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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 5
Maintaining School Facilities and Grounds

  Image of Checkmark To remind readers that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
  Image of Checkmark To convey strategies for planning and implementing “best practices” for maintaining facilities and grounds

A comprehensive facility maintenance program is a school district's foremost tool for protecting its investment in school facilities. Moreover, preventive maintenance is the cornerstone of any effective maintenance initiative.

Good Maintenance: A Win-Win Situation

Russell Elementary School had its act together, and Jenny, the district's facilities manager, wanted to let everyone know it. "Principal Dalton, your school has worked very hard this year to conserve energy. According to reports I've received, you have a school-wide "turn-off-the-lights program," you insist on "energy saver" mode on all resting computers, and you maintain strict climate control on a year-round basis. Because your students and staff have done so much to conserve Image of Eagle with Hammerenergy and protect the environment, I am pleased to issue your school a check for $2,000 out of the money you saved the district this year in utility bills. Please earmark the funds for student field trips and assemblies." What Jenny chose not to mention was that the school's utility bill had decreased by more than $6,000 that year for a variety of reasons, including considerable forethought on her part while planning a major renovation to the building. Still, the building staff had motivated the kids to do their part as well, and for that, they deserved the reward!

"Breakdown maintenance" is not in the best interest of the taxpayer, the maintenance department, or students and staff.

Preventive Maintenance: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

Under the guise of "saving money," many school districts (and other organizations for that matter) practice what is known as "breakdown maintenance"-a maintenance program in which nothing is done to a piece of equipment until it breaks down. And then, after the equipment breaks, the least expensive repair option is used to return the equipment to service. While this may sound like a cost-saving approach to maintenance, precisely the opposite is true.

Image of KeysBreakdown maintenance defers repairs and allows damage to accumulate, compounding an organization's problems. On the other hand, regularly scheduled equipment maintenance not only prevents sudden and unexpected equipment failure, but also reduces the overall life-cycle cost of the building.

Maintenance entails much more than just fixing broken equipment. In fact, a well-designed facility management system generally encompasses four categories of maintenance: emergency (or response) maintenance, routine maintenance, preventive maintenance, and predictive maintenance. The one everyone dreads is emergency maintenance (the air conditioner fails on the warmest day of the year or the main water line breaks and floods the lunchroom). When the pencil sharpener in Room 12 finally needs to be replaced, that is routine maintenance. Preventive maintenance is the scheduled maintenance of a piece of equipment (such as the replacement of air conditioner filters every 10 weeks or the semiannual inspection of the water fountains). Finally, the cutting edge of facility management is now predictive maintenance, which uses sophisticated computer software to forecast the failure of equipment based on age, user demand, and performance measures.

Good preventive maintenance practices interrupt the cycles that perpetuate high energy use and short equipment life cycles.

A Focus on Preventive Maintenance

A good maintenance program is built on a foundation of preventive maintenance. It begins with an audit of the buildings, grounds, and equipment (see Chapter 3). Once facilities data have been assembled, structural items and pieces of equipment can be selected for preventive maintenance. When designing a preventive maintenance program, heating and cooling systems are always a good place to start, but planners should think creatively because there may be other components that would be good candidates for preventive maintenance.

The Maintenance Spectrum

Graphic of Maintenance Spectrum

Once the items (structures, equipment, and systems) that should receive preventive maintenance have been identified, planners must decide on the frequency and type of inspections. Manufacturers' manuals are a good place to start when developing this schedule; they usually provide guidelines about the frequency of preventive service, as well as a complete list of items that must be maintained. Many manufacturers will assist customers in setting up preventive maintenance systems (if for no other reason than they get the additional business of selling replacement parts).

When planning preventive maintenance, decision-makers should consider how to most efficiently schedule the work-i.e., concurrently with academic breaks or other planned work. For example, preventive maintenance work such as boiler pipe replacements can be conducted while the boiler is out of commission for routine maintenance (such as when cleaning the scale and mud from inside the boiler or cleaning the manhole and handhold plates). Whereas emergency events demand immediate attention whenever they occur, preventive maintenance activities can be scheduled at a convenient time. Because a rigorous preventive maintenance system results in fewer emergency events, it tends to reduce disruptions to the school schedule.

Record keeping is important
for many reasons, including justifying costs associated
with preventive maintenance.
A computerized maintenance management system (see Chapter 3) is designed to
track preventive (and other) maintenance costs. Districts that don't have automated systems should track costs manually.

Once the information is assembled, it must be formatted so that preventive maintenance tasks can be scheduled easily. Ideally, scheduling is handled by a computerized maintenance management program (see Chapter 3). However, a district that does not have such a system can accomplish the task with a stack of 3" x 5" index cards and a dozen manila folders (one for each month). One side of the index card should contain information about the equipment and the services that need to be performed. The back side of the card is used to record the date on which service is performed, the name of the technician, and the cost of materials. After each inspection, the card gets placed in the manila folder assigned to the month of the next inspection. For example, if the initial inspection is in February and the inspection is a semiannual, the card would be returned to the August folder. This simple system should meet the needs of a smaller school district. However, larger districts should invest in a computerized maintenance management system designed specifically for school districts.

Image of School BusFor more information about preventive maintenance, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' Maintenance Page at, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles on how to maximize the useful life of school buildings through preventive maintenance, including periodic inspection and seasonal care.

A good maintenance plan is preventive-i.e., preventive work orders outnumber emergency work orders.

Maintenance and Operations Issues

A number of specific maintenance topics are addressed in the following paragraphs. Every school organization in the nation may not encounter every one of these issues since school facilities and circumstances facing school districts vary enormously. Additional information about relevant environmental topics can be found at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web index page at

Keys are only one of many methods for controlling building access. People who are authorized to be in a district facility should be clearly identifiable, even from a distance. Thus, it is wise to require maintenance and operations staff to wear district-issued uniforms when working at school sites. (Even a T-shirt with "Evergreen School District Maintenance Staff " silk-screened across the front can serve as an "official" uniform when worn with khaki work pants and boots. Identification badges with an individual's picture are another effective means for identifying individuals who are authorized to enter a school.

Access Controls - Keys and key control are a major concern for all districts. For example, who has the authority to issue keys? A great grand master keying system - a pyramid system that allows several doors to be opened by one master key - is well worth the investment. (All major manufacturers of lock systems produce great grand master keys.) Also, the concept of a "key" has changed rather dramatically over the past decade or so. Electronic locks that open by card, code, or password are now being used in many schools. Some systems record the time and identification number of each person who opens a door. Whether traditional metal keys or electronic "keys" are used, top-level school managers and the school board should establish a clear and concise "key policy."

Chart of Maintenance Work Orders

Boilers - Boilers, which can be used to generate hot water for domestic use (e.g., kitchens, showers, and bathrooms) or for heating buildings, should definitely be included in an organization's preventive maintenance program. Most large boilers are subject to state or local inspection laws, which typically require that the boiler be maintained on a regular basis (at least annually) and that maintenance records be kept on-site. Records of hours of operation and fuel use must also be maintained on-site and made available to inspectors. Moreover, permits may be required for boilers that generate more than 10,000,000 btu/hour. Energy-saving techniques include equipping boilers with hot-water temperature resets (which adjust the temperature of the hot water being produced based on the outside temperature) and using boiler economizers to capture and recycle heat that would otherwise be lost in the stacks.

Electrical Systems - Electrical equipment must be maintained like any other piece of equipment, whether it is a distribution pole with transformers or a breaker box for controlling a classroom's electrical power. Professional engineers and electricians should help to determine preventive maintenance tasks and schedules for electrical components. Thermographic scanning, which identifies overheating in connections, motors, bearings, and other electrical switchgear, can be an important tool for determining the condition of electrical gear (the principle behind the test is that a loose connection, bad bearing, or bad breaker bars will produce more heat than a proper connection). Thermographic scanning devices are not expensive and should be part of every district's standard maintenance toolkit. Another new technology, motor current analysis, checks the line current going to a motor and can be used to identify unacceptably high resistance and other defective parts in a motor before it fails. With the widespread use of computers, the proper maintenance of electrical systems is more important than ever in 21st-century schools. Reliance upon extension cords and an excessive number of power poles is an indication that permanent upgrades to the electrical system are needed. However, upgrading existing electrical systems in old buildings must be carefully managed. Building codes vary by locality, but whatever procedures, standards, and inspection requirements exist are designed for standardization and safety and must be carefully followed by school personnel.

Focus on Energy Efficiency

Direct Digital Controls (DDCs): DDCs are a state-of-the-art method of controlling temperature with sensors and computers. Thermostats are replaced by a sensor that transmits the current room temperature to a computer, which has been
programmed with a desired "target" temperature and signals the controller to raise or lower the room temperature as needed to reach the target. DDCs are not yet standard with most Energy Management Systems, but they can be purchased as an upgrade or retrofitted to existing systems.

Two-Pipe and Four-Pipe HVAC Systems: HVAC water systems heat and cool buildings by transferring hot or cold water through a system of pipes. One method of moving the water through a building uses a " two-pipe" system, in which one pipe is used to supply the water to the point of use and the other is used to return the water to its source. Because only two pipes need to be installed, it is initially less expensive than a "four-pipe" system. The drawback is that chilled and hot water can't both be supplied at the same time. In other words, a building is either being heated or being cooled in its entirety at any given time. If, for example, the south face of a building heats up faster than the shaded north face, there is no way to heat one part of the building while another part is being cooled.

In contrast, a four-pipe system (which is basically a dual two-pipe system) allows both chilled and hot water to be sent to different parts of a building at the same time. Because four-pipe systems minimize the need for unnecessary heating or cooling, they are recommended in all new building construction and renovation. Although they cost more to install, their operational savings will quickly recoup the costs and lead to substantial energy savings over a building's life.

Some schools save energy by closing at 5 p.m. one night a week-meaning no after-school clubs, athletic events, or community use for that evening. The inconvenience to users is minimal compared to the substantial savings, which include not only lower utility bills but also improved staff sanity since it is the one night a week everyone will go home at a reasonable hour!

Energy Management - The cost of energy is a major item in any school budget. Thus, school planners should embrace ideas that can lead to reduced energy costs. Energy Management Systems are computer-controlled systems that operate HVAC units. They can automatically turn on and off air conditioning, lights, and boilers according to pre-programmed instructions entered by facilities staff. Investment in Energy Management Systems will generally be recouped within a few years. The following guidelines will help a school district to accomplish more efficient energy management:

  Graphic of Checkmark Establish an energy policy with specific goals and objectives.
  Graphic of Checkmark Assign someone to be responsible for the district's energy management program, and give this energy manager access to top-level administrators.
  Graphic of Checkmark Monitor each building's energy use.
  Graphic of Checkmark Conduct energy audits in all buildings to identify energy-inefficient units.
  Graphic of Checkmark Institute performance contracting (i.e., contracts requiring desired results rather than simply a list of needed products) when replacing older, energy-inefficient equipment.
  Graphic of Checkmark Reward schools that decrease their energy use.
  Graphic of Checkmark Install energy-efficient equipment, including power factor correction units, electronic ballast, high-efficient lamps, night setbacks, and variable-speed drives for large motors and pumps.
  Graphic of Checkmark Install motion detectors that turn lights on when a room is occupied (and off when the room is unoccupied).

Image of School BusFor more information about energy management, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' Energy Page at, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles on various methods of heating, cooling, and maintaining new and retrofitted K-12 school buildings and grounds.

Image of KeysFire Alarms - Fire drills should be held on a monthly basis both to test fire alarms and practice occupant response to fire emergencies. During school breaks when buildings are not occupied, detailed inspections of all fire alarms should be performed. This includes testing all pull stations, smoke detectors, and heat detectors located in building ductwork. (Note that the installation of smoke and heat detectors in HVAC ducts is a recent, but important, revision to many building codes.) Some states require that a licensed contractor perform fire alarm inspections.

Experienced facilities managers recommend that all grout be in earth tones (or on the dark side of the color spectrum) because light-colored grout tends to stain and discolor over time, often
to the point that it is difficult to restore or repair.

Floor Coverings - Selecting appropriate floor coverings for a school is an important issue that planners must address during renovation and new construction. Often lunchrooms, main halls, and secondary halls are covered in terrazzo, vinyl composition tile (VCT), or quarry tile. These coverings have hard surfaces that are easily cleaned and do not collect dirt. In classrooms where noise control is important, carpets with an impermeable backing, which prevents the passage of water or dirt and are easily cleaned, may be used. Carpets can also be purchased with adhesives already attached to the backing, which helps to ensure complete adhesion without the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some primary schools use area rugs rather than carpets because they can be easily removed and cleaned at the end of the school year or as needed. Periodic cleaning of both carpets and rugs is necessary to minimize the likelihood of dirt and other contaminants causing indoor air quality problems. Ceramic floor tile is an excellent surface material for bathrooms or other areas with high exposure to water. Good specifications for a high-performance, soft-surface floor covering include:

  Graphic of Checkmark nylon type 6.6
  Graphic of Checkmark face weight no greater than 20 ounces
  Graphic of Checkmark 100 stitches per square inch
  Graphic of Checkmark vinyl pre-coated as primary backing
  Graphic of Checkmark close-cell vinyl cushion
  Graphic of Checkmark permanently fused to tufting blanket
  Graphic of Checkmark no moisture penetration after 10,000 impacts
  Graphic of Checkmark no backing or seam degradation after 50,000 cycles from Phillips Chair Caster Test
  Graphic of Checkmark factory-applied non-wet, low-VOC adhesive with no off-gassing (required)
  Graphic of Checkmark permanent chemically welded seams
  Graphic of Checkmark warranty non-prorated for 20 years against zippering, delamination, edge ravel, excessive surface wear, and loss of resiliency

Image of School BusFor more information about floor care, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' Floor Care Page at, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles on the maintenance of a variety of floor coverings in K-12 school classrooms, gymnasiums, science labs, hallways and stairs.

Focus on Floors: A Common Custodial Task

A large part of custodial responsibilities in a school building involves the cleaning of various types of flooring.
In heavy-traffic areas such as corridors, classrooms, and cafeterias, an effective cleaning regimen might be:

  Graphic of Checkmark Shake floor mats in entryways
  Graphic of Checkmark Vacuum daily
  Graphic of Checkmark Apply spot remover as needed
  Graphic of Checkmark Deep-clean prior to start of school year
  Graphic of Checkmark Deep-clean during holiday break
  Graphic of Checkmark Scrub-clean twice yearly

Hard Surfaces

  Graphic of Checkmark Shake floor mats in entryways
  Graphic of Checkmark Dry-mop daily
  Graphic of Checkmark Apply spot remover as needed
  Graphic of Checkmark Wet-mop three times/week
  Graphic of Checkmark Spray-burnish every other week
  Graphic of Checkmark Strip and finish yearly

Although carpets help to protect floors, they are difficult to keep clean. They collect dirt and pesticides, and incubate fungi and bacteria when moisture gets trapped. Adhesive backing can also give off harmful fumes. (Some new school buildings are being constructed without carpets to alleviate these health concerns.) If, however, the floor-covering inventory includes carpet, then provisions must be made for proper cleaning. A hot-water extractor should be available at each school and used weekly to remove stains and dirt. Carpets should be steam-cleaned annually with a professional-quality steam cleaner that generates water at least 140°F and an extraction capability of 60 pounds per square inch. Note, however, that carpets must be dried within 24 hours of wet-cleaning to prevent mold from growing. Carpet bonnets, which attach over a buffer wheel, should never be used because they damage carpets. Larger districts should have in-house staff who are capable of repairing buffers, vacuum cleaners, and other types of carpet-cleaning equipment. Equipment manufacturers will advise customers about training repair people and obtaining replacement parts.

For more information about recommended carpet and rug care, visit the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) at The CRI also has a site that focuses on carpet use in schools, including such topics as indoor air quality, allergies, and carpet selection, installation, and care at

Gym Floors - Gym floors are generally constructed with vinyl composition tile (VCT), one of several grades of maple flooring, sheet rubber, or other synthetic materials. Regardless, all floor types must be kept clean and properly maintained. VCT floors must be periodically stripped and re-waxed to ensure a safe surface. Wood floors require annual screening and resealing with a water-based sealant. They should also be sanded, re-marked, and resealed in their entirety every 10 years. Synthetic floors (including sheet rubber but excluding asbestos tile) require monthly cleaning and scrubbing with buffers.

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems - All schools require HVAC systems to control indoor climate if they are to provide an environment that is conducive to learning. In fact, oftentimes a district's ability to convene classes depends on acceptable climate control. If the air conditioning is broken on a 90ºF day or the heating system is malfunctioning on a 30ºF day, school gets canceled. It’s as simple as that. Different regions of the country may place emphasis on different elements of the HVAC system, but the bottom line is the same: HVAC components must be maintained on a timely and routine basis. This preventive maintenance will ensure reliability, reduce operating costs, and increase the life expectancy of the equipment.

Two effective ways to improve HVAC performance are through air balancing and water balancing. Air balancing ensures that the desired amount of air reaches each space in the building, as specified in the mechanical plans. Water balancing ensures that the flow of water from the chiller and boiler is in accordance with the mechanical plans. Water balancing is normally performed before air balancing. Balancing is usually conducted upon installation of new equipment and at 5- to 8-year intervals. Balancing should also be conducted when building space is substantially modified or room use is changed dramatically.

Image of School BusFor more information about HVAC systems, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' HVAC Page at, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles on HVAC systems, including geothermal heating systems, in school buildings.

Hot Water Heaters - Hot water heaters in schools range in size from small 10-gallon heaters to the larger 100- to 300-gallon units. Preventive maintenance programs must be established for each hot water heater. At a minimum, maintenance should include inspection for failing safety devices and leaks (especially if fired by natural gas).

Kitchens - Kitchens present special problems for school districts: not only must equipment be maintained properly to ensure reliability, but 1) a high state of cleanliness must be maintained in all food preparation areas; 2) the use of certain cleaning agents may be discouraged in food preparation areas; and 3) ovens and stoves pose special fire safety concerns. Floor surfaces are also of particular concern in kitchens since they must be easy to clean yet slip-resistant. Recommended floor surfaces for kitchens include terrazzo, vinyl composition tile (VCT), quarry tile, and sealed concrete. Kitchen equipment is a prime candidate for inclusion in a preventive maintenance program.

Painting - Painting should be done on a regular schedule that is published well in advance of work dates to minimize inconvenience to building occupants. Painting needs will be determined largely by the type of surface, the type of paint applied previously, and surface use (e.g., a window pane may be expected to receive less wear than a chair rail). A wall constructed of concrete masonry units (CMU) and painted with a two-part epoxy can last 8 or 10 years whereas drywall will require painting every 5 or 6 years. Bathrooms, special education areas, and other high-traffic areas will require painting on a more frequent schedule. A durable, cleanable (i.e., able to be cleaned by the custodial staff with their standard tools), paint from a major manufacturer should be used for indoor areas. Water-based latex paints are a good choice because they are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and do not produce noticeable odors. Surfaces must be properly prepared for painting, which may require the use of a primer to cover stains and discolored patches.

Plumbing - Like other major building components, plumbing should be included in the preventive maintenance program. Sprinkler systems, water fountains, sump pumps, lift pumps, steam traps, expansion joints, and drains are likely targets for preventive maintenance. Standing water must be avoided at all costs since it damages building materials and can lead to mold concerns that affect indoor air quality.

Public Address Systems and Intercoms - These communications tools are vital to the management of school buildings and, in an emergency, the safety of building occupants. Public address (PA) systems must be connected to the emergency power system to ensure uninterrupted communications in the event of a power failure. Public address systems and intercoms should be tested on a daily basis during the broadcast of a school's morning announcements. If broadcast systems fail to perform properly, they must be repaired immediately.

Roof Repairs - Roofs should be included in a preventive maintenance program and inspected on a regular schedule. The key to maintaining good roofs is the timely removal of water from the surface and substructure of the roof. Thus, all leaks and damaged tiles must be repaired as soon as possible to prevent water damage and mold growth. On composition built-up roofs, hot tar is the only appropriate repair method. Single-ply and modified roofs should be repaired in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Staff should read carefully all warranties issued with new roofs to ensure that required maintenance is conducted according to specification so as to avoid invalidating the warranty protections. For example, failing to inspect or repair a roof on an annual basis (and document such efforts) may be considered justification for a manufacturer invalidating a warranty.

The facility manager must verify the annual assessment of each roof within the district, recording the date of installation, type of roof, type and thickness of insulation, type of drainage, and type and frequency of repair work. Detailed drawings or photographs that show the location of repairs should be maintained, as should contact information for the installing contractor. This information is extremely important in the event of a major roofing problem or an insurance or warranty claim. Whatever type of roof is selected, it should be installed by a reputable (and bonded) roofer and should include a non-prorated warranty.

Image of School BusFor more information about roof repairs, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' Roof Repair Page at, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles discussing maximizing the life cycle performance of school roofs, as well as roof inspection strategies, scheduling, documentation, and repair resources.

Water Softeners - Water softeners are often used in hot water lines in those regions of the country where the water has a high concentrate of calcium. Water softeners remove the calcium from the water, which prolongs the life of dishwashers and other kitchen equipment.

Schools are subject to federal regulations, state law, local law, district policy and, hopefully, good, old-fashioned common sense. While these guidelines cite relevant federal regulations they cannot fully describe the wide range of individual state, local, and district-level regulations, many of which vary considerably between jurisdictions. For more information about federal and state regulations, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Links to EPA Regional Office and State Environmental Departments web page at

Establishing Expectations for Custodial Efforts

Planners, administrators, and community members must agree on what constitutes "cleanliness." While there is not a nationwide standard for describing standards of cleanliness, a five-tiered system of expectations is emerging to help guide decision-making:

Level 1 cleaning results in a "spotless" building, as might normally be found in a hospital environment or corporate suite. At this level, a custodian with proper supplies and tools can clean approximately 10,000 to 11,000 square feet in an 8-hour period.

Level 2 cleaning is the uppermost standard for most school cleaning, and is generally reserved for restrooms, special education areas, kindergarten areas, or food service areas. A custodian can clean approximately 18,000 to 20,000 square feet in an 8-hour shift.

Level 3 cleaning is the norm for most school facilities. It is acceptable to most stakeholders and does not pose any health issues. A custodian can clean approximately 28,000 to 31,000 square feet in 8 hours.

Level 4 cleaning is not normally acceptable in a school environment. Classrooms would be cleaned every other day, carpets would be vacuumed every third day, and dusting would occur once a month. At this level, a custodian can clean 45,000 to 50,000 square feet in 8 hours.

Level 5 cleaning can very rapidly lead to an unhealthy situation. Trash cans might be emptied and carpets vacuumed on a weekly basis. One custodian can clean 85,000 to 90,000 square feet in an 8-hour period.

The figures above are estimates. The actual number of square feet per shift a custodian can clean will depend on additional variables, including the type of flooring, wall covers, and number of windows, all of which must be taken
into account when determining workload expectations.