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Community College Collaborates to Keep Facilities Fresh

Northern Essex Community College puts a dent in its deferred maintenance by focusing on a central starting point, energy efficiencies, and supportive partners.

Northern Essex Community College (NECC) in Haverhill, Mass., recently found itself top ranked in a category most institutions wouldn't relish. According to a September article in The Boston Globe, the college has a $90 million deferred maintenance backlog.

Further, according to minutes from an October NECC board of trustees meeting, "the amount of deferred maintenance continues to be high, at close to $200 per square foot, and above the average for all community colleges." It was also noted that with the planned renovation of the largest building on campus, this figure will change to approximately $100 per square foot.

David A. Gingerella, vice president of administration and finance at Northern Essex since May 2011, said these figures were accurate, but emphasized that plans have already been put in place to reduce the college's backlog of deferred maintenance by almost half, during the next three to five years. "Historically, the college put off replacement of floors as well as upgrades to lighting, windows, and heating systems," he says. "We're trying to catch up on that now. The current president saw firsthand how poor the conditions were and wanted to address this issue."

So where to begin? Gingerella believes the first step is establishing the facts, which NECC was able to do by working with Sightlines to identify benchmarks for deferred maintenance. "We were able to reference fact-based information that is consistent throughout the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts," he says. "This gave us an argument for requesting funds from the state."

Gingerella highlighted three other tactics that have proven essential to beginning the process of reducing deferred maintenance at NECC and sustaining momentum so that progress continues.

Determine a central starting point. Scheduled to begin in June 2016, the renovation of the Spurk Building is at the heart of efforts to reduce deferred maintenance at NECC. Constructed in 1973, the 89,000-square-foot building has 33 classrooms, as well as seminar rooms, labs, two lecture halls, and more than 54 faculty offices. "It is our largest building on campus," Gingerella explains. "As we prepared to take it offline for a year for renovations, we had to recapture other buildings." Other spaces on campus are being "fixed up" and renovated by adding air conditioning, for example, so that they can be used for classrooms during the renovation, and the college won't need to lease space off campus.

"Because of the Spurk renovation, every other building on campus is having some work done to it," says Gingerella. The anticipated cost of the renovation, which should be completed in August 2017, is $15.2 million to be funded from a 2008 capital bond ($7.1 million) and deferred maintenance funding ($8.1 million) from the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).

Make energy efficiency a priority. While he describes the greening of NECC's campus as "a major effort," Gingerella also says that it was one of the main benefits of having an established deferred maintenance strategy. "A lot of our deferred maintenance has been in inefficient heating, cooling, or lighting units," he says. For example, projects like upgrading traditional lighting to LED lighting have created a better work environment. In addition, technology changes, such as being able to dim all the lights on the campus electronically from one location, have increased overall efficiency.

NECC is also participating in an energy efficiency program certified through the Commonwealth's Accelerated Energy Program (jointly led by DCAMM and the Department of Energy Resources), whereby a state bond finances energy improvements on campus, and the college pays back 100 percent of the principal and interest over 15 years. "There's no upfront capital," Gingerella explains. "We pay them back through energy cost savings."

Establish good partnerships. Gingerella acknowledges that decreasing deferred maintenance is a team effort. "It takes partners," he said, "and we could not ask for a better partner than DCAMM." The division is responsible for integrated facilities management, major public building construction, and real estate services for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The legislature created the agency in 1980 to promote quality and integrity in the management and construction of the Commonwealth's capital facilities and real estate assets.

"We supplied them with information about deferred maintenance on our campus," Gingerella explains, "and they feel invested in helping us address it. They trust us. We've shown that we'll do what we said we would do, and we're not crying wolf by asking for money we don't really need or are not prepared to spend."

If all goes as planned, NECC will make significant progress towards reducing its backlog of deferred maintenance and won't soon find itself in this position again. "We're hoping that future generations won't be faced with what we faced," Gingerella says. "We are doing routine maintenance such as upkeep of plumbing and replacement of carpets and floors. These items are included in our operating budget. We're trying to address the backlog and not add to it." 

To read more about deliberate deferred maintenance strategies, see "The Download on Upkeep," in December 2015 Business Officer.

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Md., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.


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