Holding Educational Facility Professionals To A Higher Standard

By Matt Stansberry
From the September 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Standards programs provide facility professionals with guidelines for making consistent, effective decisions. While many corporate organizations have standards programs in place, educational facilities bear the responsibility for the health, comfort, and safety of both the faculty and the student body. With this task in mind, educational facility professionals often deal with standards programs that are often more complex and comprehensive than any other industry.

Typically, standards programs cover all aspects of operations in a facility, including everything from the physical structure itself to functioning systems such as HVAC or lighting. Whether purchasing new equipment, updating furniture, replacing deteriorated building components, or performing preventive maintenance, facility professionals can use a written standards program to maintain a consistent level of comfort in the learning environment. Standards programs for educational facilities need to be flexible and wide ranging, as many institutions offer a number of different types of facilities on a single campus. These facilities can include classrooms, offices, research laboratories, student housing, physical education areas, and more. In addition, many educational facilities have expansive outdoor and recreational areas, including road systems, parking lots, sidewalks, landscaping, and arenas. All of these aspects of an educational institution must be included in the standards program.

As many institutions focus on technology and research, standards programs can become obsolete at an accelerated rate. It will be important for facility executives to keep these standards programs updated.

Keeping Up to Date

Jim Lloyd is associate vice-president of finance and administration and director of facilities for Oregon State University. The school is in the process of updating its standards program and campus master plan. The last time it was done was 1984.”We’ve been working on the campus master plan and standards for 16 months,” Lloyd explains.

“Part of the reason for this is that we are very busy with trouble calls and expansion, so the focus on the campus master plan and design standards gets pushed to the back burner. When we get it done it will pay off long-term, but it’s hard to get people to sit down and do it. You have to say, ‘let’s take four hours out of this day and sit down and do it,'” Lloyd says.

In order to update this program, facility executives at Oregon State University have been looking at published standards programs on the Web and other campuses.”We’ve actually gone to other universities, sat down with folks, and asked, ‘what did you do?’ We take a look at what they’ve done and improve upon it,” Lloyd says.

The policy at Oregon State is to comply with state and federal regulations as a bare minimum and exceed as a rule.

Using LEED-EB Standards For Educational Facilities

One of the standards programs already available for educational facilities to use as a reference is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, a voluntary, consensus based national standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings.

“Higher education seems to be one of the industries that has taken off with LEED,” says Greg Bell of WI-based Bell and Zurawski Inc., a member of the committee that wrote the standards for the LEED-EB (Existing Buildings) pilot that was launched in January, 2002.

“We’re seeing a growing interest among K-12 education, but not as strong as higher education,” he explains.

According to Bell, the committee that wrote the LEED-EB standards drew from existing standards such as EPA Energy Star standards, Green Seal Cleaning Products standards, and ASHRAE standards for drafting its program.

“The important thing about LEED is that there is no reason to reinvent these standards when they already exist. LEED looks at widely accepted standards but also allows room for locally adapted standards,” Bell says.

Even if facility professionals at educational facility chose not to pursue LEED-EB certification, the guidelines to compose a standards program would already be in place. While any type of facility could use LEED-EB standards, the environmental aspects and health benefits of green standards programs especially apply to educational facilities.

Why Have A Standards Program?

A standards program can be helpful to facility executives, who will be able to plan for capital projects, maintain continuity of the institution’s image, and save time on purchasing decisions. The benefit for staff and students can be reliability and knowledge of what to expect from the facility department.

According to Lloyd, the best way to accomplish this is to publish the standards program. This will calibrate the expectations of the faculty and students, by informing the campus population of what to expect from the facility maintenance department.

“People know exactly what we’re going to do and what we’re going to build,” Lloyd says. “It eliminates surprises. Everyone is looking at the same document and agreeing to the processes, and our customers understand what it is we will be providing,” he adds.

Standardizing Purchases

Without updated standards, every time an institution remodels or builds a new building, facility executives are faced with a different model of thermostats, fan systems, lights, and so forth.

What that creates for the facility department is a challenge to keep the parts stocked. In order for corporations to do this, a gigantic storage operation would be needed. By focusing in on a single brand of fans, thermostats, lights, filters, etc., facility managers can respond and correct any deficiencies on campus with more efficiency.

When it comes to standardizing capital renewal and purchases, facility executives should take many aspects of the products into consideration. Some of these aspects are durability, replaceability, and flexibility.

“We make sure that the standards will specify a component that will be around for a while,” Lloyd says. “We have components on this campus where the companies have gone out of business and you can’t buy parts. So you’re always in the bailing wire and duct tape fix solution, which isn’t very comfortable,” Lloyd explains.

According to Lloyd, the larger purchases at Oregon State University, such as HVAC and control systems, are maintained on a single brand.

According to Bell, the USGBC offers very little by way of an objective resource for purchasing. Bell mentions that GreenSpec has a listing of products, but there is nothing so specific as a listing of products that will gain LEED credit. However, there are a growing number of manufacturers that are helping companies gain credit.

Educational Facilities Specific

While all facility standards programs have much in common, there are aspects of an educational facility standards program that are specific to the industry. Lloyd, who was formerly a facility manager for software companies in the Silicon Valley, states that the biggest differences between his responsibilities in his current position and his former, have to do with the age of the buildings under his care.

According to Lloyd, typically, facilities in private industry are relatively new. At Oregon State University, the oldest structure was built in 1889 and the facilities department is still maintaining it.

“Those buildings were built in a day when the building codes were still rather loose, so some buildings aren’t up to speed with the current fire codes, seismic codes, etc.,” Lloyd says. “As you can imagine, a lot of our standards are about retrofits and remodels.”

According to Bell, the standards often relate to what the individual occupants of a building are most concerned with.

“A school may be concerned with recycled content and low VOCs, but maybe there would be a certain additive, such as anti-microbial, that would make it more worthwhile for kids on the carpet so they could avoid getting sick,” Bell adds.

Another aspect specific to educational facilities and LEED is natural daylight. According to a study performed by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), a California organization that focuses mainly on K-12 schools, natural day lighting can improve students’ ability to learn. CHPS notes that facilities that place a priority on improving students’ learning environments can save energy, resources, and money, but more importantly, CHPS shows correlations between high performance buildings and improved student performance.

One study examined a single school district in each of three states: California, Washington, and Colorado. The students learning in classrooms with the most day lighting progressed 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests than those with the least amount of daylight. Similarly, students in classrooms with the most day lighting were found to have 7% to 18% higher scores than those with the least.

A comprehensive standards program should provide guidelines that can assist facility managers in their daily responsibilities, from preventive maintenance to new construction projects. While implementing a comprehensive standards program will seem daunting at first, the returns on the investment can be great. As long as the standards programs are updated, published, and enforced, facility managers will find that they are an invaluable tool in maintaining a campus in a safe and efficient manner.

This article was based on information provided by Bell and Lloyd.