The Big Picture in Boulder
Facility condition assessment has long been used by the private sector as a tool for capital budget planning. However, K-12 public schools with limited and often tightening maintenance budgets have not always taken a long-term approach to facility maintenance planning. Like many other school districts, we historically have responded on an emergency basis to make repairs, and much of our recent capital spending has been funded by bond programs. In the past, the bond programs have been primarily driven by growth, not by maintenance needs. Since our student population appears to be stabilizing, we anticipate future bond programs will be driven more by maintenance and program needs.
BackgroundThe Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) embarked on a facility condition assessment of all 57 of its buildings in March of 2002. These buildings encompass over 4,150,000 sq ft. The district serves an area of approximately 500 square miles that includes the mountain towns of Nederland, Ward, Jamestown and Gold Hill, and the urban/suburban areas of Boulder, Louisville, Lafayette, Superior, part of Erie, and part of Broomfield. Our student enrollment is just over 27,850.
Our buildings range in age from a 122-year-old elementary school (the oldest continuously operated public school in Colorado) to a pair of four-year-old K-8 schools with state-of-the-art systems. The HVAC systems range from one-pipe steam systems to VAV systems with ice storage and indirect evaporative precooling of the outside air. Less than half of the buildings are air conditioned, and each year sees the increased use of technology in the classrooms. We have also seen changes in the school calendar; we begin school in late August and finish the school year in the second week of June. These factors combine to have school staff demanding that we provide air conditioning where it was never anticipated.
In Colorado, state law requires that a portion of our state per-pupil allocation be directed to the capital reserve fund and insurance reserve fund. This allocation for the 2004-2005 fiscal year is $268/pupil. Currently 52% of this $268 goes to the capital reserve fund, and the balance goes to the insurance reserve. Even in a medium-sized district like ours, the capital reserve fund is limited and does not go far in maintaining our buildings.
Thus, like may other districts in Colorado and elsewhere, we continue to defer maintenance and get farther behind each year. Our only chance to get caught up (or more realistically, get closer to being caught up) is to depend on a bond issue to provide the needed funding. Bond issues also have their own political realities. The district taxpayers are generally supportive of education and have historically supported bond issues, but there are limits to what they will approve. There is also the reality that to get a bond to pass, you often have to give something to each community to gain the voter support. By using the tools we now have at our disposal to calculate a facility condition index (FCI) for each building and a program compatibility index, we can more objectively evaluate each of the buildings and more easily prioritize what needs to be done as part of a future bond program.
Facility Condition AssessmentIn the recently completed facility condition assessment (FCA), we looked at the physical condition of all of the components of the building to determine what needed to be maintained and upgraded to keep the building in usable condition. In the FCA, we identify deficiencies and estimate the cost to correct those deficiencies. We are using Vanderweil Facility Advisors (VFA) database software to compile and report the assessment data.
The process is as follows: Questionnaires were developed to solicit input on the condition of systems in the building and information on problems from building principals and staff, maintenance personnel, and food service personnel. These questionnaires were distributed to the responsible parties and, for the most part, were returned to us prior to our site visits.
During the site visit, we met with the principal and key staff, often the head custodian, to review the questionnaire and ask for more detailed information on issues that were raised. The assessment team, consisting of two architects, a mechanical engineer, and a CAD operator, then tour the building to identify and document the deficiencies. In performing the FCA, we go through the building in a systematic manner and look at each system.
Typically, we will begin on the roof and proceed through the building from upper floor to lowest floor. We are equipped with clipboards for small-scale building plans, flashlights, tape measures, and digital cameras. We have found we can be most effective by making notes on the building plans as we proceed through the building and document the conditions found with the digital photographs. Generally, we spend half to three quarters of a day in the field for an elementary school, a full day for a middle school or K-8 school, and two full days for a high school. This averages out to covering about 100,000 sq ft per day. This time in the field is followed by approximately double that amount of time in the office, inputting the identified deficiencies into the VFA database and doing cost estimates of the corrections for the deficiencies identified. The deficiencies are placed in systems and categories and are assigned a priority.
We have used the following priorities to rank the deficiencies:
- Priority 1: Currently Critical - Projects requiring immediate action to return a facility to normal operations, stop accelerated deterioration, or correct a cited safety hazard.
- Priority 2: Potentially Critical - Situations that, if not corrected expeditiously, will become critical, including intermittent interruptions, rapid deterioration, or potential safety hazards.
- Priority 3: Necessary, Not Yet Critical - Conditions requiring appropriate attention to preclude deterioration or potential downtime and associated damage or higher costs if deferred further.
- Priority 4: Recommended - Items that represent a sensible improvement to existing conditions. These items are not required for the most basic functions of a facility, but will improve the overall usability and or reduce long-term maintenance.
- Priority 5: Does Not Meet Current Codes / Standards - Items that do not conform to existing codes, but are grandfathered in their existing condition.
- Priority 6: Beyond Rated Life, But Serviceable - Currently usable but cannot be expected to last forever.
- Priority 7: Haz Mat, Managed, But Not Abated - Hazardous materials managed in place like asbestos or lead-based paint, but have not yet been abated.
The digital photographs are linked to the deficiencies in the database to give other users a better idea of what was found. Icons can also be placed on building floor plans and linked to the database to identify the locations of the noted deficiencies. This is especially valuable in passing on the information to the consultants that will do the future design work.
As part of this evaluation, an FCI was calculated for each building. In the simplest terms, the FCI is the cost of all deficiencies divided by the replacement cost of the facility. The lower the FCI, the better the condition of the building. When the FCI is high, it is often best to consider replacing the building. FCI is a standard measure used throughout the industry and is recommended by The Association of Higher Education Facility Officers (APPA). Although most appropriately considered as a relative index, generalized guidelines are:
- FCI less than 0.05 = good condition;
- FCI .05 to .10 = fair condition; and
- FCI above .10 = poor condition.
Program Compatibility AssessmentWe are currently completing a second phase of assessment, evaluating how well the facilities meet the educational programs at the schools. In the program compatibility assessment (PCA), we look at a building's adequacy to perform its intended function, or in the case of many buildings, how adequate it is to perform functions that have changed drastically over time. Many of our facilities are 30 to 40 years old, and educational programs have changed significantly since the time these buildings were constructed. In some cases, there has been remodeling to address these changed needs, in many more cases there has not.
To achieve a standard evaluation of all buildings, we are evaluating each building with respect to the current educational specifications for each level (elementary school, K-8 school, middle school, and high school) as adopted by the local board of education. These educational specifications outline numbers and sizes of rooms and amenities that are required to deliver the educational program. Few, except our newest buildings, will come close to meeting these specifications, but they give us a baseline against which to evaluate all of the facilities.
In the PCA we are looking at the facility from several different categories of standards. For example:
- Core Facilities - The ability of the core facilities to meet the needs of the student population. It is critical to consider the programs at a particular building and the impact these programs have on classroom inventory and teaching stations. It is also important to evaluate the use of permanent vs. temporary structures.
- Program Support Space - The provision of special spaces or classrooms that support specific curriculum offerings such as music, sports, science, technology, and special education programs.
- Technology Infrastructure - The presence of infrastructure, data distribution/storage, and equipment within classroom and laboratory settings. This will also include local area network cabling, video distribution systems, electrical outlets, and projection or video display screens.
- Security/Supervision/Safety - The extent to which the physical configuration helps or hinders building operations, safety, and security.
- Instructional Aids - The presence of the necessary equipment within teaching spaces including teacher storage, student storage, writing and tack surfaces, sinks, demonstration tables, and fixed audio/video equipment.
- Physical characteristics -The size and shape of the individual teaching spaces and adequate circulation.
- Learning Environment - The degree to which learning areas are comfortable, well lit, odor free, controllable, and quiet.
- Space Configuration - The proximity of instructional spaces to support spaces like instructional media centers, restrooms, music areas, cafeterias, and recreation and gymnasium spaces.
Each of these eight categories is scored and weighted. Evaluating the buildings on this basis allows us to determine needed facility upgrades and promote parity and equity among schools. We used a database to quantify where schools do not meet the educational specifications and provided cost estimates of the improvements required to bring the buildings up to standards. This assessment also will help us determine at what point the facility's inability to meet the specifications suggests that the building should be replaced.
Each building is scored on a percent-adequate basis, allowing us to prioritize the needed upgrades. In this case, the higher the percentage of adequacy, the better the building is meeting the educational needs of the programs offered in that particular building. This index gives us a quantifiable and defendable way to evaluate how well each school is meeting the educational program to be delivered. Since the assessment is based on the educational specifications, the assessment is very objective: The buildings either meet the standards or they don't.
FindingsAs with many other school districts across the United States, we built a lot of buildings in the 1960s and 1970s to house the Baby Boom generation. Thus, the median age of our buildings is 41.9 years. At this age, many building systems begin failing and need significant investment to keep them serviceable. As an institutional building owner, we build our buildings for long-term ownership, but we have not always used life-cycle cost as the criteria for materials and systems selection.
In the FCA, we have identified over $100 million in deficiencies in these buildings, over a quarter of which is in the HVAC systems. Much of this cost would be to air condition the buildings that are currently only heated and ventilated. Maintaining the classroom spaces in a comfortable temperature range eliminates one more distraction and can add to student learning performance.
As with most schools built in the 1960s through the 1980s, the HVAC system of choice was classroom unit ventilators. Being inexpensive to install and accessible to maintain, they were a popular choice. However, there are drawbacks. Teachers complain of the noise from the units and the drafts blowing on those students seated close to the unit ventilator location. One problem we fight continually is that teachers will shut off the unit fans if they get tired of the noise. Then they forget the fans are off and will call our maintenance dispatcher with a cold complaint. Furthermore, air distribution from unit ventilators is also far from ideal. Since most of the systems were installed at a time when we were doing heating and ventilating only, systems are difficult to retrofit for cooling. Many buildings also have very limited or non-existent ceiling plenums, thus there is no space to run ductwork, requiring creative solutions.