by F. Joshua Millman, AIA, CFM, LEED AP

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“I need you to tell me what I need to know but don’t know.” 

An age-old plea, and a consultant’s stock-in-trade.

In this case, Linda, a director of human resources who had I known slightly through my son’s school PTO, was scrambling to make sense of her newly added responsibilities for the company’s facilities.  An unexpected departure of the facility manager had stretched to a 4-month vacancy before Linda was designated, so there was no incumbent to show her the ropes.  Then, in her first month in the new position, a cracked water heater tank on the third floor had managed to flood the floors below over (of course) a long weekend.

I decided to respond in a similarly obtuse manner.  “We have an app for that.”  Quickly putting on my marketing cap, I explained to Linda that our Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) program was designed to address building conditions based on operational urgency. 

“What would be the most urgent?” she inquired.  I explained that the most urgent concern was actually the only part of the program that did not have a measurable return on investment, the one with which she had become most recently acquainted.

“You mean ‘shutdown’” Linda guessed. 

“Exactly,” I responded.  “Well, we call it the ‘Mission-Critical Assessment,’ and it deals exclusively with identifying significant operations risks from facility systems and nonconformance to government and industry codes and standards.”  In other words, those things that can bring operations to a halt and drop the stock price.  It’s the same type of assessment companies periodically undertake with their supply chain and IT systems.  For this assessment, we typically evaluate:

  • Integrity of the building envelope.
  • Indications of any building foundation and structural failure.
  • Condition and remaining useful life of major HVAC, utility, and electrical equipment.
  • Condition and remaining useful life and warrantee status of roof.
  • Emergency egress.
  • Handicapped accessibility.
  • Conformance to standards of OSHA, ISO, USDA, SQF, etc. as applicable.

“But that’s just the critical items, right?  There are other important building aspects I need to monitor as well, correct?” Linda queried.

“You’re right.  Our next tier is the ‘Maintenance Action Plan,’ or MAP,” I explained.  We refer to it as a five year GPS.  This is a comprehensive, systematic assessment of all building systems.  In addition to the items evaluated under the Mission Critical Assessment, we also address:

  • Building and site deficiencies.
  • Immediate actions and expenses to address deferred maintenance.
  • Future expenses to refurbish and later replace building systems.
  • Code issues that would affect future renovations.

The deliverable is a MAP that includes both the projected annual capital costs and maintenance expenses associated with completing the plan over the next five years.

Linda then correctly guessed that there is a third tier, which we have dubbed the “Performance Improvement Roadmap.” This is the transition from being concerned about a facility shutdown and preventive maintenance, to focusing on building performance and lowering the costs of building operations.  This tier is entirely keyed to return on investment.  It includes:

  • An ASHRAE Level 2 Energy Audit.
  • Verification of facility electrical load against rating/sizing of the electrical service panel to determine adequacy and capacity for future electrical loads.
  • Arc Flash study.
  • Recommended finish, lighting, BAS, and other upgrades with acceptable ROIs.

From her questions, Linda was evidently a great manager, and I knew she would soon to be a great facility manager.  I was looking forward to working together in her new capacity.  Once we initiated the FCA, I would suggest sensors she could relay to her smart phone that would not allow another weekend to go by with a serious water leak.