There are four basic areas of understanding that every housing professional should become familiar with in order to be in a better position of accepting and fulfilling facilities related responsibilities. They are Building Distribution Systems, General Maintenance Procedures, Construction/Renovation Planning and, Establishing a Positive Relationship with Facilities Service Providers. Let’s take a look at each of these areas and how they relate to today’s housing professional.
Building Distribution Systems
The areas of building distribution systems that housing professionals should become familiar with in order to be in a better position of accepting and fulfilling facilities related responsibilities are: Electrical Systems, Plumbing/Mechanical Systems, HVAC Systems, Roof Systems, Building Structure (foundation, wall construction), and Building Envelope (exterior finishes, windows). The building’s distribution systems are what bring life to your facility. Understanding how they work, the current operating condition, and where the problems typically lie is critical to providing for the buildings’ needs and allows you to get the most out of your residential environment. It is important to understand where each system service is created, how it is brought into and distributed throughout your building, and how it is monitored and billed to you for payment. Let’s take a look at two of these areas as examples and see what each of them are all about.
Electrical distribution service is created either by your local power company or generated on campus. It is then sent to each building (or maybe groups of buildings) at the main switchgear. From there it is distributed via two sub-panels for each floor or section of the building. It then goes to each individual breaker panel and finally to each end source such as lights, receptacles, etc. You are typically metered and billed per kilowatt-hour of usage by the providing agency.
The most likely source for breakdowns occur at the breaker panels (overloading a circuit). This does not necessarily present a significant problem, however continued outages may mean you do not have enough service to each room and will need to look at ways to upgrade. Breaker switches that fail to reset could indicate a short in the line and will need to be immediately investigated. Problems with the distribution panels and/or switchgear are much more significant. If you loose a main switchgear in you building, you could be looking at many hours (even days) without power to your residents. You may even have to locate temporary generator support to help out.
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) service can be delivered in a number of different ways. A building’s heat is normally delivered by steam or hot water. Steam is typically delivered to each building from the college or university steam plant as high-pressure steam (HPS). Once the HPS reaches the building, the pressure is reduced through a series of one or more pressure reducing valves. From here the steam is pumped through the radiator piping system and control valves to each room.
There are several potential problems that arise from a steam system. The first is that the steam is delivered to the buildings under very high pressure. If the reducing valves fail (or are nonexistent) the steam can cause seals and other equipment to fail and create potentially dangerous situations in your mechanical rooms. Steam heat is somewhat difficult to regulate and radiators are often either very hot or too cold. Steam running to fan coil units will be somewhat easier to regulate.
Hot water heat begins with non-tempered water delivery via a municipal system to the university and is piped to the various buildings through a metering system. Water is then heated through the use of steam coils or by boiler and then held in storage tanks. The hot water is then pumped from the tanks through the associated delivery devices (radiator or fan coil).
Hot water heat may be a better way to go. It is clean and easier to regulate and meter. The only potential problems arise from the pipe integrity and pump life.
Air conditioning can be delivered through one of several ways as well. Chilled water or electric units are what is typical. In the chilled water system, water is delivered through a piping system from either a large “package unit” on the ground outside of the building, on the rooftop, or via a chiller plant remotely located on campus. The chilled water is pumped through a two or four pipe system. A “two-pipe” system has a chilled water delivery pipe and a return pipe. A “four-pipe” system includes these two pipes but also has two pipes for hot water as well. In either case, there is a condensate drain to drain off the residual water that drips from the piping and/or coils.
The two-pipe system delivers either chilled water or hot water. The cooling system must be “switched” from cooling to heating during the appropriate times of the year. A four pipe system is controlled by outside temperature and (depending upon the set temperature range) can run cooling and heating at the same time allowing the end user in one room or zone to cool while other areas can heat. The end delivery unit is usually a fan coil set up with piped ceiling units, stacked floor to ceiling units, or though the wall units.
Chilled water is usually metered and billed per ton. The problems associated with these systems are that the package unit is just that, a stand-alone unit. If it fails you lose all flow to the system until it is placed back in service. It is typically very noisy and is almost always a high maintenance cost to the end user. By going to a centrally located chiller plant operation, you typically have a level of redundancy to your system. If one chiller were to fail, there are other chillers to kick in and take up the slack. The residents will more than likely never realize a down period. Chilled water will almost always be cheaper to run than an all electric unit.
In both systems it is important to have an on going maintenance and inspection program set in place. Failure in either of these systems means discomfort and inconvenience for the residents. It is much better to put effort and resources into preventing system failures than to shell out potentially more money and time in costly major repairs and replacements.
General Maintenance Procedures
There are two basic categories of maintenance within a facilities management system. They are routine or on-going maintenance, and preventative maintenance. Routine maintenance is a system to handle the day-to-day work requests issued by the residents and staff. Items such as a missing window screen or broken ceiling tile are reported and completed under a routine maintenance program. It is within this category that many issues of concern are identified.
Residents and their parents often judge a housing program’s ability to serve student needs (and often the overall effectiveness of the entire department) based on the quality of the routine maintenance program. When asked to evaluate the residence hall living experience, few residents would mention the amount of programming in the halls or development of community as a chief source of consternation. Rather they focus on how well housing staff responded to their immediate and basic living needs and concerns.
In a preventative maintenance program, the mechanical and electrical operating systems and equipment within facilities are cataloged with the corresponding manufacturers’ specified maintenance schedule and procedures. This includes door operating hardware, mechanical room pumps and valves, HVAC equipment, etc. Each item has a recommended maintenance schedule for oiling, greasing, and cleaning. This is all done to extend the life of the particular system or piece of equipment and to maintain warranties.
Construction/Renovation Planning and Development
It can be safely stated that there are precious few campus housing operations out there who have not or are not now facing the realizations of new construction and facility renewal. Whether we build new facilities to handle the anticipated increases in class size or as swing space to allow us to take existing buildings off line for renovation/reconstruction, we are all now heavily involved in the planning, management, funding, biding, contracting, and executing of such projects.
Each aspect of these projects requires much of our time and involvement in design meetings and progress meetings. We are today much more involved in the complexities of these types of projects than at any time in our departments history. We can no longer afford to push off these responsibilities to other campus departments because we are the ones being held responsible to pay for and maintain the new facilities and we want to make sure things are done our way.
In order to meet these facilities projects responsibilities, today’s housing professional must partner with their respective campus and state facilities planning and oversight departments. We must insert ourselves into the fray so to speak and demand to be taken seriously as any property owner would in all matters associated with the projects. We want to have input in the designs. We want to review and approve finishes. We want to have our questions on project schedule and budget answered to our satisfaction. We want to be a part of the required signatures at the end to the project that states we are ok with the work and it has been done to our satisfaction.
Establishing a Positive Relationship with Facilities Service Provider
The relationship between Housing and its facilities service provider (typ. Physical Plant) is critical. We need to meet with the people on our campus who live and breathe facilities management as a career and ask them if they would be willing to spend some time with us to help us better understand what they do and how they do it. This includes Physical Plant, Construction Management, and/or Facilities Planning colleagues. Most people would love to teach us about their job. We may be surprised to receive a positive reaction, and it could very well lead to an enhanced partnership.
By reaching out to these areas as sources for better understanding and education, the housing professional can establish themselves as a respectable player on the campus in terms of facilities management. When it comes time to be further involved in complex facilities issues such as service contract negotiations, new construction/renovation planning, etc., these relationships will prove to be most critical.
No matter which theory of student development you follow on your particular campus, it can only be enhanced by properly functioning facilities. Our residents, parents, and staff depend upon us to provide facilities that meet their needs. The burden is on us as housing professionals to learn everything we can about our buildings operation in order to meet these needs. If you don’t know facilities management, please learn it. If you have learned it, pass it on to the other housing professionals on your staff and/or in your professional organizations.
Submitted by Gary Thompson, Assistant Director for Facilities for University Housing and Greek Life, North Carolina State University