Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Renovate or Replace?

Over a decade ago, one of our constituent institutions here in Maryland was faced with a difficult decision that, on its surface, seemed rather straightforward: Renovate (and possibly expand) a poorly configured building with significant structural and mechanical problems, or replace it with a new one.

Cost aside, the seeming obvious answer was “replace,” but the State wasn’t so sure. They asked us to justify the replacement decision. Fortunately, all benefits aside, the cost to renovate was so high that, when you weighed the qualitative, functional value of the product you had when you were done, replacement stood out as the best response. The project has now been funded and is in design. 

In searching for a “best practices” model that might be applicable to higher education, I came across an interesting article related to health care facilities.  Granted, some institutions may have hospitals allied with them and the lessons are immediately applicable. But for most of us, adapting lessons from the health care field will require a bit of translation. Here’s what I came up with.

The article begins by stating that a thoughtful (health care) campus planning process must include the following:

  • Accurately quantify the real clinical [let’s say “programmatic and space”] needs;
  • Identify a diversity of sustainable planning options;
  • Accurately price the hard, soft and hidden costs of the options;
  • Analyze the trade-offs of cost, disruption, image and the value of "new"; and
  • Calculate a tangible return on investment.

 Interestingly, with a couple of minor changes, these are identical to the steps we might take in evaluating a general campus facility.  So, when looking at the various options available to facility planners, what are the “elements of success” we should be looking for? The article cites seven, and I’d [adapt] them as follows:

  1. Zoning and operations. [What’s your ideal bubble diagram?] The zoning [of various functions within] the [facility] should be clear and intuitively understandable, with adjacencies that support efficient operations. This is the initial planning diagram that determines the relationships of the individual pieces…
  2. Orientation and circulation. The movement of people, materials and vehicles should be logical, intuitive and convenient, with an obvious sense of arrival, convenient and adequate parking, a focal center of the campus, and clear and easy wayfinding connecting the pieces together. [I’d add, for a campus facility, that the movement of students within the building, and as they interact with faculty and staff, should be similarly optimized.]
  3. Growth and adaptability. There should be a logical method for expanding the campus, allowing for flexible planning and phased, incremental growth. This is often a challenge at older, established medical centers in urban settings and raises the question of whether to relocate to a space with more room to grow. [For our general buildings, the option here is one like that faced with my Maryland example: Is there room to effectively grow the program within the existing facility to meet future demands.]
  4. Patient and family focused. The integration of family is an important component in the larger picture of patient care. Facilities should accommodate families with learning environments, diversion and delight, spaces for children, and a sense of safety and security. [I like this one for the health care example, but the parallels are obvious for a general higher ed building: Are the various needs of all potential users—students, faculty, staff, visitors—met within the facility and, if not, how must the existing facility be modified? Can it be modified?]
  5. Sustainability. To preserve our natural resources, our buildings should conserve energy, responsibly reuse materials and be built only on sustainable sites. A more careful selection of sites will preserve existing natural sites. A more sophisticated look at building envelopes and the integration of HVAC systems will require less energy to heat and cool, a cost that has exponential importance over the life of the building. And a more careful look at materials reuse will reduce initial capital costs while conserving our natural resources.
  6. Market share. What improvements or programs can expand reach, attract the best medical talent and grow patient volumes? How can these programs be enhanced either through new or renovated construction? Will new technologies demand new space or can they be accommodated in existing structures and their respective infrastructures?
  7. Cost. Finally, all costs should be considered, including initial construction, phasing, financing, fees and, most importantly, the long-term operational costs of maintaining the space. Institutions too frequently look at the first costs of construction without analyzing the long-term implications of these decisions. This often is a case of capital and operating budgets not being integrally linked in a causal way. Those responsible for planning and building health care facilities should be integrated fully with those responsible for operations.

It’s interesting that the cost aspect, while significant, is just one of seven considered.  In an environment where we are able to look more closely at qualitative or technical aspects of proposals from consultants, for instance, and then consider cost; it makes sense that we do the same for our facilities decisions.


In looking at these conditions, then, what kinds of outcomes might support replacement, vs renovation?  The article proposes a list and then goes into some detail about each. I’ll provide the list alone here, though I’d refer the reader to the original article for that detail.

The case for replacement would include the following elements:

  • Aging facility and infrastructure [that cannot be adequately improved in the long term]
  • No space for expansion
  • Adjacencies and zoning are failing
  • Opportunity to sell the campus [not typically something we’d find on a college campus, but worth including in this list]
  • Great site available [sometimes there’s a better place to go]
  • Beneficial financing [particularly for auxiliary facilities—a public/private opportunity, for instance, is worth considering for a replacement]
  • Supportive donor

 The case for renovation, on the other hand, might include the following: 

  • Good campus condition [if the building can be easily adapted, it may make sense to consider it]
  • Space to grow and adapt
  • Great existing location
  • Limited alternative sites
  • Urgent needs and timeline
  • Limited capital

 This last point is spot-on. Like the article says, 

“Money is the real driver for most renovation or replacement decisions. It takes significant capital to build a new [facility], replacing everything in a new location. In addition to the bricks and mortar, the hidden elements of utilities infrastructure, roadways, equipment, furnishings and fees significantly add to the replacement cost. 

"Without significant capital, it is nearly impossible to consider replacement.”

Mold on Campus

The problem has been with us for years.  In the 1980s, as a married student with small children, my wife and I were living in a campus-run housing development and mold began showing up on the inside of the exterior walls, just below the windows. My wife would clean the walls with bleach and, soon thereafter, it seems the problem would return. Our neighbors began having similar mold issues and it wasn't long thereafter when the campus housing group came through and addressed both the HVAC problems and the insulation in the buildings, including the installation of a new interior wall.  That resolved the problem, at least for the duration of our stay.

Photo source and Wake Forest article here

Fast forward to 2019 and mold on campus is still poses significant problems for university facilities departments across the country.  An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted one student as saying, “I realize that housing is doing the best that they can. But this is definitely an inconvenient thing to have to deal with, and definitely made my semester harder than it already was.” All commercial and residential construction is prone to moisture and temperature control problems, and mold mitigation is big business.  But the confined and "assigned" nature of university housing, in particular, makes dealing with it absolutely critical.

The purpose of this post is to share two important resources for facilities managers:

The first is the EPA's own resource page, here, that outlines best practices for addressing (and inhibiting) mold growth in buildings.  A number of excellent documents are linked to the page, as well.  The page and the EPA's mitigation guide (linked on page) serves "as a reference for potential mold and moisture remediators. Using this document, individuals with little or no experience with mold remediation should be able to make a reasonable judgment as to whether the situation can be handled in-house. It will help those in charge of maintenance to evaluate an in-house remediation plan or a remediation plan submitted by an outside contractor. Contractors and other professionals who respond to mold and moisture situations in commercial buildings and schools may also want to refer to these guidelines."

The second is a page related to the US Green Building Council's LEED program and a possible point for mold remediation, linked here.  Many institutions (including all in our Maryland system) are required to utilize LEED or a similar high performance rating system in the design and construction of our buildings. Given the similarly important goal of addressing mold on campus, it seems reasonable that we'd likewise be interested in achieving this alternative point. The details for doing so are shown on the linked page. The stated goal of the possible point is "to reduce the potential presence of mold in schools through preventive design and construction measures."  Credits in indoor air quality and thermal comfort must be achieved.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Campus Seismic Retrofit in California

Hurricane Dorian is bearing down to inflict what could be significant damage to Florida in the next few days.  I have family in the state and, while they live on the safer (in this case) Gulf coast, none of Florida’s residents are free from worry.

To populate a state like Florida, one must accept the potential risk these storms pose.  You can limit the vulnerability of a particular community with flood mitigation measures and geographical solutions (e.g., moving structures from coastal areas), but enforcing building construction techniques that help preserve life and property remains the most effective tool available to public leaders.

At the same time we’re watching the storm, a study in California is drawing the interest of hazard mitigation planners and lawmakers alike. The subject is the safety of earthquakes and university buildings and an article in the LA times carries the ominous title, “Earthquakes could kill people in many UCLA, UC Berkeley buildings, officials say.”
Like the wind and storm damage from a hurricane or typhoon, avoiding the hazard of an earthquake is difficult if the only solution you have is geographical.  With a few exceptions for micro-site decisions (e.g., elevation, soil type, proximity to known faults) you can’t move away from earthquakes. Rather, reducing damage and loss of life from seismic events requires a strong focus on engineered solutions—building safer structures.

Recently, researchers have identified at least 86 buildings at two of California’s major UC campuses (UCLA and Berkeley) that pose significant risks for occupants in the event of a major earthquake. Studies at other state institutions are pending.  The cost of repairs for Berkeley alone exceeds $1 billion.  State leaders are asking voters to approve another $8 billion in bonds for retrofitting university buildings—this in addition to the $2 billion already in the state’s capital plan.  So why haven’t they made repairs? They did.  The article says:

“UCLA and UC Berkeley have been leaders in seismic retrofits for decades. UCLA has spent more than $2.8 billion, and UC Berkeley, more than $1 billion, on retrofits — strengthening buildings that are particularly at risk of extensive damage.  But new research over the past quarter-century has shown that, at least for the Berkeley campus, the severity of potential shaking is much worse than previously believed…”
“In a campus email Wednesday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said the campus was submitting its preliminary findings to the UC Office of the President as officials begin ‘a coordinated, systemwide effort to holistically prioritize and address the work that will need to be done on hundreds of buildings on the 10 UC campuses.  Before remediation can proceed, experts must first determine the best option — retrofit, replace or vacate — for each of the seismically deficient buildings. In the meantime,' she added, 'UC Berkeley will review ‘available, realistic options to limit occupancy and usage of seismically deficient buildings on our campus.’”

The Hayward fault (left) runs through Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward and Fremont. It's capable of producing an earthquake greater than magnitude 7. Source: the LA Times article.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Dangers of Data

Sightlines, Inc., an excellent private consulting resource for facilities managers, published a blog post recently that began by stating the obvious: “Facilities needs can be all consuming.”  The author then described how all of the measurement tools used to “track operating systems and physical assets” tend to “produce so much data that measurement can be overwhelming too.”

So the author suggests that, “as stewards of their organizations, facilities and finance leaders must remember to commit to taking the time and the necessary energy and resources to focus on how to utilize this information,” adding:

Leadership must invest in itself and the welfare of its teams. Money spent on systems that collect data but don’t manage it is money lost. Time a team spends to track activity without a strategic direction is time wasted. And wasted money and wasted time mean the community is not being served properly…

The people who steward facilities should take time every week to revisit their efforts in the following areas:
·       Are you able to assess the progress of your organization toward optimal performance for your community?

·       Does your community have a clear understanding of our priorities in serving them?

·       Can you measure whether you are successful in serving your community?

·       What are your KPIs [Key Performance Indicators]?

·       Does your team know what its goals are and why we are doing the work?

·       Does institutional leadership understand the demands being placed on your team and the necessary effort to support those demands?

Building on this list, another popular facilities management blog asks the question: What are Key Performance Indicators for Facilities Managers?  On the university campus, such measures could include: space utilization and occupancy rates, asset replacement and renovation costs, maintenance costs and maintenance hours, annual maintenance spending, energy use, and even carbon emissions.

The author continues by relating the importance of tying these myriad data with the goals and objectives they support.  She says: 

"These metrics are valuable to measure, but they are typically just one part of a broader key performance indicators. They directly relate to SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, agreed upon by all key parties, realistic and time-sensitive. For facilities managers, KPIs might include:

·       Improving space utilization by X percent: This takes into account not only how many work stations are occupied at any given time, but how often meeting rooms and collaborative spaces are being used across all your real estate properties.

·       Reducing energy consumption by X percent: This would involve looking at several factors, including heating and cooling, lighting and total electricity usage.

·       Maintaining our buildings X percent more efficiently: This would involve monitoring room usage and dispatching maintenance crews only as needed, as well as taking a more proactive approach to preventive maintenance.

The author then brings this notion of data full circle, back to the reason we use data at all, stating:

Key performance indicators can help bridge the gap between raw data and business strategy. When you use your facilities management software to develop and track KPIs, you're able to take numbers that may mean little out of context, and put them into a context that is useful for showing how well operations are in alignment with business goals. 

When it comes to fine-tuning business strategy, KPIs offer vital information that could be missed altogether in the absence of KPIs and the software necessary to develop and track them. The results of KPI tracking can include cost savings, improved revenues, or a stronger competitive edge.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A or B ?

Both provide the same amount of programmed space. A costs less than B. A can also be opened more quickly than B.  And both have support from different parts of a local community.  So which do you choose? A or B?

There's a great story behind these photos, including some lessons learned by a community and a campus planner. Check it out here

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Reaching Out

A few years ago, I was asked to contribute to a newsletter distributed by Academic Impressions, Inc. The title of the article was "Reaching Out to the Town During Campus Expansion."  The article makes five very important points related to finding success in gaining the support of stakeholders for campus development. They are as follows with my comments in quotes:

1.  Engage Your Community Early and Often.  "It's not so much what you do to engage your community, but how you do it." 

2.  Active Communication Can Create Excitement. "It's not enough to simply post information online or send out a newsletter. Communication efforts need to be active and two-way." 

3.  Schedule regular public meetings on campus... (and) invest in an attractive (paper and online) newsletter and send it out on a regular basis.  "There can be no shortage of communication. You can't do too much PR in your community to inform people of what is happening and why. Put a human face on the issue.

4.  Address Difficult Issues. "Identify hot spots early on, decide which ones you are willing to address, and which ones you need to fall on your sword for." 

5.  Leverage Community Champions. "People who get to know the campus well enough and you well enough are often those who can help you identify where the hotbed issues will be, ahead of time.... You have to go forward with realistic expectations. Just because everyone is around a table and seems to be getting along, that doesn't mean that members of that group won't question or object to what you're doing."

The article points out that institutions should "avoid reliance on leveraging legal authority when forging ahead with expansion plans. Engaging the community in the planning process not only creates important buy-in and support (and gives you the opportunity to avoid the negative media attention that results from surprising a community late in the process), but also brings new ideas to the table that might have otherwise been overlooked. Creating an inclusive process creates goodwill that can be leveraged in the future for many other important university initiatives."