When budgets are tight — and when aren't they in education? — administrators have to find ways to provide and maintain facilities without draining their budgets. Fortunately, advancements in technology, new ideas in construction and design, and savvy management strategies are available that enable schools and universities to spend their money more wisely and efficiently.

Here are 10 ways that administrators can try to accomplish more with the resources they have:

Facility assessment

An education institution, especially one with many facilities spread across numerous sites, will have to deal with countless requests for repairs, maintenance and equipment upgrades. But how is a facility manager supposed to choose whether a request is legitimate and which projects get priority? Without a system in place, those with the most political clout or who make the most noise may be able to nudge their requests to the top of the list. How schools handle facility repairs and upgrades becomes more critical as buildings age.

Many institutions have begun monitoring the condition of their facilities more closely so officials can make wiser decisions about repairs and upkeep. A detailed facilities audit provides valuable information about the age and condition of a campus infrastructure and helps administrators identify the greatest facility needs and allocate their budget accordingly.

“It helps us prioritize projects, so that we are spending money on the right things,” says Steve Kraal, vice president for facilities management at the University of Texas at Austin.

With the data provided in a facilities assessment, Kraal says, the university may decide that instead of “patching” a problem — recaulking a building's leaking windows, for instance — it might be more cost-effective in the long run to fix the problem and replace the windows with a more efficient model.

Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS)

Technology allows schools to monitor their maintenance practices more closely, and identify and respond to problems more efficiently.

Tom Perry, director of engineering services for Shawmut Construction and Design, says that when his company completes a facility and turns the building over to the owner, it provides detailed information about the structure, the equipment and the maintenance needs.

But the volume of information can be overwhelming, and building owners may not be able to absorb it all. Items fall through the cracks, equipment that needs regular maintenance is neglected, and systems fail.

One answer, Perry says, is including a CMMS as part of the construction package. The system tells facilities managers what is included in the building and when maintenance will be required.

“We introduce it at the construction stage,” he says, “so they have it from day one when we turn over the keys. It can spit out preventive-maintenance work orders, and gets the owners off on the right foot.”

Commissioning

Once construction of a school facility is completed, the construction team turns over the building to school officials. But is the finished product what the customer ordered?

Commissioning is a method schools and contractors use to make sure that all of a building's systems are performing as intended. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Best Practices Manual for Building High-Performance Schools says commissioning typically involves four phases — pre-design, design, construction and warranty. Frequent communication helps identify and resolve problems throughout the project's life.

“A properly commissioned school can result in fewer change orders during the construction process, fewer callbacks, long-term occupant satisfaction, lower energy bills and avoided equipment-replacement costs,” the manual says.

The manual identifies several benefits from building commissioning: proper and efficient equipment operation; improved coordination between design, construction and occupancy; improved indoor air quality, occupational comfort and productivity; decreased potential for liability related to indoor air quality or other HVAC problems; and reduced operation and maintenance costs.