Facility Maintenance Decisions

Maintenance as Reality Check

Managers' in-depth knowledge of facilities, systems and operations can help planners deliver renovations that perform as intended

By Renee L. Shroades   Maintenance & Operations

Renovations are challenging in any type of facility. But in commercial buildings, these projects often present unique obstacles that include coordinating efforts with numerous groups, such as tenants and their corporate managers, as well as property owners.

Because so many diverse parties are involved in these types of renovations, “as much up-front planning as possible, as well as effective communication prior to the start of the project are two keys to success,” says Ken Prosser, vice president of operations and maintenance for CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), a real estate service company in El Segundo, Calif. The company maintains 384 million square feet of building space in North America. The facilities house retail, commercial office, industrial and utility operations for more than 200 organizations, including Bank of America and the McGraw-Hill companies.

An essential role in commercial renovations for maintenance and engineering managers in ensuring the final product is maintainable and performs as planners intended.

Get Involved Early

To ensure success, managers need to participate as early as possible in the planning stages. Much of a renovation’s success is determined by its basic design, says George Horn, supervisor of operations and maintenance at Chevron Real Estate Management’s Richmond (Calif.) Technical Center.

Knowledge of the building and its infrastructure is essential in developing those designs. For example, if a renovation involves restrooms, it is important to know if the building’s plumbing system can accommodate low-flow technology. So it is critical that managers meet with architects and designers to discuss these issues.

After establishing a basic design, planners specify equipment to match the design. Without involvement in these discussions, maintenance managers might end up overseeing equipment that is difficult to maintain.

“Anything that our design and construction group does, maintenance will eventually inherit,” Horn says. “So maintenance managers need make sure they are involved in the project before the work begins.”

As planning progresses, incorporating changes often becomes more difficult because project team members tend to be less accepting of changes to the design. And if they already have made purchase decisions, the project becomes still more costly.

“There are times when plans are well underway, and we can’t make some necessary changes without it being painful,” says Lou Cohen, CBRE’s senior facility manager in Columbus, Ohio. He oversees the daily maintenance of six facilities. When several parties are involved in a project, and changes are numerous, finalizing the plan often takes longer than expected.

“Getting approval from everyone involved in a renovation project could take a few months to a few years,” Cohen says. “Often, when the plans for the project are finally confirmed, the work must be done very quickly to meet deadlines.” Managers also should keep the occupants’ schedules in mind.

“We don’t want to start renovating a building when the tenant is working at their at peak season,” Cohen says.

Be Prepared

Architects and designers tend to focus most closely on their own thoughts and neglect to ask managers for their opinions. To prepare for planning discussions and ensure their suggestions are implemented, managers need to research the building’s history, understand tenant needs, make sure plans comply with building codes, and meet their departments’ long-term goals.

“Come in with strong data, come in early, and make sure the information you present is incorporated in the project,” Horn says.

Throughout the renovation, managers also cannot be afraid to say what they believe, says Lori Simmons, CBRE’s facility manager who oversees properties in Dubuque and St. Louis.

“If you have a concern, no matter how minor it is, you need to communicate that,” she says.

The best way to express concerns is to present clear, strong evidence that shows why a strategy will or won’t work, Horn says. Managers also should clarify their expectations, such as how much they plan to budget for maintenance costs related to particular items.

While managers need to be open to new materials and products, they also need to investigate those items to ensure they can meet performance and maintenance expectations. For example, designers might suggest installing exotic flooring, Horn says.

The Problem?

“When the project is done, your maintenance budget goes up 25 percent because you have to provide more janitorial or cleaning crews to maintain the new material.”

Setting Standards

Managers can help avoid costly renovations by establishing organization-wide standards that identify products and materials that have their approval before planning begins. Unfortunately, managers in commercial organizations often find it difficult to implement such standards.

“In a government setting, you can apply building standards much more stringently,” Horn says. “But when you work in a private sector, you find a lot of deviation because the plan is based on what the tenants want.”

If an organization has established product standards, managers should reevaluate them during the planning phase and update them as technology improves. In recent years, many manufacturers have introduced products designed to help organizations build healthier and more energy efficient buildings.

“Carpet was pretty much the same for a number of years, and lighting products began to stabilize,” he says. “But in the last five to seven years, there has been a rush of new products on the market.” Many manufacturers are responding to the growing popularity of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and green building movement.

“What you thought was a good solid standard some years ago is now passé,” he says.

To help ensure project success, Horn’s organization adopted a formal strategy for renovations. Each phase of the strategy includes a role for maintenance managers.

Facility executives discovered “that if they did projects on the fly, the success rate was not at the level they wanted to see, and the return on investment wasn’t anywhere near what they wanted to see,” he says. “They came up with this process to identify our goals in the projects. Each phase of the strategy features several steps, and managers can tailor it to fit the size of project they’re working on.”

Tenant Expectations

Meeting tenant expectations presents its own set of challenges in planning for renovations in commercial buildings.

“They want the renovation to go as fast as possible and disrupt their operations as little as possible,” Prosser says. While maintenance managers should try to meet tenant needs, they also should make certain their requests receive corporate approval.

“They might have design criteria that don’t fit into their corporate standards,” he says. For example, the corporate standard might be a 6-by-6-foot cubicle for a certain job position, but the individual holding that position might want a 6-by-8-foot cubicle.

“Tenants might tell you what they want and direct you in a direction that the parent doesn’t want,” Simmons says. Managers should continually communicate about requests tenants make throughout the process.

Sometimes, it is a challenge for tenants to understand why some decisions are made during renovations, Simmons says.

“For example, for safety reasons, we often have to move them to another part of the building temporarily while renovation work is taking place,” she says. They might complain because the transitional space is not ideal for their operations, but they need to remember that it is just temporary.

“When we move offices, we make sure that the space is ready so all they have to do is plug in their equipment and they can start working as soon as possible,” Simmons says.

The process of planning for commercial renovations can be a balancing act for managers. But renovation planning that includes clear communication and a thorough understanding of expectations also requires the insights of maintenance managers to ensure long-term success.

Cover-ups and Catastrophes

During renovations, organizations try to find the easiest solution to fix a problem. The easiest way, however, is not always the best way.

”There is a right way, a wrong way, and a half way of doing things,” says George Horn, supervisor of operations and maintenance at Chevron Real Estate Management’s Richmond (Calif.) Technical Center. “Doing something half way or putting a Band-Aid on it doesn’t resolve the problem. It doesn’t provide you with quality products because in time, you will have to go back and do it again.”

Horn recalls a renovation project he was involved in that took place in a building that had floor tiles with asbestos-containing material. The material was covered with a floor featuring 6-foot-wide strips. The seams on the top floor were hot-welded together.

“We discovered that the seams of this flooring had split,” Horn says. “Our flooring expert examined it and said he couldn’t fix the seams without pulling the floor below it, which has asbestos in it.”

Pulling up the flooring, getting rid of the asbestos-containing material, cleaning the area, and installing new flooring would have been the right thing to do.

“Then a project manager suggested putting a metal strip over each one of the seams,” he says. “It wasn’t the right thing to do, but management agreed because the project manager claimed his suggestion would save money and expedite the project.”

Six months later, problems arose with the metal strips, and the organization had to remove the strips along with the asbestos-containing floor.

“All the Band-Aid did was delay the inevitable,” Horn says. The temporary solutions also cost the organization more money than if the job had been done properly the first time.

”People have to look down the road and calculate the long-term affects of applying a Band-Aid on a problem versus doing the right thing now,” Horn says. “Don’t look at the costs of doing a project the right way today because, chances are, it is going to cost even more tomorrow.”

— Renee L. Shroades

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  posted on 2/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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