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The great campus construction boom of the 1960s and 1970s has many U.S. college campuses showing their age, and not in a good way. Cracking brickwork, old pipes and leaky roofs—not to mention outdated building systems—are just some of the symptoms plaguing campuses of all sizes across the country. In addition, the ever-increasing capital crunch in higher education has made deferred maintenance the elephant in the room on almost every college or university campus.

Deferring repair jobs, even for understandable budgetary constraints, can be a serious liability for any institution, with costs continuing to spiral if maintenance issues are not addressed in a timely manner. Postponing repairs to a roof or HVAC system, for example, can increase the potential for emergency repair or replacement.

Yet between 2007 and 2012 the amount of space more than 50 years old that had not been renovated increased from 18 percent to 22 percent, according to an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Now, with roughly 6 billion square feet of space under the collective higher-education roof, catching up on deferred maintenance is only growing more costly. In 2015, deferred maintenance at U.S. colleges and universities surpassed $1 trillion, or $100 per facility square foot. That’s 20 percent more per-square-foot than in 2007, according to a recent report by Sightlines, a facilities solutions provider to universities.

With more aging infrastructure and systems piling up each year, colleges and universities face hard decisions when it comes to repair and upgrade prioritization. Fortunately, they also have new tools at their disposal today that were virtually unheard of even a decade ago, when the early signs of mounting maintenance started to rear its head. These technologies and systems have been adopted by private sector corporations and are now making their way into higher education.

How facility technology propels campus improvements
Armed with data and predictive analytics, colleges and universities can build consensus on capital planning and budgeting priorities. Like most problems, solving deferred maintenance challenges begins with recognizing and assessing the problem. New data-driven facilities capital assessment tools provide facility engineers with more in-depth insights into the state of campus buildings to better pinpoint maintenance and repair needs and anticipate possible future equipment failures. Using precise data and predictive analytics, they also can provide estimated costs, help prioritize projects, and plan for upgrades and repairs in advance.

The benefits extend to capital planning, too, with data-driven insights providing a clear picture of maintenance requirements and a suggested roadmap for short- and long-term funding projects in the context of overall university needs.

There are also opportunities to bundle similar projects across multiple buildings for volume efficiencies. For example, replacing elevators or generators across multiple campus buildings brings with it the potential for volume efficiencies, rather than budgeting upgrades per individual building.

Investing in facility management solutions can be applied to campus-wide improvements for a bigger-ticket win, too. By automating building systems, facility leaders can improve compliance and service delivery, boost efficiency and the campus experience, and move from reactive facility planning to predictive planning.

Smart building technology on college campuses is another area of great possibility. Smart lighting and HVAC systems give students more power to personalize their environment, while also increasing energy efficiency. Sensors and affiliated technology platforms can monitor building occupancy, offering clues to improve space planning. And enhanced safety and security features provide peace of mind to students and their parents.

Addressing deferred maintenance
Many higher education leaders know they have an infrastructure problem, and are looking for ways to fund important updates, replacements and renovations. For example, consider, the University of Arizona, which is borrowing $200 million to address existing facilities needs, or Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., which is offering donors the chance to name dorms in exchange for helping fund $10,000 in new heating, windows and flooring in each residential unit. In addition, public private partnerships are flourishing in higher education as institutions leverage the private sector to renovate aging infrastructure.

A high-tech, data-driven approach is a key to success for campuses looking to address problems related to deferred maintenance. By leveraging data and analytics to identify future needs and fuel thoughtful capital planning, higher education institutions can tackle a series of manageable projects that keep campuses up to date and optimize the learning experience.

They can also then divert attention—and cost savings—back to the university's core mission: educating students.

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