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Planning Guide for Maintaining School Facilities
Chapter 1
  Introduction to School Facilities Maintenance Planning
Chapter 2
    Planning for School Facilities Maintenance
Chapter 3
    Facility Audits: Knowing What You Have
Chapter 4
    Providing a Safe Environment for Learning
Chapter 5
    Maintaining School Facilities and Grounds
Chapter 6
    Effectively Managing Staff and Contractors
Chapter 7
    Evaluating Facilities Maintenance Efforts
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Chapter 2
Planning for School Facilities Maintenance

  Graphic of Checkmark To explain why planning is an essential component of managing school facilities maintenance activities
  Graphic of Checkmark To communicate that effective facilities management requires the support of many stakeholders throughout the organization and community
  Graphic of Checkmark To confirm that informed decision-making demands ready access to high-quality data that describe the status of the organization's facilities, needs, and capabilities

An essential component of an effective school program is a well-conceived school facilities maintenance plan. A properly implemented plan provides school administrators comfort and confidence when contemplating the future of their campuses.

Effective Management Starts with Planning

Unless facilities maintenance planning is a component of a greater organizational management plan, it is doomed to failure. After all, how else can maintenance planners be certain that other policy-makers share their priorities? Or that funds will be available to achieve their goals? And how else can they learn about demographic and enrollment projections and the ensuing changes in building demand? Thus, facilities maintenance planning must be an element of the overall organizational strategy-part of the "master plan."

Image of KeysThe master plan is the "blueprint" for daily decision-making throughout a school district. It provides concrete documentation about the organization's needs and intentions. Moreover, it is a formal way of communicating the district's priorities, and establishes necessary documentation for funding authorities and other approving organizations. Good plans include short- and long-term objectives, budgets, and timelines, all of which demonstrate organizational commitment to facilities maintenance. Effective planning also requires that planners evaluate both the organization's overarching goals and the day-to-day details needed to meet those targets. Thus, a comprehensive plan serves both as a blueprint for the here and now and a road map to the future!

"Planning" is the formulation of a strategy for getting an organization from the here and now to the future. As circumstances change over time, strategies for achieving tomorrow's successes often change as well. Good planners are always mindful of the need to review, and even revise, plans to meet the changing needs of the organization.

Having said this, however, planners must also accept that the future is not now (despite the adage that suggests differently). In other words, change takes time, and improvements in organization-wide endeavors most often occur in steps. If a school district finds itself in need of a major overhaul in its facilities maintenance management system, it cannot expect to jump to the head of the field in one or two years. Instead, planners must institute improvements over longer time frames and accept that progress is measured relative to the organization's starting point rather than by comparisons with other organizations that may or may not be working under comparable circumstances.

Why Collaborate during Planning (and with Whom)?

Image of KeysIn many ways, the process of planning is more important than the outcome. The process of formulating a plan establishes a forum through which interested parties have a chance to voice their opinions about the future of the organization. This opportunity, and the dialogue (and even debate) that ensues, is an effective way of infusing fresh ideas and new perspectives into school management. Collaborative planning also helps stakeholders feel that their views are respected and valued. In turn, this atmosphere of respect often fosters staff and community support for the decisions being made about the future direction of the organization (and, perhaps more importantly, the day-to-day steps that must be taken to achieve these goals).

Good Intentions Don't Keep Schools Running

Image of Eagle with HammerThe school facilities belonged to Ted, or so you'd think from the devoted way in which he cared for them. He was the head of the facilities maintenance department and took great pride in the condition of the school district's buildings and grounds. He'd done a fabulous job for nearly 30 years and knew the needs of the district like the back of his hand. But the long-time superintendent had recently retired, and there was a new sheriff in town. Ted had briefed the newly hired superintendent on the status and future of the facilities she had inherited and listened politely when she told him about her own five-year plan. Ted hadn't agreed completely with her assessment of the future, but thought that he'd give her a year or two to learn on the job.

Six months later, Ted was tremendously upset when he found out that the district was closing his favorite old elementary school. He'd never thought the superintendent would actually do it and had repeatedly ignored her warnings-choosing instead to revamp the facility for 21st century instruction so that he could make a case for keeping the beautiful old building when the time came. When news of the building's impending demise arrived, he went straight to the superintendent to tell her that it was a bad decision, but to no avail. She explained to him that demographic reports showed that the school wouldn't be able to meet the needs of the growing population. Moreover, funds had already been allocated for a new building. The school supervisors were on board, she was on board, and it was time for Ted to get on board. Ted took a deep breath, swallowed his pride, and realized that the team had a new boss-and if he was going to be a team player, he had to align his work with her goals. Their efforts had to be coordinated. It was as simple as that.

Developing a facilities maintenance plan requires:
  Graphic of Checkmark involving stakeholders in the planning process
  Graphic of Checkmark identifying needs (e.g., improving cleanliness and safety, correcting deficiencies, addressing deferred projects, increasing efficiency, decreasing utility bills)
  Graphic of Checkmark establishing priorities and targets
  Graphic of Checkmark collecting and using supporting data to inform decision-making
  Graphic of Checkmark sharing the plan to garner support from management and key stakeholders
  Graphic of Checkmark allocating funds to pay for planned activities
  Graphic of Checkmark training staff to implement planned activities
  Graphic of Checkmark implementing the plan
  Graphic of Checkmark being patient while awaiting cost savings or other results
  Graphic of Checkmark evaluating the plan systematically
  Graphic of Checkmark refining efforts based on evaluation findings
  Graphic of Checkmark reviewing and revising the plan periodically (e.g., every three years)

Why include stakeholders in the planning process?
  •  to hear new ideas and perspectives
  •  to demonstrate that planners value stakeholder opinions
  •  to increase the likelihood that stakeholders will "buy in" to the plan

Image of KeysWho is involved in the planning process? Ideally, stakeholders include anyone who has a "sense of ownership" in facilities decision-making, even though they might not have any legal rights (or even expectations) to make decisions about school facilities and property. As the list of stakeholders grows larger, it often makes sense to include representatives of stakeholder groups (rather than every individual) as long as the selection process is conducted fairly and equitably.

Steps for effectively engaging stakeholders in the planning process include:

  Graphic of Checkmark identifying all stakeholders
  Graphic of Checkmark determining appropriate ways to invite stakeholders to share their opinions during the planning process (e.g., newspaper ads, web sites, or direct mail)
  Graphic of Checkmark contacting stakeholders well in advance of the planning meetings
  Graphic of Checkmark entering a dialogue that truly welcomes stakeholders' opinions
  Graphic of Checkmark inviting stakeholders to share unique skills and expertise they bring to the process (e.g., you may have engineers, architects, or landscapers in the PTA who could lend their expertise)
  Graphic of Checkmark fostering a consensus-building atmosphere
  Graphic of Checkmark recognizing dissent as necessary, but not allowing it to derail consensus building
  Graphic of Checkmark including stakeholders in follow-up documentation and implementation efforts

Opinions Welcome: Stakeholders and the Planning Process

Potential stakeholders in the planning process include, but are not limited to:

maintenance staff/contractors
custodial staff/contractors
department of education staff againsters*
PTA representatives
school board members
school business officials partners (in joint-use facilities)
other government officials
community groups/users foundation representatives
public safety officials/regulators city/county planners
dept. of environmental quality staff
expert consultants (architects, engineers, demographers, attorneys)
*Againsters are people who make a habit of opposing any kind of change. To minimize the likelihood of last-minute delay tactics, planners must include these stakeholders in the decision-making process from the onset.

What does your community value? The appearance of your community's school buildings says a lot about its values. Some communities have gone one step further and actively planned for their schools to reflect greater community values. For example, one school district in Utah requires that art museums and climbing walls be included in all new school construction to reflect the community's belief in the importance of art, exercise, and nature.

A vision statement is a proclamation of how an organization, department, group, or individual wants to see itself in the future.

Creating a Unified Organizational Vision

vision\ vizh-n\ n: the act or power of seeing; unusual discernment or foresight.

After planners (including stakeholders) have been identified, the first and most important step in the planning process is achieving agreement on the desired outcome of the organization's efforts-that is, what is the group hoping that the plans will lead to in the future? A good way of clarifying and specifying these expectations is by developing a vision statement that affirms how an entity wants to see itself in the future. An individual can have a vision statement, as can a department, group, or even an entire organization. The purpose of a vision statement is to develop a shared image of the future, which means gaining consensus about priorities. Thus, if an individual or department in an organization has a vision for its future, it cannot conflict with the vision of the larger organization within which they work. The vision for the facilities maintenance department, for example, must be driven by, and aligned with, the mission and goals of the district it serves; otherwise, the facilities manager and school superintendent will come into conflict-which is not good for the school district and certainly not good for the facilities manager!

Some administrators might argue that the goal of the maintenance department is simply that of the greater district it serves. However, it becomes difficult to operationalize such a "vision" that is not closely related to the day-to-day operations of the department. Thus, it is good practice for the facilities department to collaborate with representatives of the rest of the organization when generating consensus about its vision but, at the same time, to create a vision that directly relates to its day-to-day activities.

A vision statement should be a living document, but not short-lived. Otherwise, it can't inform long-term decision-making and investment. All the same, a vision statement must be reviewed regularly to ensure that it remains relevant to the potentially changing needs of the organization. Investing time in creating a vision statement can save energy in the long run by reminding staff of their priorities, but it is not an answer in itself-the work of maintaining a building still needs to get done. The vision statement merely (but not unimportantly) sets the goal against which policies, practices, and efforts will be evaluated. For this reason, a vision statement should be supported by measurable objectives.

Creating a "vision" should take place in a creative atmosphere. Brainstorming, free-thinking, and open-mindedness are essential aspects of an honest assessment of an organization's desired future.

Image of KeysThe National School Boards Association's online toolkit for "Creating a Vision" ( recommends that when creating a vision statement, it helps to:

  Graphic of Checkmark describe an ideal future for the organization
  Graphic of Checkmark think about the organization's best interests and not individual or department interests
  Graphic of Checkmark stretch one's thinking
  Graphic of Checkmark be open to change (even substantial change if that is deemed necessary)
  Graphic of Checkmark be positive and inspiring
  Graphic of Checkmark be clear

Moreover, when creating a vision statement, it is important to avoid:

Image of 'x' mark closed-mindedness
Image of 'x' mark parochialism
Image of 'x' mark selfishness
Image of 'x' mark disrespect
Image of 'x' mark short-term thinking
Image of 'x' mark partisanship
Image of 'x' mark complacency
Image of 'x' mark infighting
Image of 'x' mark fear of change
Image of 'x' mark apathy
Image of 'x' mark "reality" ("we don't have the budget for that anyway")

Although a vision statement should be of a lasting nature, it must be revisited periodically to verify its continued relevance in an ever-changing world.

Image of School BusFor more information about creating a vision, visit the following web pages: "Creating a Vision" (National School Boards Association) at; "A Visioning Process for Designing Responsive Schools" (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities) at; and "Community Participation in Planning" (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities) at

Examples of Unclear and Clear Vision Statements

Image of 'x' mark Unclear: The Facilities Maintenance Department will contribute to the school district's mission of educating our children to meet the intellectual, physical, and emotional demands of the 21st century.

While commendable, this vision statement provides little direction for day-to-day decision-making about the operations of the department.

Graphic of Checkmark Clear: The Facilities Maintenance Department will provide a clean, orderly, safe, cost-effective, and instructionally supportive school environment that contributes to the school district's mission of educating our children to meet the intellectual, physical, and emotional demands of the 21st century.

This vision statement clearly and succinctly describes the department's role in the district's overall mission, and provides a target that can direct the department's day-to-day activities.

Links to Budgeting and Planning

This is not a capital planning guide, but any responsible examination of school facilities planning warrants some discussion about the links between facilities maintenance and facilities construction and renovation. Capital outlay for school construction is generally a more palatable proposition for taxpayers and public officials when a school district demonstrates that appropriate care and maintenance has been given to existing facilities.

Responsible facilities maintenance planning demands that attention be given to a wide range of other issues that influence organizational budgeting, including insurance coverage, land acquisition, equipment purchases, and building construction and renovation. While a detailed discussion of these issues is outside the scope of this Planning Guide, links to other resources that address these and other budgeting topics can be found at the end of this chapter.

Image of School BusFor more information about maintenance costs and budgeting, visit the following web pages: "Budgeting for Facilities Maintenance and Repair Activities" at and "Maintenance & Operations Costs" at

Facilities Managers, Good Accountants, and Common Sense Will Tell You That:

The maintenance and operations budget is for existing facilities and equipment. Capital project funding - including staff time devoted to capital projects - must come from other sources. Otherwise, existing facilities will be neglected whenever there is a construction or renovation project because the maintenance staff will be drafted into service to work on capital improvements.

What A Shared Vision Can Accomplish

Image of Eagle with HammerAn elementary school created a vision statement that emphasized each child learning how to read. The development process included comprehensive input from staff, students, and community members. Moreover, planners went to great efforts to publicize the vision within the school and community. Several days after the kick-off ceremony for the school's Vision for the 21st Century, the principal noticed that labels had appeared on objects throughout the school. The water fountains were marked "water fountain," fire extinguishers were labeled "fire extinguisher," and the smoke detectors were marked "smoke detector." When the principal inquired about the phenomenon, the school custodian admitted that he had posted the labels as his contribution to helping the children learn how to read-and the principal immediately knew that the team approach to developing and publicizing the school's vision statement had been a success.

Experts in Residence: Maximizing Community Resources

The facilities management planning team at Valley School District had worked very hard to devise a strategy that would ensure a sound future for the small district's grounds and buildings. Three parents, two teachers, a vice principal, an assistant superintendent, a school board member, the PTA president, the mayor's assistant, the facilities manager, his assistant, and a custodian all came to a consensus regarding the major points of the plan. When the document was presented to the superintendent, she said that the plan sounded very good but that she wanted to have it reviewed by some construction and insurance specialists. The facilities manager politely interrupted her, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I don't think we need to do that." The superintendent looked at him with surprise. "Why, Edward, I'm not doubting the planning team's abilities, but it's my professional opinion that the plan should be reviewed by experts outside the field of facilities management." "Oh, I agree," Edward responded, "I just wanted to let you know that we've already gotten input from an insurance agent and a developer, and we didn't need to pay for it either. You see, Mr. Jackson, who has a child in the high school, is a developer, and Mrs. Ramirez, the PTA president, is a commercial real estate agent. What's more, Mrs. Allen, who is also a parent, is an accountant, and she's verified that all of our financial projections are sound." The superintendent looked at the group, "My goodness, you've done a thorough job. And efficient too." She looked to the community volunteers in particular, "We owe you thanks not only for your time, but also for your expertise." The facilities manager smiled, knowing that he and his team had done a good job and maximized their community's resources to benefit the district. The project would go on without delay or additional expense.