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.