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Roey joins Steve Schuster, Associate Editor, to discuss his school system's recently implemented employee-driven preventive maintenance program
Executive Director of Facilities Planning and Management,
Howard County Public School System
1. Please describe your employee-driven preventive maintenance program.
The largest piece of our building maintenance efforts has historically been devoted to maintaining HVAC systems within our schools. Despite repeated attempts to improve, customers continued to single out inconsistent temperatures within buildings as a problem. About three years ago, we started meeting with our employee stakeholders to identify the root causes of these issues and potential countermeasures.
What we found was that we were neglecting our preventive maintenance (PM) in favor of what we perceived was important to the customer — reacting to failures. Our employees, with support from management, decided to redesign the service process, creating an internal HVAC retrocommissioning team from existing resources and creating standardized and expanded PM task lists for our technicians to use. Employees are now encouraged to remain focused on PM tasks, and managers work directly with customers to address immediate concerns. Our PM to reactive maintenance has shifted from 30/70 to 60/40 and is continuing to improve. Most importantly, our customer satisfaction ratings are higher than ever.
2. Maintenance calls have decreased by 50 percent or more at several of your schools. How would you account for this improvement?
Our PM program has expanded significantly. Some examples of how this has reduced service calls include:
* Our chillers typically have at least two compressor motors. Previously, we would allow them to run to failure, versus checking them on a quarterly basis and replacing them prior to total system failure.
* Most of our control systems are now have direct digital controls (DDC), which allow remote monitoring of temperatures in our buildings. We have invested significantly in training for our technicians, enabling them to use the full capability of these systems and allowing them to identify issues prior to the customer having to place a work order for correction.
* Our retrocommissioning team spends up to two months in a single school and checks every piece of HVAC equipment, including terminal distribution units, such as variable air volume (VAV) boxes, resetting the system to new construction baseline conditions. In some cases, staff members in those buildings have stopped our technicians in the halls, thanking them for improving the instructional environment in their classrooms.
In addition, we have provided access to temperature sensors and trained our custodial staff in the use of this equipment, allowing them to provide direct feedback to staff. In many cases, the temperatures of the classrooms are actually within normal parameters. Service calls to our HVAC department are eliminated, and our customers appreciate the immediate feedback.
3. Your department's operating budget was reduced by $2.6 million over the last three years. To what do you attribute the reduction?
Most of those reductions can be attributed to improved energy habits within our schools and a focused effort within our maintenance department to reduce energy usage. Our energy management specialist has worked closely with the science and gifted and talented program instructional coordinators to promote energy awareness within our schools. We routinely provide energy data to school administration and promote sustainable habits.
As a result, over 50 percent of our schools are now certified as Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education Green Schools, and one of our schools was one of the first in the country to receive the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award. In addition to our PM program, we are using tools such as DDC software and digital electrical meters to identify abnormal equipment run patterns. By reducing unnecessary equipment run times, we have been able to reduce energy consumption, reduce wear on mechanical equipment, and improve customer satisfaction. We’ve used a variety of energy-reduction strategies, including summer curtailments, remote sensors, geothermal systems, and aggressive pursuit of rebates.
Finally, we are continuing to pursue process improvements resulting in reduced operating costs through the application of Lean methodology throughout the
organization. Our ability to consistently produce savings over the last three years has allowed the school system to strategically reinvest those dollars elsewhere in the budget.
4. As the first K-12 school system to achieve Green Seal 42 certification, how does this fit into your overall employee-driven maintenance program?
Goal Two of our school system's strategic plan is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for our students. Providing a clean and comfortable classroom is critical to creating that nurturing environment. Our parents want to know that they are sending their children into a healthy environment, both in terms of cleanliness and indoor environmental air quality. If the filters and condensing coils are dirty, the potential for microbiological growth is greatly increased.
Likewise, poorly tuned HVAC systems can result in high levels of humidity or elevated temperatures, which detracts from the learning environment and can lead to or aggravate existing health issues. Our employees are very proud that their efforts are directly contributing to the education of our next generation of leaders.
5. What changes to your maintenance program do you expect to make that will further benefit your district’s bottom line?
We are committed to continuing our Lean journey and finding ways to better engage the workforce. Our folks want to know that we are willing to trust them and remove barriers to their success, no matter how painful to management. We are currently in the pilot stage of moving to a true team-cleaning process in our schools. Many school districts team clean during the summer or on extended breaks, but relatively few are able to do it year-round without compromising service levels. By engaging the custodial teams up front and incorporating their ideas and feedback, we hope to have a successful rollout this school year.
We are continuing to look for ways to collaborate with our county government to find efficiencies. Over the last several years, we have worked together in multiple areas ranging from use of common purchasing vehicles, joint administrative and maintenance facilities, to joint technology use resulting in savings or cost avoidance of $3-5 million annually. Erasing institutional boundaries requires a change in government culture and habits, and it begins with communication and the open exchange of thoughts and ideas. There are still many improvements that can be made in operations between Howard County government and the school system, and those involved are committed to continued dialogue and cooperation.