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Leveraging quality data for facilities management success

By Mark Zoller, PE, Paladin, Inc.

When it comes to building facilities, some organizations have the luxury of starting with a blank page and an ample budget, but countless others add buildings through acquisition. Whether that’s a university purchasing a corporate campus or a church buying a missile factory, this approach to expansion leaves buyers with a key challenge: how to optimize their new site. As with everything in life, success is more likely with a solid plan.

On any given property, there are multiple structures with myriad systems, from electrical and HVAC to security and fire protection, that were designed with a different owner’s purpose in mind and installed at some point (sometimes years and even decades) prior to today. Before the new owners can plan the project that will transform their purchase to suit their unique needs, they need to know what they actually bought.

That’s where engineers like my coworkers and I come in, with a flashlight in one hand and a tablet in the other, going from room to room in building after building, meticulously assessing the condition of each space and logging the type, manufacturer and install date of every single piece of equipment. As this exhaustive assessment process unfolds, it builds a body of vital data that empowers an owner to make informed decisions on how to proceed.

As we go about our review, we work from the outside in, assessing the condition of the building’s exterior then moving to inside finishes, logging data on the mechanical and electrical systems as we go. We check individual nameplates and equipment tags and talk to maintenance staff to determine the starting point of each “useful life curve.” In older buildings, with equipment generally all in the same condition, we can do a direct rating of individual systems and/or make projections from the original install date.

To optimize the usability of the data, we use the BUILDER Sustainment Management System, a program originally developed to help the military better manage the more than 1 billion square feet of building space under its control. When it is populated with our detailed data, it enables an owner to take a look into the future of each building and projected costs for equipment operation, repair and replacement.

Sometimes, this data reveals that an individual building can be easily converted to its desired use and affordably maintained. Other times, it indicates that a structure should be sold off or even bulldozed to make way for a parking lot.

Whether a project is funded by tuition, taxpayer dollars or investor backing, there is far too much at stake to make decisions based on a gut feeling or a guess. So we find great satisfaction in helping our clients get the maximum value from their investment with data-driven planning guidance.