August 2016

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Importance of Facilities Planning
by Don Williams, School Finance and Organization

In our own State as well as around the nation, Facilities Planning is a widely discussed topic. Many of our districts’ facilities are reaching the end of their lifecycle and some districts are battling with decisions on whether to keep directing resources towards updates and renovation, or to pursue demolition and new construction. While we have seen many new school building projects around our state in the last several years, still more districts are trying to finance projects and convince voters that a project is necessary. This is where implementation of a good Facilities Plan can greatly assist districts.  

What a good plan does…
There are two major categories in which a district directs resources towards their facilities, Maintenance & Operations (M&O) and Capital Outlay. While this dichotomy has been defined and debated for years, the simple truth is that both need to be planned for. A good Facilities Plan should act as a roadmap for a district to follow. We all know that a well-maintained facility will last longer than a poorly maintained one. The M&O portion of the plan should lay-out how resources are to be distributed over the lifecycle of the facility.

For instance, while a buildings’ lifecycle may be estimated at 70 years, we know there are no 70 year roofs (at least none that can last that long in ND). Your Facilities Plan should address this and project that a new roof will be needed in 20-30 years. Even getting more specific, your plan should forecast required maintenance every 3-5 years, just to get those 20-30 years out of a roof. This example demonstrates how the Capital Outlay cost of a new building is not squandered by a shortened lifecycle of the building. However, even the best maintained school facility will eventually reach the end of its original lifecycle and significant Capital Outlay will be required to replace a building.

When a solid Facilities Plan is created it acts as a planning tool that directs resources, annually to the proper upkeep of a building. It also acts as community communication tool. Ultimately the residents of a district are the “Bill Payers” so they have a right to know how and maybe more importantly when, resources will be needed. If the Facility Plan is properly communicated it will lessen the “sticker shock” of a project and provide transparency of the school board and administration for those times when a district has to ask its voters for approval of a project.

There are several districts in the State that have comprehensive Facilities Plans. If your district does not have a Long or Short Range Facilities Plan, it is strongly encouraged that you develop them. If you have one that isn’t serving your districts’ needs, please visit our “Facilities Planning” page on our NDDPI website for links to resources.