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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 3
Facility Audits: Knowing What You Have

  Image of Checkmark To convey the importance of inventorying buildings, grounds, and equipment
  Image of Checkmark To explain how best to collect, manage, and use facilities data from a facility audit

Data Use

Facilities data are not only useful, but also a necessary component of responsible facilities management-which, for most people, is the only justification for incurring the costs associated with collecting and storing data. In a general sense, data from facility audits assist decision-making with respect to repairs, renovations, or abandonment of a building. More specifically, however, some facilities data must be readily accessible in the case of emergency (e.g., building blueprints may be important when fighting a fire). Other data are necessary for long-term planning (e.g., expiration dates on roof warranties). Finally, some information is needed on a day-to-day basis (e.g., fuel requirements and load capacities on a fleet of buses). In all cases, effective school management requires that facilities data be accessible in a timely manner.

Facilities data are facilities history. They are essential for warranties, insurance claims, operations, and planning.

When a Band-Aid Can Save You Money-Even in the Long Run!

Image of Eagle with HammerThe school board meeting was about to get ugly. The PTA was as hot as the east wing of the elementary school. They wanted that cooling tower repaired-and repaired properly! Hadn't it broken down last September too? The board president turned to Ted, the new school facilities manager, for an explanation. Ted began to explain, "Well, we patched several rust spots last summer, but the tower is really on its last legs." He was interrupted by the board president: "We were very clear about our expectations for the repair of capital equipment before you were hired. We will not tolerate a Band-Aid approach to maintenance in this school district. Is that understood?" Ted handed a spreadsheet to the board president before answering, "Yes sir, a Band-Aid approach is a waste of money 99 percent of the time, but the cooling tower in question is an exception. You see, it's 19 years old," he said, pointing to an entry on the spreadsheet, "and only has a 20-year expected service lifetime. So it doesn't make sense to invest in a complete overhaul when the school will be getting a brand-new piece of equipment next year. It's not a good use of our maintenance budget." The board president realized that Ted was right. He had the data in hand to prove it.

Image of School BusFor more information about facilities data collections and audits, visit the following web pages: Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems at; Facilities Information Management: A Guide for State and Local School Districts at; Facilities Assessment at; and Operation and Maintenance Assessments: A Best Practice for Energy-Efficient Building Operations at

Commissioning: A Special Type of Facilities Audit

Even the best-trained auditors are unlikely to know whether systems are operating as designed and intended just by looking at them (because "systems" can not be evaluated as easily as components can). For this reason, new and renovated facilities must be commissioned, re-commissioned, or retro-commissioned.

Image of Keys"Commissioning" is a specific type of facilities audit intended to verify (and document) that a facility will operate as designed and meet the demands of its intended use. Commissioning focuses not on individual elements in a building, but rather on system performance within a facility. A third party (who is not beholden to either the education organization or the construction contractor) generally carries out commissioning before site responsibility is transferred from the contractor to the school district. Commissioning typically occurs upon completion of a construction or renovation project; however, pre-commissioning can occur as early as the design phase, at which time impartial experts review blueprints and building specifications for adherence to building codes, HVAC requirements, and other performance criteria.

Risk Management Entails Protecting Facilities Data

Developing a data storage and security plan for an education organization is a
substantial task in its own right. The National Forum on Education Statistics provides guidance in Safeguarding Your Technology: Practical Guidelines for Electronic Education Information Security, available at

Facilities Data Access as a Component of Emergency Preparedness

When Jerry, the head of the maintenance office for the school district in his small community, received a call from the chief of police, he remained calm. "Yes sir," Jerry said, "I'll e-mail the building's blueprints immediately." He looked at his watch. "And I can have a paper copy to you in 15 minutes." As he hung up the phone, he turned to Eileen, his assistant. "There is an emergency at the high school and the police chief needs information about the egresses. Print out a copy of the blueprints while I e-mail him an electronic copy." Within three minutes of receiving the call, Jerry was speeding toward the high school with a copy of the blueprints in hand to supplement the electronic copy already sent to the chief. The rest of the day's events would be out of his control, but Jerry's planning had ensured that the maintenance office had done everything it could do to help.

Commissioning focuses not on individual building elements, but on system performance within a facility. It is tantamount to a "stress test" in which major building components are systematically tested to ensure they meet required specifications.

Commissioning should be included in all construction and renovation contracts as a standard requirement prior to the transfer of liability from the contractor to the school district. Although initial commissioning can occur as early as the design phase of a project, and more likely upon the completion of construction activities, additional tests should be required throughout the first year of building use so that components can be examined during the range of seasonal conditions (e.g., hot and cold, wet and dry). When formulating the details of a commissioning effort, district representatives should identify all systems to be studied or controlled, the design logic that supports the approach, applicable industry standards, and the acceptable range of system output (which varies with seasonal conditions).

Re-commissioning (the act of "commissioning again") should occur any time a building is renovated or substantially modified (e.g., a classroom is changed into a computer lab) or, in the absence of renovation and modification, on a five-year cycle to ensure that systems are performing appropriately over time. Re-commissioning involves retesting systems relative, at least in part, to baselines established during the original commissioning. By adopting this approach to facility auditing, the status of systems can be measured and assessed relative to their "as-new" condition.

Retro-commissioning is performed on existing buildings that were never commissioned. Although a school district may not be able to hold contractors responsible for failing or missing systems identified during retro-commissioning, the data can be useful in establishing baselines and identifying system deficiencies. This is especially valuable information for facilities that have been upgraded or otherwise modified since original construction.

Image of School BusFor more information about commissioning, visit the following web pages: Building Commissioning at; Building Commissioning Association at; Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI) at; and Practical Guide for Commissioning Existing Buildings at

Major steps in the commissioning process include:

  Graphic of Checkmark Establish expected outcomes, such as how building systems should perform, what occupants need, and acceptable costs.
  Graphic of Checkmark Test building systems and equipment to make sure they work correctly and meet design and operational specifications.
  Graphic of Checkmark Measure or predict the basic energy efficiency and thermal/environmental performance of the building's energy systems (automatic heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting).
  Graphic of Checkmark Decide whether upgrades and modifications to the as-built facility are necessary to meet the stated needs of school leaders, teachers, and students.
  Graphic of Checkmark Verify that building and system operators have received appropriate training.
  Graphic of Checkmark Provide building system documentation for future operations and maintenance so that the facility will continue to perform reliably and reap the expected savings.
  Graphic of Checkmark Store the findings of the commissioning effort (i.e., the data) in a secure manner.

Adapted from the Energy Smart Schools web site (

Commonly Asked Questions

Why is a facility audit considered to be a data collection?
Image of Eagle with HammerA facility audit is an element-by-element assessment, or inventory, of an organization's buildings, grounds, and equipment. If the large amounts of collected data (what, where, age, condition, maintenance needs, etc.) are not organized in a usable format, they will not meet the information needs of users. Thus, facility audits must be treated as data collections, and managed as such.

How can facilities data inform decision-making?
Facilities data can, and should, inform both short- and long-term policy making decisions. Moreover, the data also help with day-to-day operations and decision-making. For example, suppose a high school's ice machine breaks down and the estimate to repair it is one-third of the cost for a new machine. The repair-or-replace decision should be based on facilities data-that is, the age and expected life of the ice machine.

What information needs to be collected during a facility audit?
Data should be collected on all buildings, grounds, and equipment at all sites, buildings, rooms, and spaces. It should include both permanent features (structures) and temporary features (e.g., traffic patterns and snow buildup areas). Each element should be described by: what, where, size, number, age, condition, whether it is working as purchased or designed (as well as whether it is working sufficiently well to meet the needs of users), repair history, sizes and specifications for replacement parts (e.g., oil type and filter sizes), evidence of future needs, recommended servicing, and estimated remaining useful life.

Additional Resources

Image of School BusEvery effort has been made to verify the accuracy of all URLs listed in this Guide at the time of publication. If a URL is no longer working, try using the root directory to search for a page that may have moved. For example, if the link to is not working, try and search for "IAQ."

Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems
A document providing a set of basic student and staff data elements that serve as a common language for promoting the collection and reporting of comparable education data to guide policy and assist in the administration of state and local education systems. Core Data Task Force of the National Forum on Education Statistics (1997) National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.

Building Commissioning
A list of links, books, and journal articles about building commissioning. National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, Washington, DC.

Building Commissioning Association
A professional association dedicated to the promotion of high standards for building commissioning practices.

Commissioning Has Its Rewards!

Image of Eagle with HammerThe accountant overseeing the school renovation project had been against commissioning from the start. "Even if it does cost less than one percent of the project, that's more money than I'd like to spend... I mean for that price, we could upgrade the landscape in front of the building," he had argued to Carl, the maintenance manager who had insisted on the commissioning. Carl always had the same reply, "I know Howard, but the commissioning will pay for itself, just wait and see. Don't you know that fifteen percent of all completed buildings are missing components that they have paid for?" In the end, Carl got his way and the third-party commissioning was performed by a local general contractor. When Carl got the results, he walked straight into Howard's office and personally placed them in the accountant's hands. "See, Howard. I told you commissioning would pay for itself. It uncovered over $3,000 worth of equipment that we paid for but is still missing." Howard looked at the report. "Yes, Carl," he paused to study the findings a bit longer, "but do you see that the report shows that the current configuration of the HVAC system is not fully efficient?" Carl interjected, "But it's good that we find that out now, Howard." Howard interrupted him, "That's not good, Carl. It's fantastic. Why, fixing that alone will save us the cost of that commissioning in just two years. You know, Carl, this commissioning report doesn't just save us money now, it saves us money in the future when we're running the building too." Carl rolled his eyes, knowing that he had been right all along, but pleased that Howard had finally seen his point, "Is that so, Howard?"

Some types of data management may be mandated by state and local regulations (e.g., maintenance records on the boiler, amounts and types of fuel used, the operation of emergency generators, and pesticide use).

Building Commissioning Handbook
A book that focuses on building commissioning, including the roles of the consultant, contractor, test engineer, commissioning agent, and owner; the process of equipment and systems performance testing; testing checklists; commissioning terms; and guidance with regard to hiring a commissioning agent. Heinz, J.A. and Casault, R. (1996) The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers, Alexandria, VA, 311pp.

Building Evaluation Techniques
Step-by-step techniques for conducting an effective building assessment, including the evaluation of overall structural performance, spatial comfort, noise control, air quality, and energy consumption. Includes sample forms and checklists tailored to specific building types. George Baird, et al. (1995) McGraw Hill, 207pp.

Energy Smart Schools
An initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide detailed information about how to increase school building energy efficiency and improve the learning environment. Includes a discussion of school facility commissioning.

Facilities Assessment
A list of links, books, and journal articles about methods for assessing school buildings and building elements for planning and management purposes. National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, Washington, DC.

Facilities Audit: A Process for Improving Facilities Conditions
A handbook presenting a step-by-step approach to all phases of facility inspection. It is designed to help a facility manager assess the functional performance of school buildings and infrastructure and provides information about how to quantify maintenance deficiencies, summarize inspection results, and present audit findings for capital renewal funding. Kaiser, Harvey (1993) APPA, The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers, Washington, DC, 102pp.

Facilities Evaluation Handbook: Safety, Fire Protection, and Environmental Compliance, 2nd Edition
A guide to help plant and facilities managers conduct inspections and evaluations of their facilities in order to identify and address problems in the areas of maintenance, safety, energy efficiency, and environmental compliance. Petrocelly, K. L. and Thumann, Albert (1999) Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA, 200pp.

The Importance of Benchmarking

Effective long-term planning (including both policy and financial initiatives) must be based on accurate information about the physical condition of facilities and their ability to meet the functional requirements of the instructional program. One way of determining functional ability is through the use of benchmarking, which is the act of charting and comparing activities, standards, levels of performance, and other factors against a facility's history, similar facilities (its peers), or independent building usage data (as can be found in trade publications).

Defining a school, a classroom, or an instructional space can be a tricky endeavor and is beyond the scope of this Planning Guide. For a detailed examination of facilities terms and definitions, visit publications and read Facilities Information Management: A Guide for State and Local School Districts.

Facilities Information Management: A Guide for State and Local School Districts
A publication that defines a set of data elements that are critical to answering basic policy questions related to elementary and secondary school facility management. Facilities Maintenance Task Force, National Forum on Education Statistics (2003) National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.

Guide for School Facility Appraisal
A guide that provides a comprehensive method for measuring the quality and educational effectiveness of school facilities. It can be used to perform a post-occupancy review, formulate a formal record, highlight specific appraisal needs, examine the need for new facilities or renovations, or serve as an instructional tool. Hawkins, Harold L. and Lilley, H. Edward (1998)
Council for Educational Facility Planners International, Scottsdale, AZ, 52pp.

Operation and Maintenance Assessments: A Best Practice for Energy-Efficient Building Operations
A publication that describes what an operations and maintenance assessment is, who should perform it, the benefits of an assessment, what it costs, and the process of performing an assessment. Includes a glossary of terms, sample site-assessment forms, a request for proposal checklist, sample procedures and plan, and a sample master log of findings. (1999) Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. Portland, OR, 54pp.

Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI)
Provides information about commissioning conferences, case studies, procedural guidelines, specifications, functional tests, and the model commission plan and guide specifications.

Practical Guide for Commissioning Existing Buildings
A document that describes commissioning terminology, the costs and benefits of commissioning, retro-commissioning, steps to effective commissioning, and the roles of team members in the commissioning process. Haasl, T. and Sharp, T. (1999) U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC.

Safeguarding Your Technology
Guidelines to help educational administrators and staff at the building, campus, district, and state levels better understand why and how to effectively secure an organization's sensitive information, critical systems, computer equipment, and network access. Technology Security Task Force, National Forum on Education Statistics (1998) National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.

Facility Audit Checklist

More information about accomplishing these checkpoints can be found on the pages listed in the right-hand column.

Accomplished Checkpoints
Yes No
    Have district planners scheduled a facility audit?
    Has a chief auditor been selected (based on expertise, perspective, experience, and availability)?
    Has a qualified auditing team been assembled?
    Has the scope of work been identified for the audit (i.e., how detailed and comprehensive should the audit be)?
    Has a data collection system (e.g., collection forms) been selected for the facilities audit?
    Has an automated data input system been selected as resources allow?
    Have audit findings been submitted in an electronic format that can be manipulated by district users?
    Have audit findings been reviewed by facilities managers for accuracy and quality?
    Are the findings from the facilities audit being stored securely as valuable organizational assets (e.g., redundantly)?
    Has an automated document imaging system been implemented as resources allow?
    Has a Computerized Maintenance Management System been installed in any organization that has more than 500,000 ft2 of facilities to manage?
    Are facilities data being used to inform policy-making, short- and long-term planning, and day-to-day operations as appropriate?
    Have facilities been commissioned, re-commissioned, or retro-commissioned as necessary?
    Have commissioning, re-commissioning, and retro-commissioning been planned to include seasonal analysis of systems?
    Have commissioning, re-commissioning, and retro-commissioning been planned according to the Energy Smart Schools recommendations?
    Have facilities audit findings been used to establish benchmarks for measuring equipment life and maintenance progress?