-Square Rule for
The rule states that “Any part that is
known to be failing and left in service until
the next level of failure will create an expense
equal to the square of the cost of the
primary failure part. If a $100 component
is failing, and you don’t fix it before it fails,
repairs then will cost $10,000.
Geaslin also explains the cost of deferring
maintenance in a different way: If the
invoice for parts and labor to replace that
failing part would have cost $667 before
the failure, the cost of repairs after the
break down would be 15 times the preventive
How can you turn your maintenance
system around so that your work replaces
parts before the equipment breaks down?
Answer: You can hire a third-party
maintenance provider or you can adopt
“The problem is that most K-12 maintenance
groups are reactive, which is the most
expensive kind of maintenance,” says Leon
Koehler, associate vice president, operational
excellence with Philadelphia-based ARAMARK
Education, an outsource maintenance
provider. “No more than nine percent of a
district’s budget should go to maintenance
and operations. If you are spending more, you
have opportunities to cut expenses.”
You can find those opportunities by
assessing your maintenance performance
against industry benchmarks. Then to take
advantage of those opportunities, you will
start up a computerized maintenance system,
standardize with the right materials, parts
and tools, get state-of-the-art training for your
crews and modify your organization to take
advantage of the opportunities you discover.
Assess Your Performance
When ARAMARK takes on a new
school district, the first step is to assess the
performance of the current maintenance
and custodial systems. An assessment
compares industry benchmarks with the
“We typically get our benchmarking
data from the Council of the Great City
Schools,” says Jim Bostian, senior vice
president, operational excellence, with
An example of an industry benchmark
would be the number of square feet a welltrained
custodian using the right equipment
and chemicals can clean in a given
time. Another example is the number of
square feet a maintenance technician can
cover, if he or she has the right tools and
proper training. On the landscaping side,
how many acres can a properly equipped and trained landscaper cover?
Benchmarks also cover inventory levels
for materials, utility costs per square foot,
the cost of services purchased from vendors.
Of course, ARAMARK normalizes the
benchmarks for the size of the district to
ensure true comparisons.
“We benchmark everything,” Bostian
says. “Then we will collect the district’s data
and compare it to the benchmarks. A good
assessment is a roadmap of savings opportunities.
Some larger school districts have seen
tens of millions in savings by tailoring their
operations to the industry benchmarks.”
Right Way To Get On the Computer
“Part of our start up involves inventorying
everything and putting it all on the computer,”
Bostian says. “We input data about all
of the mechanical systems, floors, walls roofs
as well as the people and their training levels.
“For instance, we’ll put an index number
on the boiler and set the computer to kick out
a work order about what to do to it monthly,
quarterly, semiannually and annually.
“In addition, we’ll track corrective
maintenance on a daily basis. At the end of
the year, we’ll know how many hours was
spent on each item and what the remaining
life expectancy is.”
The vendor of the computerized maintenance
management software (CMMS) you
choose is important, too. ARAMARK, for
instance, uses a package from TMA Systems.
What you would buy from TMA would differ
from what ARAMARK uses because TMA
tailors its product to satisfy ARAMARK’s
approach to managing maintenance.
You should develop a relationship with
a vendor that will tweak its product for
you as you gain experience and want the
computer to automate additional tasks or
to present data differently.
Bostian recommends standardizing
everything that can be standardized. Why?
Many districts have different kinds of toilets,
Bostian says. That means inventorying
flush valves and other parts from several
different vendors. Standardization reduces
inventory costs because you won’t have to
buy as many parts. But the volume of the
same parts that you do buy may in some
cases qualify you for volume discounts.
Standardization also improves maintenance
work, because everyone trains on
the same equipment and learns the same
procedures. “Southwest Airlines flies one
kind of jet because it holds down maintenance
costs,” Bostian says.
Standardize everything right down to
colors of paint used across the district, he
Right Training and Right Tools
Did you know that cleaning carpets
with soap could cause them to get dirtier
faster? “When you use soap to clean carpets,
the soap leaves a residue that is difficult to
remove,” says Koehler. “The residue collects
dirt. We use electronically activated water
to clean carpets. It cleans them better than
soap and doesn’t leave a residue.
“We’re looking into the possibility of
cleaning carpet with ultra violet light.”
State-of-the-art maintenance and
custodial methods evolve constantly, so it
is important to develop maintenance and
custodial training programs that keep you
and your crews up to date on the latest
methods and the tools required for the job.
Take Advantage Of Opportunities
When assessing one new client, ARAMARK’s
benchmarking study indicated
that the district had too many painters
and carpenters on staff and too few senior
people in other trades.
“The district had low-end HVAC
people, plumbers and electricians and
was paying them and then buying outside
services,” Bostian says. “The double hit
inflated the budget.”
ARAMARK brought the department’s
capabilities into line with needs by raising
the level of HVAC people, plumbers and
electricians with new hiring and training.
They reduced the numbers of painters
and carpenters in the department as well
as the outside services that had to be
purchased. “The reorganization saved
millions, reduced the budget and tripled
the number of work orders,” says Bostian.
Another client resisted ARAMARK’s
recommendation of a performance-based
contract and asked for a contract with a
guaranteed number of hours. “That district
was leaving money on the table,” says
Koehler. “After a year or two, we suggested
reducing labor and investing in the right
equipment and tools — equipment and
tools they should have been using all along.
“For instance, they had schools with
100,000 square feet of floor space. A riding
floor machine can clean 100,000 square
feet in three-and-one-half hours. So now,
instead of a cleaning crew spending many
hours cleaning those floors, one person
does cleans those floors in an afternoon,
and we reinvest the crew’s hours elsewhere.
“These kinds of programs drive out
In this case, driving out the inefficiencies
saved $6 million.
The key to getting off the corrective
maintenance treadmill is the assessment
you do at the beginning. Assess your program
by comparing what you do with industry
benchmarks. Study those comparisons
and figure out where you’re performance
isn’t standing up to best practices.
Figure out the problem. Is it a staffing
issue? Do you buy too many outside
services to do work you should do yourself.
Can you do that work yourself, or do your
people need better training. Have you
failed to invest in the right tools? Is a lack
of standardization driving up your inventory
and maintenance costs?
As you answer these questions by
reorganizing your staff and the way your
people work, you should begin to catch
up on deferred, corrective maintenance
and start to generate work orders that will
prevent breakdowns and calls for repairs.
Do it right, and after a while, you’ll start
to run out of maintenance work that has to
be deferred. Eventually, you will overcome
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.