School Building Maintenance & Safety Guide [+checklists]

Maintenance
Education
Published on:
August 18, 2023
Read Time:
29
min

Day in and day out, school buildings are in constant use—kids rushing from class to class, faculty serving up coffee in the breakroom, cafeteria staff prepping meals. Even after hours: sports teams getting ready in locker rooms before practice, the young explorer’s club meeting in the science lab, monthly parent teacher meetings in the assembly hall.

And during the summer, during breaks and holidays? Summer classes, theater meetings, special learning programs, college prep courses, sports practices and games. 

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Many times, school buildings are even more than learning facilities, they’re a cornerstone of the local community. As with any multi-use public or private facility, regular foot traffic and gatherings of people mean an elevated need for consistent upkeep to ensure the health, safety, and security of everyone who walks through school doors.

Keeping up with the many maintenance needs of school property can be overwhelming when there are so many segments of need. And since each school’s use beyond standard class attendance varies, each facility requires tailored procedures for their specific use case. But if you identify those needs early and plan appropriately to set up your maintenance processes, you’ll be able to swiftly ensure school safety across the board. 

Why does building maintenance matter for schools?

The most obvious reasons for school building maintenance are often touted as liability and risk prevention, as well as student and faculty health and safety. But these are quick descriptors that technically cover a wide array of maintenance outcomes. Maintenance isn’t just about keeping building aspects functioning by changing burnt out light bulbs or replacing faulty gym equipment. School building maintenance is also about: 

  • Ensuring physical safety of students and staff
  • Encouraging student attendance
  • Maintaining and reaching new learning outcomes
  • Decreasing equipment replacement costs
  • Fostering student growth and development
  • Providing accessible spaces for everyone
  • Increasing structural longevity 
  • Reducing overall operational costs
  • Improving energy efficiency
  • Making the most of limited resources

While keeping everyone physically safe and protected is of chief importance when it comes to building maintenance, it’s also important in providing an appropriate environment to facilitate learning. A classroom with rapidly shifting temperatures from a broken window or faulty cooling and heating system can impact student and instructor alertness and even trigger health issues. Regular school maintenance provides an ongoing cadence for the inspection and improvement of learning environments in order to provide settings that support student growth and prioritize attendance, attention, and comfort.

Older buildings require regular, comprehensive inspections

The age of a building is also an important though less considered aspect that makes a school building maintenance plan critical. Depending on how long the building itself has been operating, the ongoing maintenance needs may be higher in order to protect structural longevity and architectural or historical significance. 

Mean Age of US Public School Buildings

A historically significant school building may have local zoning or building restrictions and ordinances that have to be considered as well, which can make planning any modern renovations and alterations a challenge. And since many older school buildings need regular updates to support modern learning, that’s a problem you can’t avoid planning for. Tracking necessary structural updates can be challenging, but unmonitored structural issues can not only inhibit learning but potentially cause student or faculty injury and result in major liability risk too. 

Young students are at high risk of accidental injury

To add insult to potential injury, the education level of the students that are regularly on the property can make everything even more concerning. A building primarily for preschool or kindergarten aged children, for example, may require even closer attention, especially if the building is rapidly aging. Young children won’t necessarily know or be able to spot structural dangers they should report or avoid. 

Risk of School Injury by Age Demographic

Cracked floors or damaged walkways create fall risks that may go completely missed until one day a child trips and breaks a bone. In preschools, kindergartens, elementary schools, and even many middle schools, there’s often further maintenance needed to ensure playground equipment and classroom assets are fully functional and secure as well. But even in higher-level education, you’ll likely have facility assets to maintain on top of regular structural inspections: things like auditorium bleachers, football equipment, art rooms, and science labs all have structures that need to be maintained to ensure safety and efficiency. 

Preventive Maintenance protects the budget as much as the students

Regardless of the age of your students, it’s ultimately up to you and your team to maintain their wellbeing while they’re on the property—that’s why all aspects of school building maintenance are important. Planning for eventualities is the name of the game. And the biggest thing that stands in the way of keeping your facility problem free usually isn’t the age of the building, the structural changes needed, or lack of general ability. 

Typically what hinders a school from appropriately addressing maintenance needs is lack of proper planning and staff support. Underfunding, lack of clarity, and miseducation are some of the biggest blockers to consistent and streamlined school maintenance, and these issues compound to create more maintenance issues that only continue to go unaddressed. Knowing that staff support, education, and lack of resources are your top enemies can help you appropriately strategize.

With this knowledge in mind, management can create protocols for unexpected and planned maintenance needs alike to help combat common staffing issues and resource shortages. Going in with a clear plan for these inevitabilities goes a long way in maintaining or securing public trust and community financial support as well. A defined maintenance plan divides assets into groups based on either time, condition or data input. The plan provides stakeholders with a schedule and evidence that you’re doing everything you can to care for school facilities and attendants appropriately. This aids in securing more funding and streamlining your school building maintenance even more over time. 

School Building Maintenance Safety Concerns

Maintaining the general safety of the building includes things like inspecting walkways for fall risks, ensuring building accessibility, tracking overall cleanliness and prioritizing risk prevention. But it’s also advised to regularly assess indoor air quality in order to catch health risks like asbestos, mold, or other toxic contaminants. Security management is equally important in maintaining safety across your facilities—things like making sure security cameras are well placed to spot suspicious activity and inspecting levels of staff and student access. 

Xenia Classroom Risk Assessment Template

Additionally, it’s often crucial for large schools to track individual school facilities such as gyms, labs, or theaters separately in maintenance inspections. These large areas of the school often require specific maintenance tasks and knowledge. Labs, for example, may house hazardous materials that need to be carefully monitored or require special handling or cleaning methods. 

Waste and pest management are a couple of other critically important elements of maintenance. Ensuring proper waste disposal is paramount to creating clean, healthy environments for students and staff. You’ll likely want to check local waste disposal requirements to properly dispose of certain waste types in your area. Proper waste management can also go a long way in supporting pest management by reducing food waste that may attract unwanted and unwelcome bugs or animals to the property. 

Water management is also important—it helps increase energy efficiency and protects the environment by reducing water waste. Having a plan for how water is managed at the facility, where it’s available for access, and how you’ll monitor facility usage is key. Keeping an eye on your water bill will help, but it only goes so far in telling the full story. Take the time to analyze how much water you use, what it’s used for across the school, and where you can save on water usage gradually to help improve efficiency over time. 

What is included in school building maintenance strategy?

Your school building maintenance strategy should include every aspect of maintenance including custodial activities, grounds management and both preventive and reactive maintenance. Looking at all the segments of maintenance across your property prior to putting together your strategy will help you get a full picture of everything that goes into building maintenance so you can start planning accordingly. 

Step 1: Planning

🏫 Include All Stakeholders

When you start putting together your school building maintenance strategy, it’s important to include everyone who has a sense of ownership in decision making across the facility. This early collaboration keeps everyone on the same page and helps establish clear channels of communication across your operation. 

🏅 Determine Scope and Goals

Once you’ve got all your stakeholders involved, you can get to work assessing the scope of your maintenance needs and the goals you have for managing them. What areas of your facility need the most regular maintenance? Where could your school stand to be more efficient or make more structural updates? Ask yourself these kinds of questions to identify areas of need and understand the scope of your maintenance operations. 

📊 Determine Data Points to Define Success

Work with your team to determine clear markers of success using data points. For example, if you’re looking to reduce water usage to a certain unit measure month over month, use that unit of measure to understand that you’ve successfully reduced water usage to your goal measurement. You can do this with every area of maintenance to measure how you’re working to achieve your goals and make necessary adjustments when needed. 

💸 Establish Your Budget

Finally, once you’ve gotten stakeholder involvement, determined your scope and goals, and identified clear markers of success, you can establish a general budget for your maintenance plans. Examine your full maintenance scope, any past maintenance expenses, and desired timelines for any maintenance goals to help you come up with this number. 

Step 2: Facility Audit

After you’ve determined your high-level maintenance plan, it’s time to conduct a thorough inspection of the property. This helps you get an understanding of the present state of maintenance needs so you can plan for preventive maintenance and make any necessary adjustments to the overall plan. This is also where you’ll assess groundskeeping and general grounds maintenance needs like lawn care, garden support, or outdoor facilities maintenance. 

Take note of any property damage and general facility quality during your inspection. As you move from property and building health to asset inspection, you can create an asset log with any relevant data to help save you and your team time later. We recommend logging relevant asset information such as:

  • brand, model, and serial number
  • location, quantity, and age
  • current condition 
  • repair history 
  • life expectancy 
  • recommended service notes 

From there you can establish overall building integrity and estimate asset longevity to determine capital expenditures (CAPEX) that may be on the horizon.  

Step 3: Preventive Maintenance

Next you’ll create a preventative maintenance (PM) plan based on the results of your audit. You can use your asset data to understand what cadence specific assets need for both inspection and regular PM support. You may conduct monthly or annual inspections or preventative maintenance on assets that experience mid-level use or low levels of wear and tear, for example, while you may inspect or service high-use assets weekly. 

You can usually tell from the initial audit as well as ongoing and historical inspection data what kind of schedule each asset needs. Usually maintenance is conducted on weekly, monthly, or annual cadences, but sometimes you may have quarterly inspections or even daily PM requirements. It’s entirely dependent on your facility and asset needs. 

Once you’ve determined appropriate timeframes for everything, you can build a PM schedule to clearly track goals and progress. A clear preventive maintenance schedule also makes maintenance and inspection assignments easier for increased accountability and easier task delegation across departments or segments. 

Step 4: Reactive Maintenance SOPs

Next you’ll want to go through and plan out your standard operating procedures (SOPs) around reactive maintenance. Unlike preventive maintenance, which has a goal to prevent maintenance issues from occurring and extend the life cycle of property assets, reactive maintenance is maintenance activity in response to sudden breakdowns or issues. Planning for reactive maintenance is all part of well-constructed risk prevention. 

To create SOPs around reactive maintenance, first try to pinpoint all the things that could go wrong with or in the building. This can include things like damaging weather events, vandalism, and random asset breakdowns. As you list potential maintenance risks, try to determine the likelihood and impact of each event so you can prioritize creating clearly defined SOPs around the most likely and most impactful circumstances. 

Finally, create SOPs and checklists to prepare for asset failure—an asset can stop working at any time, and it’s important to have protocols in place to make sure your staff can quickly and effectively handle sudden asset failure. Create a checklist that walks your team through exactly what to do if certain assets fail, prioritizing high-impact assets first. 

Step 5: Evaluation and Reporting 

It can take some time after a maintenance plan is constructed and enacted to actually see the full benefits or meet any lofty goals, but that’s something you should prepare your stakeholders for in the beginning. While some goals may be met relatively quickly, some goals won’t be achieved until longer in the process. As time passes, you and your team will be able to better assess how your originally established goals are being met or worked toward. 

Not all evaluations will be based on dollar amounts or data points, though. Some evaluation markers can be observed via physical assessment and work order assessment. Regular inspections will help you and your team to appropriately evaluate how well maintenance processes are being followed. If you have work order tracking systems in place, you can monitor work order submissions and completions to understand what assets are still regularly breaking down or experiencing issues and glean an understanding of maintenance as a result. 

You can also get a clear understanding of how maintenance is going by taking a look at your planned costs and what you actually spent to understand if you’re staying within your maintenance budget or expenses are off track. If you’re spending more than you intended to on maintenance it may be a sign that your procedures or processes aren’t working or that they’re not being appropriately followed. If you’re coming in under budget it may mean things are going better than you even expected! 

Evaluating and analyzing data as you proceed will help you determine process optimization recommendations to continue improving your maintenance management over time. This way, even if you haven’t found the perfect maintenance solution yet, you’ll be well on your way.  

Hiring, Training and Managing School Building Maintenance Staff

Hiring

Hiring the right people for your school maintenance staff is the key to truly streamlining your maintenance. No matter how thorough your plan is, if you don’t hire, train, and properly manage your staff, it can all fall apart in the blink of an eye. For certain job aspects, you’ll need technically trained individuals, whether that subject-matter expertise comes from previous job experience or you’re willing to train your nnew hire yourself. Also, schools should consider their diversity and representation goals in their hiring decisions to ensure that the staff is representative of the student population.

The best way to set expectations and find the right people for your team is to clearly identify your open roles and the job requirements for those roles. To do this, you or your hiring manager will first need to have a thorough understanding of each job and the necessary skills required for those jobs. From there, you can create job descriptions that include:

  • General responsibilities 
  • Working conditions
  • Physical requirements 
  • Necessary education level 
  • Any needed credentials or licensure 
  • Equipment used

It’s important to list out these details so you can attract the right candidate. If you’re looking for someone to perform groundskeeping duties like raking leaves and tending the gardens, you don’t want to create a job description that reads like a marketing position. You want to attract the avid gardener, not the marketing manager—so make sure you write the job for the gardener! 

Training

Listing out role requirements also helps you keep track of candidates that check all the boxes and those that don’t, so you can clearly sort through your interviewees and determine who is the best hire for the role based on the hiring criteria. Additionally, it can help you spot areas where more education or training is needed. This way, if you get a candidate that ticks all the boxes for your next maintenance technician but they need a better understanding of how to fix playground equipment, you can budget time and resources to get them the training they need in that area. 

Even if your staff is prepared for their role and meets every job requirement you’ve listed though, there will still be a necessary period of onboarding to get them acclimated to their new role. Training and onboarding your staff to work at your facility is critical for clarity, accountability, and staff retention. 

Make sure you provide your new hires with orientation information around the general facilities, their work area, equipment they’ll be using, expectations, and evaluation information. This will help your new hire get acclimated and help set your team up for long-term success. 

Managing

Effectively managing your maintenance team starts with clear plans and procedures that work toward defined organization-wide goals and objectives, but the follow-through happens when employees act on those plans daily to support the incremental climb toward those objectives. In essence, you have to determine individual markers of success that help each team member understand how they can contribute toward major goals. Then you must adequately track how your team is meeting those goals over time. 

We recommend you be as detailed and specific as you can be when outlining employee expectations. Creating clear outlines for performance leaves less room for miscommunication and error. From there, create a method for evaluation that allows you to not only identify wins and pitfalls but also allows you to point out areas where team members have exceeded your expectations. 

Celebrate team wins publicly to help create a culture of accountability and teamwork and boost overall morale. Work with your staff on any problem areas, give leeway when necessary, and, if problems continue to arise, clearly explain what will happen if issues continue. Finally, make sure you regularly review these performance standards to make adjustments as needed as your team’s needs change. 

How Digital Maintenance Logs Track Building Health

Logging maintenance activity digitally can help you to better understand and assess data in the long run. Using a digital maintenance management system allows you to keep data on each and every asset so you can quickly identify issues and maintain a correct and up-to-date record of asset health. It also automatically creates an audit trail of work and repairs so you don’t have to go sorting through papers or binders to find a clear history of asset maintenance activity. 

Some digital operations solutions such as Xenia include analytics and reporting features too. The customizable digital reports in Xenia allow you to view and filter aggregate data on maintenance, work orders, asset details, and more. You’re able to filter to get a better understanding of process times, spot repeat work orders that might point to asset breakdown, and get a high-level view of inspection details for quick asset pattern recognition. 

How Checklists Help Track School Building Maintenance

Checklists are like detailed to-do lists for your maintenance operations. They include everything your team needs to do to work through a specific task or process. Using checklists for your school building maintenance allows you to maintain standardized procedures across your operation and ensure consistency regardless of staff changes or time constraints. 

Xenia School Risk Assessment Checklist Example

Checklists also ensure quality standards are met and important health and safety protocols are adequately followed. As your staff works through maintenance processes, they can check each task or process step off of their list and note any important details. Checklists add a layer of tracking to your maintenance logs that help you analyze team performance, further understand asset health, and make process improvements to management when necessary. 

You can use the included checklists here to get started implementing checklists as part of your maintenance procedures. Just download the checklist you’d like to use and make any edits for your individual process to get started. 

One platform to manage your facilities and your frontline—Xenia.

Xenia is a flexible and user-friendly operations management solution for every team, every use case, everywhere. Our solutions provide you with a single source of truth for all your school building maintenance needs. Not only does Xenia provide you with automatic maintenance logs for every process tracked in our digital system, but it also allows everyone on your maintenance team to instantly access and work through checklists, assigned tasks, work orders, inspections, and more, all from their individual mobile devices. 

Xenia’s instant messaging and announcement features allow for immediate communication too, so that everyone on your team can get the answers they need, when they need them, without noisy radios or disruptive phone calls. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to see who’s available to work, who’s assigned to specific tasks, and how work is being completed, empowering your team to work more autonomously while keeping everyone connected and accountable across locations. 

Xenia also features a completely flexible analytics suite with customizable reports you can filter by date and time, asset type, assignee, and more. Dive deeper into your maintenance processes and quickly spot patterns with a full look at ongoing process times, work orders, and missed inspection items. Xenia puts the power of maintenance logs and SOP management in the palm of your hand, so no matter what’s going on, you can find everything you need with just a few taps of your finger on your mobile device or a couple of clicks on your desktop mouse. 

To top it all off, Xenia is super easy to adopt; our dedicated onboarding team and customer support specialists will ensure you and your team hit the ground running quickly, so you don’t spend months onboarding everyone to a new system. 

Ready to learn more about what Xenia can do to help improve your building maintenance management? Take a look at our website or schedule a free product demo at any time. We’re here to help you streamline your work so your team can focus on exactly what they need to to crush maintenance goals.

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