Facility Maintenance: avoiding “the Jenga effect”

By Sean Bondar, Managing Director, CGL/Kitchell Facility Management

We’ve all played Jenga – right? The game in which wood blocks are removed from a structure, until finally the loser removes the last block that causes the building falls to pieces?

While the Jenga comparison is a simple analogy, unfortunately too often building owners – whether institutional, government or private – take the “Jenga” approach to managing ongoing maintenance of a new project or existing facilities. This approach causes headache, deferred maintenance taxed resources and most unfortunately, can put the public at risk.

The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), suggests that $3.6 trillion is required to maintain public projects in the United States by 2020. This amount covers drinking water, wastewater, dams, bridges, roads, as well as public facilities such as schools, government buildings and publicly owned cultural destinations – you name it. It’s the burden we bear living in a civilized society.

President Obama recently proposed in his budget $40 billion for “Fix it First” projects – investments in highway repair, bridges, transit systems and airports. As a professional in the facility maintenance field, I can attest that this investment is vitally important to our country’s future, but also falls woefully short in addressing the total cost of ownership that so many institutional and public owners fail to address at the outset of landmark projects. Most unfortunately, many of the “Fix it First,” as the name implies, cover mission-critical improvements that need to happen as a result of deferred maintenance.

In my role, I am far from influencing public opinion or affecting national budget talks. But I can provide perspective to building owners in my little corner of the world, addressing considerations that affect the decision to build, maintain and operate public and commercial structures.

Normal/Routine Maintenance and repairs are often funded through annual budget cycles to help buildings and fixed equipment reach their originally anticipated life. Similarly, Planned or Programmed Maintenance covers painting, flood coating of roofs, overlays and seal coating of roads and parking lots, etc. Two other, very important facets, which are often not on the radar when it comes to total cost of ownership are predictive and preventive maintenance. Predictive Maintenance, critical in areas that live with the potential for natural disasters, covers routine maintenance, testing and inspection performed to anticipate failure using specific methods and equipment, such as vibration analysis, thermographs, x-ray or acoustic systems. Preventive Maintenance is a planned, controlled program intended to maximize the reliability, performance and lifecycle of building systems, equipment, etc.

In today’s world, we also need to consider external factors such as national security issues, high energy costs, the cost of non-compliance, inflation, political cycles and over or under-burdened staff in the overall cost of ownership. And if we don’t, we’ve created ideal conditions for project failure, inviting risk and a deferred maintenance crisis – or the Jenga effect. Preserving our country’s legacy of proud, solid infrastructure is not an inexpensive feat – but the better way to budget and plan is to be proactive, strategic and plan wisely.

The Big Room: where innovation comes out to play


In today’s construction and design world, building professionals grab their iPads and converge in “The Big Room,” where egos are parked at the door and creative and stimulating problem-solving happens. The intent is to “infill” (to use construction lingo) the great divide between design and construction, and it’s working.

While technology has streamlined construction and design into realms unimaginable just five years ago, nothing will ever replace the face-to-face interaction and “water cooler” conversations that inspire innovation and expedite problem-solving in construction projects.  Critical design-assist partners – such as those that represent the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and steel trades, among others – play a vital role in this collaborative effort. The goal is to address every aspect of a job, even ongoing facilities maintenance, drawing from a team’s expertise and opinions in the Big Room throughout the evolution of a project. This tactic instills, from the outset, “design memory” in those individuals critical to a successful outcome, similar to how children naturally master a second language when it’s spoken to them throughout their earliest years.

Kitchell is making great strides in collaboration, starting in the design phase, coming together at a high-profile hospital job in La Jolla. At the 10-story, 509,500-square-foot, UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, Kitchell and Cannon Design co-located in a Big Room during the design phase more than two years ago, five years before construction of the building will be finished.

The Big Room in this case represents a completely integrated team of high-level project directors working for the owner, contractor and designer, which report to a project “board of directors” comprised of the owner, architect, design team and key subcontractor representatives. While this protocol might seem complicated on paper, in practice it is quite efficient and a dramatic departure from traditional management, with equal representation among all stakeholders when a challenge arises.  The collective decision-making leads to expedient problem-solving and stronger relationships among the team, in turn making the project and our communications better.

“This process enables key subcontractors to be part of the design as it evolves and to assist in detailing connections and support for their work,” said Project Director Michael Wolfe. He specifically addressed the benefits of ongoing access to a shared Building Information Model (BIM) for 1) mechanical, engineering and plumbing disciplines, critically important in a hospital job; 2architectural disciplines (enabling virtual coordination of critical in-wall components) ; and 3) seismic considerations.

Collaboration and innovation are getting a boost in the Big Room as the new UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center rises from the ground. The culmination of this effort is a landmark project that is truly transforming the people, process and place of everyone involved.  A project that resulted in tremendous savings in time, angst and cost; and a creative, dynamic environment where workers learn from each other, are safe and enjoy going to work each day.