Key Considerations in Conducting a Thorough Facility Condition Assessment
The first key to establishing an effective and strategic capital replacement plan for your facility is to conduct a thorough facility condition assessment to identify systems that need to be repaired, renovated, repositioned, or replaced. Generally speaking, a property’s business model will indicate how repairs, renovations, repositioning, and replacements will be made; for instance, a HUD property may find they can only replace those systems that are critical to its operations, such as roofing or boilers, while a high-end Life Plan Community (CCRC) may choose to refresh its community with new carpeting to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. In either case, facilities will benefit from performing a top-to-bottom facility condition assessment, as the results will outline areas in which capital replacement spending will be required over the short and long term.
When conducting your facility condition assessment, be sure to consider the following:
Environmental issues such as asbestos, lead paint, and soil contamination should be identified in your facility condition assessment. If you are considering a capital project that requires financing or if you are going to refinance your existing facility, the investors and lenders will require documentation of any such issue and an action plan or proof that the issue has been resolved.
Look for improperly executed, non-compliant, or poorly designed construction details. Even something as seemingly minor as a crack in a wall can foretell significant construction-related expenses down the road. If you find a presence of mold or water damage, be sure to identify and correct the root causes, not just the symptoms.
Building Envelope and Site Improvements:
Roofs, exterior finish systems, and windows are among the first items to be “value engineered.” Therefore, it is crucial that they be properly detailed and installed; they are the first line of defense for moisture intrusion. Carefully assess their current condition to avoid a high priced budget surprise in the future. Likewise, the condition of your facility’s sidewalks, pavement, and other site improvements should be evaluated, as they too deteriorate from exposure to the elements.
In today’s construction environment, the general contractor is a manager more than a constructor — hence the construction contract terminology, “construction manager.” The architect is the designer, not the inspector. Design inspection services are typically not a part of their standard contracts and must be specifically contracted as an additional service. For the vast majority of projects, construction compliance is left to the subcontractor, with generally little or no professional compliance oversight. Engage professionals to inspect your facilities for good construction practices, compliance, and remaining useful life.
Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Systems (MEP), Appliances, and Equipment:
There are multiple factors that may impact the necessity to repair, overhaul, upgrade, or replace these systems. These factors may include one or more of the following: catastrophic failure, obsolescence, operating and maintenance costs, quality of maintenance, comfort, safety, capacity, environment, governing codes, insurance, litigation, and, of course, availability of capital. It is vital to evaluate and understand the condition of these systems to avoid costly and unbudgeted repairs or replacements, and to guarantee that funds will be available to ensure the success of your business model.
Security and Life Safety Systems:
These systems are mentioned separately from MEP systems, appliances, and equipment because they are most likely to be subjected to replacement factors beyond the owner’s control. Insurer requirements, protection against litigation, and state and federal regulations are only going to prove to be more costly and difficult to predict and respond to. In addition, the performance of your security and life safety systems can act as a valuable differentiation tool for marketing to prospective residents.
Floor and Wall Finishes, Furnishings, Fixtures, and Other Soft Goods:
The cosmetic appearance and amenities of a property can be vital to attracting and retaining residents. The refreshment and replacement of these items vary from owner to owner, as well as from building to building within a given community. An entry-fee model, versus a rental model, typically has contractual requirements for refreshing units. In addition, competition and demographics frequently dictate upgrading. In recent studies, it has been determined that Life Plan Community entry-fee models spend anywhere from 25 to 40% of their 40-year capital replacement budget just on unit turns and common-area carpet, paint, and wall coverings. Understanding these requirements and factors is necessary to maintaining your property’s appeal. The preceding list of considerations is a good place to start when assessing your facility. However, a comprehensive facility condition assessment is multi-faceted, and the typical administrator may not have each of the crucial elements on his or her radar, or the time or the staff to address them. With this in mind, you may require some guidance from consultants or other experts when working through the extensive checklist of issues to consider during your facility condition assessment. When partnering with an outside party, seek the best talent you can afford, and work with professionals that specialize in providing these services for this field. Also, make sure the study is objective; in other words, do not hire consultants that may benefit from the findings of an assessment.
John H. zumBrunnen is the CEO and founder of zumBrunnen, Inc., an independent building consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia (www.zumbrunnen.com). The recipient of a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of North Dakota and a member of the AAHSA Senior Leadership Council, zumBrunnen has 35 plus years’ experience in construction, assessment, and property development. He is the inventor of the FacilityForecast® software system and a respected speaker in the industry.