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Planning for Higher Education Journal

How Alamo Colleges Expanded its Facilities Maintenance Budget

A Data-Driven Approach to Asset Management Provided the Strategy
Journal Cover
From Volume 47 Number 3 | April–June 2019
By Kyle LeBlanc

Managing a facility inventory can be frustrating, particularly when it seems like money to properly maintain your buildings is scarce. Tracking and communicating facilities data to stakeholders can make all the difference for both annual maintenance and capital expenditures. For Alamo Colleges, it resulted in $17 million more for maintenance funding over 10 years, and the passing of a $450 million-bond program. This article explains how to conduct a comprehensive facility condition assessment, use the data from that assessment to identify needs, and then communicate those needs to stakeholders in a convincing way.

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Introduction

San Antonio, Texas, is the home of a vibrant and diverse community, growing population, and rich cultural heritage. The city recently celebrated its tricentennial, a milestone matched by few cities in the United States. The city’s bustling business climate, recreation opportunities, tourism trade, professional sports activities, and education system are the envy of many.

The Alamo Colleges, whose namesake is one of the most iconic structures in Texas history, also calls San Antonio home. Founded in 1945 when St. Philip’s College and San Antonio Junior College formed the San Antonio Union Junior College District, the college system now includes five colleges throughout the greater San Antonio area:

  • San Antonio College, established in 1925
  • St. Philip’s College, established in 1898
  • Palo Alto College, established in 1983
  • Northwest Vista College, established in 1995
  • Northeast Lakeview College, established in 2007

More than 55,000 students come to the colleges annually to earn associate degrees and credits to transfer into four-year universities. Serving such a large student population requires a large inventory of facilities. Responsibility for those facilities falls on the Alamo Colleges facilities and construction management department, which oversees construction management, maintenance, and operations for more than 5 million square feet of facilities.

To manage such a massive and widespread facility inventory, Alamo Colleges, in 2011, started using a data-driven facilities management and planning approach to meet its annual and capital needs. The approach led to a threefold increase in the annual maintenance budget over a five-year period, starting in 2011 and later aligning with the passage of a $450 million-bond program in 2017.

To manage such a massive campus, Alamo Colleges, in 2011, started using a data-driven facilities management and planning approach to meet its annual and capital needs.

“Without data, we can’t justify our budgets,” says John Strybos, vice chancellor of facilities, planning, and construction for Alamo Colleges. “Data is the basis for everything that we do.”

Facilities Asset Management

Using the principles of asset management, Alamo Colleges changed its approach to facility portfolio management. Those principles provided Alamo Colleges the strategy to manage, fund, and communicate facility inventory needs through seven specific questions:

  1. What do we have?
  2. What is it worth?
  3. What is its condition?
  4. What do we need to take action?
  5. When do we need to take action?
  6. How much will it cost?
  7. How will we finance it?

Those questions can be broadly grouped into three specific phases:

Phase 1: Assessment

The first phase in understanding an inventory of assets is through a comprehensive facilities condition assessment. In 2011, seven years had passed since Alamo Colleges had performed a facility condition assessment.

“We performed a facility condition assessment in 2004 to prepare for the 2005 bond,” says Strybos. “Once we did that assessment, it became a data point in time because we didn’t update it. A few years later, we didn’t know what assets we had or what condition they were in; we realized that we had to start over. Our budgets kept getting smaller, and we couldn’t explain why we needed more money. We needed a current assessment.”

The facilities condition assessment helped Alamo Colleges answer the first three questions:

  1. What do we have?
  2. What is it worth?
  3. What is its condition?

During that process, Alamo Colleges considered several key factors, including:

  • Selecting a professional services firm that could provide the specific assistance that would fit the purpose and intent of the facility condition assessment process
  • Selecting a customized software tool
  • Collecting reliable, consistent, up-to-date facility data that would help to determine the facility portfolio needs and budget for years to come

Firm Selection

When identifying the right firm to perform the facility condition assessment, several questions were considered during the selection process. They included:

  • Does the firm have the relevant experience in facility condition assessment work?
  • Do the firm’s staff members have professional qualifications that relate to the assessment work?
  • Has the firm performed facility condition assessments of similar size and scope?
  • Will the firm be able to collect data in a way that lends itself to long-range planning?
  • Is the firm able to speak to industry-standard terms such as the facility condition index (FCI)?

Sidebar

Project Tip

When planning a facility condition assessment and employing a consultant, don’t overlook the inherent value brought by in-house staff. Institutional knowledge is critical in understanding the conditions of facilities and building systems. If time and budget allow, aligning knowledgeable staff with the facility condition assessment team is well worth the investment.

After considering those questions, in 2011, Alamo Colleges selected Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN) to perform the comprehensive facility condition assessment. With a team of architects, engineers, and construction professionals that had years of experience in the building industry, LAN started collecting the data.

With more than 5 million square feet of facilities spread across numerous campuses throughout San Antonio, Alamo Colleges and LAN used a phased approach to implement the assessment. Each of the five main campuses was divided into two or three geographic sections and by building size and quantity for a manageable approach to data collection. The assessment teams collected the data for each phase over a week-long period in the field and returned to the office for data input and processing.

Software Selection

To capture that much information, Alamo Colleges needed a software tool that would serve as a data repository for information on more than 200 facilities. The project team chose VFA.facility, an Accruent product that would help gather data about the conditions of the facilities. Using that software tool, Alamo Colleges also wanted to:

  • Provide itemized costs for individual deficiencies
  • Prioritize needs by facility
  • Include soft costs as a separate identifiable element
  • Compile information that would allow for multiple scenario analysis
  • Provide annual and long-term funding options and cost projections

Data Collection

Right from the outset, the goal of Alamo Colleges was to collect data in such a way that would enable an annual, recurring approach to facilities inventory management. To that end, Alamo Colleges began by establishing an inventory of facility information; more specifically, the facilities were broken down into their parts (or building systems).

In most cases, Alamo Colleges provided CAD floor plans of the building inventory to LAN. Those floor plans helped the project team become familiar with the buildings before on-site assessment. During field visits, assessors collected building system information such as material quantities, installation dates, condition, and estimated remaining life. Data collected through visual observation and notes were taken for post-processing. Digital photos were also collected to identify specific facilities and their respective building systems for future use. The level of detail collected allowed for long-term planning. Installation dates provided a projected timeframe regarding building renewal or replacement. Knowing that information enabled the college administrators to anticipate fiscal implications of maintaining the facilities.

To understand the building conditions and the overall portfolio, Alamo Colleges used the Facility Condition Index (FCI). The FCI is a benchmark metric used to analyze facility improvement investments. The industry-standard metric is commonly used as the primary quality indicator of a facility’s condition. Fluctuations can occur annually based on aging systems, building needs, and completed improvements to a facility portfolio.

An FCI of zero suggests a facility has no needs or no deferred maintenance. Given the nature of facility operation, that zero number generally indicates a newly commissioned building. Alternatively, an index greater than 1.0 (or 100 percent) indicates that addressing a facility’s requirements calls for a greater capital investment than constructing a new facility with similar features.

Alamo Colleges tracked the FCI score annually to understand the condition of the individual facilities, at each campus, and holistically for the entire portfolio. Changes over the years since the initial facility condition assessment was conducted indicated a growing backlog of costs to address building system renewal needs. Cost data for the Alamo Colleges inventory were based on an industry standard that was localized to the San Antonio market. Using that standardized approach ensured consistency in the cost-estimation process.

Phase 2: Planning

After assessing the facilities in terms of quantity, worth, and condition, Alamo Colleges began a planning process to address the next three questions of asset management:

  1. What do we need in order to take action?
  2. When do we need to take action?
  3. How much will it cost?

During the planning process, stakeholder involvement was critical. Reporting metrics cannot become a substitute for stakeholder-based decisions. The FCI and other data-driven information would help stakeholders understand the state of the facilities; however, the decision to renovate, replace, or sell a facility required input, communication, and feedback from stakeholders. Alamo Colleges’ stakeholders ranged from facilities superintendents at each campus to user groups such as students, faculty, staff, and college presidents. By holding recurring meetings with those user groups and through constant communication, Strybos and his team worked to find the middle ground.

Sidebar

Beyond FCI

What are other valuable data-centric measures that could help drive facility decisions?

Determining where time and money is being spent by tracking time sheet and building energy usage is the next step in data analysis.

  1. Using employee time sheets to track the amount of time spent on certain tasks could help facility managers understand which buildings require more maintenance and attention.
  2. Tracking utility data through energy and power used at certain buildings will help identify which facilities are efficient and which are expensive to operate.

Combining this information with facility condition data will help facility managers make more informed decisions.

“Discussions and decisions about projects must balance time and money, but they must also ensure the end user is happy with the final product,” says Strybos.

Based on the planning process, Alamo Colleges grouped its facility needs into two categories:

  • Short-term needs: Those comprised yearly preventive maintenance activities such as minor building renovations or additions, roof replacements, or building demolitions. The annual projects ranged from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Capital projects: Projects that required multi-million-dollar investments through a capital improvements plan (CIP) fell under that category. Many factors played into the CIP funding request, which will be covered in the following section (Phase 3). Those projects were substantial enough to exceed the annual preventive maintenance budgets.

The Koehler Cultural Center, built in 1901, by Otto Koehler. Photograph courtesy of LAN.

Phase 3: Funding

The third and final phase of the asset management process hinged on funding. Without a source of funding, many (if not all) of the plans and projects identified in the planning phase would have to be deferred. Funding for facility projects typically falls into one of two categories: annual funding or CIP.

Annual Funding

Efforts by Alamo Colleges to increase the annual budget to fund preventive maintenance took place over a 10-year period. In 2008, the facilities department had a meager $1.3 million annual budget to maintain a portfolio of more than 4 million square feet. That would be like having only $198 for a year to spend on repairs for your house that was worth $100,000. That was not much of a budget at all.

In 2011, using the data collected during the facility condition assessment process, the facilities department began emphasizing the importance of increasing the annual preventive maintenance funding. Through annual updates to the board of trustees and college presidents, around two narratives, the department explained the existing state of the facilities and their projected needs:

  • Funding scenarios versus the effect on the FCI: Using the facility condition data, the department showed the current and projected FCI scores for the facility portfolio. In addition, the team shared different funding options and scenarios to help decision makers understand the annual FCI forecast. Communicating those scenarios with stakeholders helped drive home the need to increase the annual maintenance budget.
  • Facility age and its relation to anticipated renewal needs: Alamo Colleges’ facility portfolio ranges from facilities that are historical in nature to the most recent construction. In 10 years, more than 50 percent of the building square footage would range in age from 10 to 24 years old. Using the data, the department communicated to stakeholders the need to consider the age of the facilities, which facilities required attention over the next 10 years, and the corresponding funding that should be allocated.

Capital Improvements Plan

For Alamo Colleges, annual funding of specific projects could only be stretched so far. While a CIP was on the minds of administrators, college presidents, and facilities staff, it wasn’t until May 2017 that the time was right to offer the plan to voters for their consideration.

“We began working with the colleges and the board on the planning process as early as 2007,” says Strybos. “Since then, we have updated our campus master plans, performed the facility condition assessment, and completed our space programming and planning. We have been driving the process for a long time.”

In most cases, CIP initiatives depend on several supporting reasons. For Alamo Colleges, the need was based on the projected growth in enrollment and specific facility projects identified in the CIP process over the years.

Growth

Texas is projected to grow at a record pace, especially in the region between Austin and San Antonio. As the city and the surrounding population grows, the enrollment of the Alamo Colleges is projected to follow suit. Between 2020 and 2030, the enrollment is projected to increase by more than 20 percent to over 95,000 students. To accommodate that growth, new facilities and substantial building renovations would be needed.

The Redbud Learning Center is one of the 12 primary facilities on the Northwest Vista College campus. Photograph courtesy of LAN.

The Scobee Education Center serves as an educational and architectural showpiece on the San Antonio College campus. Photograph courtesy of LAN.

Identifying Projects and Building Consensus

The list of projects included in the 2017 bond was based on years of consideration. Some of the key decision-making criteria when identifying projects included the FCI score, facility age, total funding needs, and facility function.

Some of the key decision-making criteria when identifying projects included the FCI score, facility age, total funding needs, and facility function.

“Identifying the amount of bond funds needed was as much of an exercise in finance as it was in project planning,” says Strybos. “The $450 million-bond amount would not require a property tax increase for the taxpayers, so the top end was effectively set. For years leading up to the bond program, we kept a running list of capital projects based on input from each of the colleges and the data-driven facility condition metrics.”

The list of CIP projects was refined leading up to the May 2017 election through community presentations and planning sessions. Annual presentations that helped identify the need for funding were also critical in building awareness for CIP projects. For example, a graphic that identified the top 36 facilities in the worst condition, as was measured by FCI, played a key role in building that awareness.

In the weeks prior to the May 2017 vote, Alamo Colleges continued its stakeholder engagement. That effort helped build consensus regarding various facility needs. As the planning process for the bond ramped up, the board of trustees identified the need to receive input from citizens within the community. Consequently, the board established a citizen’s bond committee to review and recommend projects. The committee visited each campus to understand the needs that would be addressed by the bond. In January 2017, the committee made its recommendations to the board, which helped finalize the list of projects.

Conclusion

In May 2017, an overwhelming majority of Bexar County voters supported the $450 million-bond program by a two-to-one vote. The bond provided funds to improve infrastructure, redevelop interiors and exteriors, and repurpose many of Alamo Colleges’ facilities. The bond also funded new Workforce Centers of Excellence, allowing Alamo Colleges to serve more students, residents, and businesses than ever before. The bond would also be used to improve technology across the district.

With the implementation of the bond program underway, a citizen’s oversight committee has been reviewing the work progress. Going forward, Alamo Colleges plans to update the facility conditions database to show how conditions have improved at specific buildings that were targeted as bond projects.

“To realize the full value of the facility condition assessment, we need to treat it as a living document,” says Strybos. “We review the changing conditions of our portfolio annually and anticipate future plans. The larger bond projects will have a positive impact on our overall FCI.”

Strybos notes that every dollar that they can save is a dollar that stays in the Alamo Colleges budget to educate students. “It’s one less dollar that we need for tuition from taxpayers,” he says.

By changing its mindset and taking a proactive, data-driven approach to facilities asset management, Alamo Colleges took a big step toward meeting its annual and capital needs. Doing so has allowed Alamo Colleges to focus on what it does best—achieving the highest level of student success and performance excellence.

Author Biography

Kyle LeBlanc, P.E., CFM, LEED GA, is a project manager at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN), a national planning, engineering, and program management firm. He leads many of LAN’s facility condition assessment efforts. LeBlanc, as a LEED green associate and as an engineer with a degree in civil engineering and as a certified facility manager through IFMA, also has experience in construction management within the educational program management sector.