Most school administrators are familiar with the dance of dollars that is balancing budget with maintenance needs. As schools and infrastructure age, the challenge is further complicated by the need for more major equipment updates as well.
Unfortunately, this can have the effect of locking districts into a pattern of ever-increasing deferred maintenance. While the prospect of saving dollars today on what may be viewed as nonessential maintenance may seem like a good idea, the long-term consequences of such patterns can be devastating to schools.
A growing problem
Deferred maintenance is a fairly common practice embraced by districts that lack the necessary funds to address repair issues as they arise. It's easy to develop a pattern - one that can have expensive consequences down the road. A report from the U.S. Green Building Council highlighted the extent of the problem. The council added up the money estimated nationwide required to meet existing deferred maintenance needs with the amount required to bring U.S. schools up to existing educational and safety standards, and came away with a staggering $542 billion price tag. Not only are school districts sitting on top of unmet maintenance needs, but aging school facilities mean that more and more institutions are actually failing to meet minimum acceptable standards on top of it all.
Breaking the cycle
The question on everybody's lips, then, is what can be done to break schools out of this cycle? It can seem like an impossible task, but with every budgeting concern great or small, it boils down to an issue of resource management. Districts need to adjust their priorities to focus on as many existing maintenance concerns as possible, which may require a close inspection of current planned maintenance strategies.
The American Council on Education placed a spotlight on California State University as an example of a system designed to break the cycle of deferred maintenance. Ultimately, it comes down to establishing priorities and using those as a guidepost for future maintenance spending. For example, existing issues can be broken down into categories such as immediate health and safety concerns, environmental factors - such as leaking roofs and HVAC inefficiencies - and cosmetic concerns.
As far as keeping planned maintenance schedules on course goes, CSU emphasized the importance of making timely corrective maintenance a facility-wide concern. Pointing out the economic and structural dangers of allowing even small projects to stagnate, for example, indicating how a leaky roof can create further difficulties down the road if left unaddressed, can instill administrators with a sense of immediacy.