Maintenance. It’s not exciting nor flashy. It’s not new and shiny. It doesn’t get a lot of attention. But deferred maintenance can have dire consequences.
Case in point: U.S. school facilities received a D+ in the most recent Infrastructure Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017. The report also found that 24 percent of public school buildings are in poor or fair condition, and 4 in 10 schools don’t have a long-term facilities plan to address operations and maintenance.
Putting off repairs may seem like a good way to save money now, but it leads to years of neglect in school buildings and usually ends up costing way more money down the road.
Industry reports have shown that $1 not spent on preventative maintenance equals $4 in repairs and replacements in the future.
“Facing tight budgets, school districts’ ability to fund maintenance has been constricted, contributing to the accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling and lighting systems,” the ASCE said in its report. “Deferred maintenance and decisions to choose less expensive temporary fixes are ultimately costing school districts in the long term.”
How did we get here?
Maintenance may not be exciting, but innovation is. And, during the 20th century, innovation became a “dominant ideology of our era, embraced by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Washington, D.C., political elite,” wrote SUNY Polytechnic Institute College of Arts & Sciences Dean Andrew Russell and assistant professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology Lee Vinsel in their essay “Hail the maintainers,” published in Aeon.
Sure, innovation is important and has led to countless new technologies and breakthroughs, but what happens after innovation is just as important.
“Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labor that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations,” Russell and Vinsel wrote.
The popular podcast Freakonomics also dove into this subject in its episode, “In Praise of Maintenance.”
“People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained,” said former Harvard University president and former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers. “It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint us, then we feel a need for new things, then – to satisfy that need for new things – we underinvest more in old things, and the cycle goes on.”
So how do we fix it?
Two words: Preventive maintenance.
A successful preventive maintenance program ensures that a school continues to run smoothly. It involves cataloging and keeping track of each piece of equipment (using software such as Maintenance Connection) to make sure all systems are getting the routine service that will keep them functioning well.
And it pays off. Proper preventive maintenance will:
- Extend the life expectancy of equipment, delaying the need for costly replacements.
- Minimize untimely (and often expensive) system failures.
- Enable the facilities department to plan, purchase materials and schedule workloads efficiently, which means saving time, money and labor.
The Infrastructure Report Card pointed specifically at preventive maintenance as a solution for the problems facing school buildings today: “Continue to encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive major maintenance, renewal and construction programs, and implement preventative maintenance programs to extend the life of school facilities.”
What’s your district’s plan to keep schools running smoothly?
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