Is a Comprehensive Facility Condition Assessment Worth the Investment for K-12 Schools?

Last month, I provided an overview of K-12 facility condition assessments, noting why these essential evaluations are initiated, what they accomplish and the key role they can play in school funding. Today I want to address the question: Is a comprehensive FCA worth the investment for schools and school districts?

If this was a multiple choice, yes-or-no question, the answer would be a confident “Yes.” However, to be more precise and constructive, this really requires an essay question-type response—especially given the wide variety of school facilities and school funding models across the country.

When It’s Worth It
Let’s start with the value of FCAs. In many cases, school districts perform facility assessments every five years in support of bond programs. These assessments evaluate the condition of a school’s infrastructure and its assets to identify the funding needed. A well-conducted FCA can provide valuable school data that will last at least 10 years, thus doubling the value of that investment. A successful FCA not only defines the estimated life of a school building and calculates replacement costs, but it implements a workable program to maintain facilities and assets over time. With the data and planning tools gained through an FCA, leadership also establishes a database and a protocol to update as equipment is replaced, projects are completed, and buildings are constructed.

Here’s an example that may help. The Klein Independent School District in Klein, Texas, conducted an FCA in 2014 ahead of their May 2015 bond campaign. The FCA not only helped Klein gather the information needed to pass its bond, but it established a strategic process of maintaining current and accurate facility information. This has enabled the staff to consistently monitor the condition of school facilities, plan accordingly and budget effectively as the needs of the district have evolved. It also prevented the need to conduct an additional FCA in 2019.

The value of an FCA can be even greater when conducted by a third party, as was the case with Klein. School managers and staff are not always as thorough or accurate as trained assessors when evaluating buildings they maintain. These large-scale assessments often are added to a staff’s daily duties, and some employees are reluctant to advise on replacing equipment or interior finishes that could reflect poorly on their job.

Third-party consulting firms have teams of school facility experts who are trained to be unbiased, consistent and efficient. They know what to watch for, what questions to ask and what data is needed to pass a bond, implement an infrastructure improvement plan and provide the requisite baseline that will help architects, engineers and contractors execute that plan.

When It’s Not Worth It
The timing of an FCA can be critical to determining its worth. Since FCAs are often used to support a bond program or capital plan, they should be completed shortly before that program or plan. If the assessment is completed several years ahead of funding initiatives and not updated, the information is less accurate, and stakeholders may be more critical and less supportive of the investment.

The overall value of an FCA is clear. These assessments help school districts prioritize spending, plan for needed repairs and obtain needed funding. The more consistent the data, the more streamlined, cost-effective and beneficial the FCA will be.

In my next blog, I’ll provide guidance on conducting assessments and estimating the cost of an FCA.

Jessica Goodell

Woolpert Senior Consultant Jessica Goodell, PE, has 13 years of experience in conducting facility condition assessments and forensic investigations. She has worked with some of the largest school districts in the U.S. and is skilled at not only understanding facilities and equipment but communicating data and report findings for K-12 institutions.