Mike LePostollec: Hi Elizabeth, thanks for chatting with me today. I understand you are working on a rather large on-site venture at the moment?
It’s my pleasure, Mike. Yes, right now I am working on a statewide facility condition assessment (FCA) program. In delivering this service, we meticulously monitor all elements of structures and relevant equipment to determine condition, code compliance, efficiency, life expectancy, as well as future repair and upgrade costs. This program encompasses an entire state’s worth of facilities to be examined, and I am required to be present at all of them to fully understand the needs of each space.
ML: What is your end goal when delivering FCA services like these to your clients?
To provide an impartial, objective analysis to the client. A detailed, timely and cost-efficient assessment can be a vital tool for the state to meet its high standards of accountability in spending public funds wisely.
ML: Have you worked on projects at this scale before?
I have worked with several state-sponsored programs before, yes. When working with any state entity, there is a lot to consider, with different facility types spread across varying landscapes. Our assessments will help to guide the client as it develops a capital improvement plan and determine what funding it can allot each agency to make improvements, detailing what improvements will need to take priority.
The challenge for the facility assessor is to be conscious of the client’s budgets and prioritize what can feasibly be done....
ML: What are your responsibilities on an average day?
I begin in the field, physically assessing the condition of a building, evaluating any relevant equipment in terms of performance, damage, durability, etc., and enter the data into the computer to see where it fits in the scheme of the recognized industry practices, whether it needs to be replaced or maintained, how it can be maintained and the timeline for everything. Given the extent of what is assessed in these larger programs, precision simplifies things immensely.
ML: How do you go about maintaining that precision in the field?
It may sound simple, but every detail matters. That’s the number one thing I’ve learned in my 30-year career: assumptions don’t cut it, particularly when working on large, complex programs like my current work. You have to take note of everything and be as detailed as possible in your assessments. For example, you can’t just note “there is rust forming on the heating equipment”, you need to dig deeper. To what degree have they rusted? How bad does the rust compare from one to another? Even if you’ve deemed them to be repairable, are they even accessible for someone to the work? If you’re unsure of these things, you will end up with an incomplete report for your client, unless you get back out there and do your assessment over, which is inefficient. I’d tell that to anyone starting out in this work: be vigilant and thorough in your notes from the start. The more detail the better. It’s the only way to be certain our reports will be truly valuable and accurate. The client will be making choices based on that data so there is little room for error.
ML: What have you found to be the biggest challenge in these types of projects?
Well, I think in general with public facilities it’s always been setting expectations regarding funding for what needs to be done. That’s the challenge for the client, anyway. The good part is that when these state authorities come to us for our services, that means they recognize the importance of keeping their facilities performing properly. The challenge for the facility assessor is to be conscious of the client’s budgets and prioritize what can feasibly be done.
Another element we can offer to clients as an add-on service is setting up maintenance programs, which can be very helpful long after we’ve left the project...
ML: How do you present different options to the client?
It’s all part of the FCA process. After our initial assessment, we put together a report using our raw data to tell the client what’s broken, or what is near a breaking point and provide a cost and relative life cycle timeline for everything that will need to be replaced. But that’s only the beginning. Think about it: if our client only has a $2 million budget and we’ve noted $5 million worth of items that need to be handled, they’ll need to make crucial decisions. Issues like that are addressed when we create a capital improvement plan, where we rank what needs to be done based not only on cost but on the projected risk of inaction for each item. That’s what makes our clear-cut data truly useable for the client as they plan their upgrades, replacements, etc.
Another element we can offer to clients as an add-on service is setting up maintenance programs, which can be very helpful long after we’ve left the project. A maintenance program is basically a report that provides guidance to the client on how to best maintain their facilities, offering cost cutting suggestions to help our clients make choices in running their day-to-day operational tasks going forward.
ML: What types of suggestions can you make in a maintenance program?
It could be something they’re least expecting. Many old buildings will surprise you and really hold up over time. There is an assumption that “newer is better” but I have found that sometimes performing thorough maintenance work will not only be the cheaper option, but also the more efficient option in the long run. At my last company, I worked on a maintenance building for a forestry service that was originally built in the early 1940s. All the original heaters were still in place and in working condition, they just needed maintenance. When we began our work, the client had anticipated that they would need to be fully replaced and had planned to do so, but I explained that in this case a new model would only last about 10 years, while what they had was sturdier and could last 20-30 years if properly maintained.
ML: Does every client require a maintenance program in addition to the FCA?
Right now, at Faithful+Gould we offer maintenance programs on an “as needed” basis, per our client’s requests. This is one of our strengths as we have the expertise to set up programs that will continue to benefit the client in their planning for years to come. Personally, I love being able to see an assessment through because it increases the overall value offered to the client in an FCA package.
ML: What do you see for the future of FCA services?
I am hoping we can continue to grow our service, particularly with state and county entities and continue to enhance our value through additional services, such as maintenance programs. I would say the future of the service we sell is about offering the “full package” in terms of assessments. More and more we’re seeing clients looking for a full, holistic approach to facilities management. It just makes sense, because when presented with an assessment, it’s much more efficient for the client to receive guidance on next steps from a trusted source who has the experience and fully understands the scope of their needs.