It’s Back-To-School Time. Are Your Educational Facilities Ready?

It’s Back-To-School Time. Are Your Educational Facilities Ready?

Speaking with a variety of Facility Management Professionals in the education industry yielded a detailed and varied checklist of to-do’s associated with bringing schools back to life for students, including preventive maintenance.

The University of Georgia’s Kim Thomas provided four great guides to getting started:

  • Engage your stakeholders and share your maintenance checklist and emergency response plan to let them know what you are doing with their safety in mind
  • Offer to host a community or stakeholder building walkthrough of targeted areas and answer any questions they may have
  • Post your facility management team's scope of routine work to level maintenance and safety expectations at the onset of the new school year
  • Ensure all HVAC, cleaning, and other facility checks are performed in a timely manner and target problems early so they don't become more serious issues later

Julie Brown from Johnson Controls believes that reopening buildings for students and staff requires several steps to ensure that schools have a safe and healthy building atmosphere.

Her recommendations include:

  • Ensure preventive maintenance inspections are up-to-date on all building systems
  • Ensure fire/life safety inspections are up-to-date per NFPA and other regulatory bodies, and equipment is performing properly
  • Perform systemic start-up procedures for mechanical equipment such as chillers
  • Flush out air and water systems and replace filters
  • Review sequences/schedules in security, building automation and lighting control systems
  • Initiate ventilation, filtration, humidification, and air cleaning strategies to control the risk of airborne infectious contaminants to building occupants
  • Validate access control settings and reinforce new policies for entering the building with additional visitor management processes/technologies
  • Evaluate communications systems for mass notification systems to support routine communications (weather, school opening delays, bus issues) and emergency preparedness communications. 

As a new school year kicks off, it’s important to be aware of some changes about refrigerator coolants coming in the HVAC world in 2023 and 2024, according to Samantha Howell, EMCOR Services Fagan.

R22 refrigerant is a chemical used in both air conditioners and heat pumps. Howell said that R22 is being phased out. Suppliers have been running on recycled stock and reserves are dwindling, so costs will likely rise. More information about R22.

Patty Smith, Cabrini University, had a couple of creative suggestions for college students returning to campus.

“As we prepare for our students to return, we reach out to our Residence Life staff to remind our students who reside on campus to remember to pack certain items such as small fans for their rooms, a snow shovel, and airtight containers for their snacks,” she said.

As part of their orientation goodie bags, the Cabrini facilities management team inserts small flashlights with the Facilities Student Portal address and computer screen wipes with the same information.  This helps keep the work requests flowing into the queue and minimizes phone calls.

Nancy Birch from Salisbury University also had a few great ideas about back-to-school operation and maintenance.

“It’s such a hectic time, especially with summer conferences leading right up to August when student athletes arrive early,” said Birch.  “August is always crunch time for all our Physical Plant departments; one department often following right behind the other to get our residence halls and classrooms ready for Freshman move in.”

Salisbury’s preparations begin as early as March for ordering necessary supplies for turn-over. Spring is also the time for procuring pre-scheduled contracted summer projects. During May Graduation weekend, Salisbury’s staff is working room-by-room checking and documenting room conditions.  These are either addressed on the spot or scheduled for specific trades groups to address over summer.

The week before August move-in, Salisbury’s room-by-room inspection happens all over again.  On Freshman move-in day, all their Facility Management Services employees are out in force, visible on campus, helping students move-in, tools ready, addressing any issues immediately.

Back-to-school transitions are exciting for students, parents, and staff. For facilities management teams who desire to deliver memorable and positive experiences for all, the work (and the rewards) demand responsiveness, creativity, and teamwork. Happy students equal a happy campus for all!

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