Grounds Management: Making Cost-Effective Equipment Purchases
No specification process is without challenges.
McManus says his biggest challenge is to make cost-effective equipment decisions that tie the department to a larger mission within the university: helping recruit students to the university by ensuring the aesthetic appeal of the campus.
"You've got to tie (the purchase request) to the vision of the university," he says, adding that spending discussions often include a tough question for him: "Why should landscape (services) get a certain amount of money? They just mow lawns."
One item McManus negotiates with the manufacturer before purchase is a piece of equipment's guaranteed replacement value, which ensures the department knows the equipment's value when the time comes to trade it in.
"Most people are so worried about upfront cost that they don't think to consider this."
State contracts and other types of pre-negotiated pricing also can create challenges for managers. For example, if a piece of large equipment is on the state's list of approved contracts, McManus can approve it, but "if it's more than $40,000, I send it up to my boss," the vice chancellor of finance and administration. The case he must make in purchasing such equipment — such as when the university added three new properties — is to prove the equipment purchase is a more efficient move than adding staff.
As is the case with many public institutions, state policy bars Hostick from financing equipment using external sources, and he cannot buy used equipment. Instead, he uses equipment-specific prices the state has pre-negotiated with manufacturers.
To request a piece of equipment not on the state's list, Hostick says he must go through a much more elaborate process to gain approval.
Long-range planning can help managers avoid many of these challenges.
"If I think I'm going to need a certain piece of equipment that is two-three years out, I'll give my boss a heads up," McManus says. "That way, he's not surprised. Our bosses don't like to be surprised. It shows we're thinking and planning ahead and not just flying by the seat of our pants."