Technical Corner

Facility Management Challenges 2022

February 2022

In my opinion, the next generation of recreation facility managers have more challenges than the first generation of those who were in care and control of the original infrastructure. They will require greater patience and will need to perform more research when designing operational, maintenance and life-cycle plans. Consider the evolution of a typical recreation building which we see most entering their last phase of life cycle but will most likely be pushed well past its “best before” date.

When the building was constructed it had a projected life cycle of 50-years. That’s not to suggest that it had to be decommissioned but it was a benchmark that suggested that significant investment would be required. Today, the life-cycle projection date is 35-years. There are many variables to the original 50-year date that included, but are not limited to, the quality of original materials, investment in properly maintaining the building and equipment and, ongoing capital improvements. The last point of “ongoing capital improvements” can be both a positive and negative as these upgrades can change the original design and equipment which results in a hybrid facility. The extensive inventory of technological advancements allows for significant improvement to any building’s operation. These changes will only be as good as the people who operate and maintain them. You cannot have a facility with digital technology and analog operators – there are no savings to be had!

The next challenge is maintaining infrastructure that have gone through these changes. The original team that built the facility are most likely no longer available, and the current service contractors may or may not have played a role in the upgrades. It can become expensive at this point, pending the quality of the upgrade engineering and experience of the retrofit contractors. This is where the hybrid can turn into a hydra. A hydra is a monster in Greek mythology that when its head was cut off, it was replaced by two others. Facility managers often try and fix one issue and it ends up creating another or even more problems.

To open the discussion of what skills today’s facility manager requires is like trying to put a piece of tempered glass back together after it has crashed. The smaller the operation, the more complicated this task becomes.  A facility manager that begins with one set of specific duties will see that grow organically throughout their career. The internal humour is that when senior administration staff are unsure where to put any new infrastructure, it usually ends up in recreation. This works until the staff member leaves their position and the employer goes looking for a replacement with the necessary skill sets who cannot be found.

There are many different core skills that a facility manager requires but one of the primary skills that is often overlooked, and rarely found in any job description, is their ability to hold an intelligent conversation with each of the service contractors they lean on to keep the building safe and serviceable. A facility manager, or someone who reports to them, has to have a solid working knowledge of all the key equipment in the building that needs to be maintained. This will define what can be completed in-house and what needs to be outsourced. The building and equipment maintenance plans are supposed to be designed so that the service contractor takes direction from the buildings management team.

Consider a simple oil change on a personal vehicle. At one point time, any person with a few tools and a pail could undertake the task. Now most vehicles are designed so that an average person is unable to do it simply so they must seek out some level of assistance. As one option you could go to the local corner service centre that will drop the oil, change the filter, and replace the fluid. The next option is to take it to a lube specialist service centre where they will perform the oil change and conduct a variety of other services, wiper inspection, air filter and cab filter check - most are these are disguised as good customer service when in fact its an upsell. The next option is to head to the dealer. Now they are the specialists, and they will be thorough. They will conduct their work based on the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations. This is often based on the mileage of the vehicle. Now, if the vehicle owner keeps pace with these recommendations the costs are often reasonable but if they fail to do so, it will be catch-up in time and it will become very expensive as different fluids are flushed and replaced, filters changed beyond the basic ones. Failing to do so will result in the vehicle leaving the owner stranded unexpectedly. While keeping pace with the manufacturer’s maintenance plans will also extend the life expectancy of the vehicle. The owner of the vehicle can select whatever service centre they wish but they are really the person who is responsible to oversee the vehicles maintenance, not only from the owners manual checklists but also based on the current performance of the vehicle.

Take these same lessons and apply them to a facility mechanical room, HVAC and dehumidification equipment and a facility manager has their workplan. Again, this becomes more complicated if the facility is a hybrid. If I was starting a new facility managers position, one of my first focus areas would be auditing the operations maintenance and asset management plans. The quality and detail that is, or is not there, would give me a significant amount of information as to what the health of the building(s) and equipment actually are.

Recreation facility management goes well beyond rental and staff schedule maintainer, time sheet clerk and supply ordering.  The real investment is managing the assets in an efficient manner, to not only ensure that customers get what they paid for, but also that the original investment is maximized. Consider that anytime a facility has to close due to a mechanical, electrical, or operational issues, it can most likely be traced back to “management failure”. 99% of all operational issues usually have a history of indicators, that if respected, would have helped avoid the issue that caused the shutdown. The explanation to users that their rental has been cancelled because the ice resurfacer broke down should be replaced, in the majority of cases, with their rental has been cancelled because the operation failed to properly maintain the ice resurfacer.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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