A Team Process

For years, architects, designers and engineers have been hired to design and build school facilities with little input from those who actually take care of those buildings. Often, committees that are formed to give input to the building-design professionals on construction preferences and specifications consist of administrators and faculty, and the maintenance department has little, if any, voice.

There are some forward-looking institutions that have encouraged the maintenance department to provide input during the construction process. Involving maintenance personnel in all aspects of design and construction will lead to a building that functions better mechanically, as well as educationally.

A comprehensive plan Maintenance-department involvement in the construction or renovation of a school is more than just having employees and foremen attend meetings in the planning stages. It includes a multifaceted plan that starts before constructions begins.

In the planning stage, the following maintenance disciplines should be involved in building design from the beginning: -Maintenance management. -Electrical. -Electronic. -HVAC. -Plumbing. -Carpentry (someone with experience in glazing and locksmithing). -Grounds. -Custodial services.

In some organizations, a physical-plant manager may be able to represent all these functions, but with ever-advancing technical systems, the more people who review the plans the better.

However, this approach is not helpful if the ideas are not taken seriously by the architects or designers. For example, a well-designed teaching station suggested by someone from an educational department will be of little value if it is hard to heat or cool, has poor lighting or is impossible to clean.

Positive effects This approach can be beneficial to the design team in different ways. Maintenance employees often experience difficulties with facility-design flaws that are hard to imagine before the construction takes place. While planning professionals may have years of training and experience in building schools, they are not the ones who have to crawl from one end of a building to another in a 3-foot-square tunnel to repair a steam trap. Maintenance employees can recognize these types of problems quickly, and it is much easier to fix them at the design stage than after the building is constructed.

In terms of materials and equipment, maintenance employees may have strong opinions about what works best and lasts longest. Overlooking this input can prove to be costly.

When construction begins, weekly inspections by committee members from the physical-plant department can lead to a facility that will have fewer problems in its lifetime. Designers often argue against this because they already have institutional or state inspectors that handle this process. However, after a building is completed, maintenance technicians often are handed a set of plans and told that the building has been built exactly by those documents.

Whether these documents are original architectural plans or as-builts, they are seldom completely accurate. For instance, power lines, heating ducts and water lines often are cut in by the actual workers for reasons of expediency. While installed according to code, these changes may not appear on the plans. The detailed inspection process will give the maintenance team a familiarity with the building that they can never achieve once the plasterboard is up and the ceiling tile is hung.

Final steps Having these meetings and inspections throughout the entire process also can build a solid liaison between the maintenance crew, and managers and workers on the construction team. This can be invaluable if problems or questions arise later.

Building or refurbishing a facility is a team process, with team members consisting of those from all disciplines and areas of interest. For long-lasting and efficient building operations, more voices need to be heard and heeded.

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