For most educational institutions, mission and vision are inextricably linked to buildings. Skip Matoon, the retired Head of School at Hotchkiss, was fond of saying “Place is the wellspring of identity.” If “space” is also “place” then building stewardship is required.
And for most independent schools, the physical assets are worth more than the fiscal assets and are far more complicated to manage. They don’t provide monthly statements of their value, and even more importantly, they are fixed depreciating assets that require the explicit rather than passive management from all levels of the organization to ensure that they are properly managed.
Management of a campus needs to include the buildings, the interstitial landscape between the buildings, which as the pandemic has reiterated is even more important, and ensure that the space is efficient and well taken care of. A frequent folly is to build more without repurposing what we have. In doing so we create balance sheet liabilities for future generations, and we ignore the opportunity for a” twofer” — getting two things for the price of one. For example, renovating with one-time capital relieves the operating budget or plant reserve from a liability and provides a competitive advantage for the future.
Our nonprofits need to think about building with a long-term focus. This means using life cycle cost analysis to build better buildings. High performance buildings have pivoted better during the pandemic. So, for the owner who pays all costs — construction, operating and renewal — there should be no short term “value engineering”; striving to lower the total cost of ownership should be the overarching principal.
Imagine a building with no energy cost and greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory of zero. It is possible and feasible. With this perspective, nonprofits are thinking globally and act locally. Many institutions are already leading with declarations of timelines for achieving net zero carbon neutrality. And our students are beginning to demand such. Building energy accounts for 70-80% of an institution’s carbon footprint; those managing facilities who understand this context are also positioned to serve as sustainability officers and will be better able to serve their institutions.
Best practices in governance would suggest that having a series of key performance indicators that are focused on facilities management benchmarks makes sense but too often we do not focus on any or perhaps the right metrics. These might include size of campus per capita, percent of depreciation funded, GHG benchmarking, energy use intensity per capita and per square foot in addition to qualitative measurement of how operating dollars are spent also make sense. For example, building systems last longer if preventive maintenance is done strategically. The public sector is examining rules to require such reporting and several major cities (NYC, Washington, DC and Philadelphia) have already enacted new laws requiring reporting but also mandating consequential reduction in emissions. The education sector can get there first.
The campus landscape is changing on account of growing deferred maintenance, declining enrollment, increasing energy costs, increasing cost of debt service and construction. The astute manager of facilities will respond by putting in place programs to manage campus energy, re-purpose existing space and lead the sustainability efforts. In this way the landscape will grow to support the mission and ensure that space is also place.