FM Frequency: Bridging The Gap

Closing the divide between the design process and long-term operations and maintenance is the topic this month from FM Frequency Columnist Jeff Crane.
Closing the divide between the design process and long-term operations and maintenance is the topic this month from FM Frequency Columnist Jeff Crane.

FM Frequency: Bridging The Gap

FM Frequency: Bridging The Gap

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the December 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

One of the most troubling things about our industry is the convoluted variety of building delivery options marketed to building owners and managers. Over the years, this column has examined a couple of the more popular methods and reviewed the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Architects and general contractors seem to be competing to develop the most creative methods of packaging their services with the goals of maximizing profit and maintaining control of a project from design through construction and commissioning. This usually has the effect of squeezing design engineers’ fees and eliminating them from “value engineering,” construction administration, and even the start-up phases of a project. This can leave the property owner and facilities manager (FM) with a huge knowledge gap between design intent and actual operations.

Have you noticed the great divide between building designers and facility managers? Haven’t we all seen architects and engineers develop a building’s conceptual design, renderings, and even a budget without ever talking to the owner’s FM team to understand fully how a facility will be operated, managed, funded, and maintained? It happens all the time!

These observations aren’t meant to let facility owners off the hook; when you follow the money, they are the ones who allow it to happen. It has always fascinated me that a business owner or CFO will spend $25 million on a new or renovated facility without consulting engineers and architects who could examine the potential investment. Sometimes lenders will engage engineers or inspectors to review construction documents and conduct site visits, but can three or four trips really confirm that a facility is designed, built, and commissioned properly?

I recently volunteered my services to a local non-profit organization planning to build a new facility. I reminded them that designers and builders are usually focused on opening day when the certificate of occupancy is framed and the paint is still drying (and they receive retainage checks). They don’t often peek years into the future when a new roof is required or a major HVAC upgrade is necessary. That’s the kind of vision that enables a seasoned FM to spend hours sharing war stories about architects and engineers he would like to thank for making his life miserable.

Anyway, after this non-profit selected an architect and a site, it quickly expected a rendering (for fund raising) and a construction budget (to set funding targets). After some initial “programming” meetings with folks who operate and manage the current facility, the architect developed schematic floor plans and a rough construction budget based on a loose understanding of the organization’s desire to contain cost. That budget included inexpensive mechanical systems that might have been appropriate for a cheap motel managed by a guy in a purple velvet hat and a Mr. T starter kit (i.e. lots of gold chains), but it wasn’t appropriate for the mission of this non-profit. I explained the long-term implications of low-end mechanical systems to the building committee (noise, maintenance, energy, appearance, IAQ, etc.). I then had a lengthy conversation with the design team’s mechanical engineer to explore other options. We ruled out some of the more sophisticated mechanical systems (since the non-profit relies on low tech volunteers to operate the facility) and talked about simple, but more efficient and reliable commercial equipment.

Of course, now that the building committee has seen a rough budget number based on the low dollar and low quality mechanical system, it’s going to seem like a huge premium to have an appropriate system. If the mechanical engineer had been more involved in the initial meetings for the project, he probably would have recognized that first cost and profit maximization were not top priorities for this non-profit. He also would have realized that generous donors touring the finished project might be very disappointed to see “bottom of the barrel” equipment. It should be interesting to see what the committee decides. I only consider myself an advisor (not a decision maker), but as the TFM editor can attest, I’m not usually shy about sharing my opinions!

And that is the sole purpose of this month’s column. I think the building delivery process is broken. This isn’t a grand revelation for anyone in the industry, and I’m not mounting a revolutionary crusade for FMs of the world to seek out and educate property owners. But, we often have opportunities to participate in construction or renovation projects, whether it’s in the community or on behalf of our own organizations. I hope we’re all committed to sharing our valuable experience and helping to bridge the unfortunate gap between facility design and operations.

Crane is amechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.


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