Great Expectations

Peter W Hall, director – SPC management – Bellrock Property and Facilities Management

When the first PFI projects were handed over more than 18 years ago, the social and economic landscape was very different. John Major was prime minister, homework wasn’t done online, the first serious cases of MRSA were just starting to be reported, no-one knew what a smart phone was, and neither Twitter nor Facebook had been launched. A lot has changed in the way we live our lives, and we expect our buildings to keep up.

For those public buildings funded by PPP, this can present a serious challenge. Changes in the infrastructure or any change of use are often extremely difficult to negotiate as the complexities of the contract can be overwhelming. Stakeholders are thinking more creatively so that they can squeeze a quart in to a pint pot when it comes to using lifecycle funds. This of course allows more freedom to manage changes around the building, but is only possible when there is a good relationship between the special purpose company (SPC), stakeholder and the facilities management provider.

So how do you squeeze more out of the lifecycle pot? Budgeting for lifecycle is considered by many to be an art. Because PPP contracts are multi-layered and involve a number of stakeholders, creating a lifecycle profile can be a project in itself. Finding a balance between the condition of the assets, available funds, KPIs, building use, maintenance requirements, environmental impact and client expectations is the key. Building services such as pumps, valves, boilers and heating ventilation and air conditioning, are a hefty drain on resources as any failure presents a risk. A condition survey is the starting point to assess the maintenance requirements of these assets.

The lifecycle profile is based on when they are likely to fail and the projected replacement cycle. The profiles are essential in identifying risks, which in turn helps the maintenance budget to be accurately forecasted. If assets are identified as being near the end of their life, it may be more cost-effective to increase the maintenance activity to sweat the asset to ensure the longest possible life. Or if an asset is failing repeatedly it may be more advantageous to replace earlier than anticipated to reduce costs.

Having this information at your fingertips enables annual work programmes and maintenance schedules to be adjusted, stretching the assets and flattening expenditure profiles as well as being transparent about the health of the fund. A robust forecast should be able to demonstrate expenditure from anything from 12 months to three years.

The sinking fund supplements the lifecycle fund. The facilities management provider is responsible for the risk and therefore has ultimate control over the sinking funds.

Working together with the SPC and the end user helps the facilities management provider to understand priorities and work to a schedule that not only reduces risk, but also creates an environment in which everyone is happy to work. For example the building services assets are critical, however they are invisible to the user. The condition of the paintwork has no implications as far as risk is concerned yet has the biggest impact on client satisfaction. It is a visual clue as to the care and attention paid to the environment. Sometimes, however, the changes that are required by the end user go beyond the cosmetic.

Balfron High School, a PPP project located between Stirling and Glasgow, was handed over for the start of the school year in 2001. The school has been managing a broad extended use programme for the local community, particularly to take advantage of the extensive sports facilities, including the only public swimming pool within a 20 mile radius of Balfron.

The changing facilities were proving a challenge for families. Following consultation with the school it was decided that rather than upgrading the existing single-sex changing rooms, a more ambitious project to create a changing village would create a more family friendly environment.

Internal walls were knocked out, new finishes were used for tiling and flooring to improve safety and reduce maintenance costs and LED lighting was installed that would not only enhance the environment but also reduce energy use. New lockers and a mixture of single and family cubicles were installed. The overall costs were absorbed as a consequence of the reduction in annual maintenance costs, increased projected lifecycle of the wall linings and cubicles, and from the projected future income from community use.

Meanwhile, a complete upgrade of one of the wards at Caresview Centre in Dundee included anti-ligature fixtures, including a motion sensor for taps and replacement doors featuring an anti-barricade strip. These changes not only ensured compliance with the latest regulations, but also afforded upgrades that have reduced maintenance and energy costs. These costs too were absorbed by the lifecycle fund.

Expectations of buildings change, as do the compliance regimes that are applied to them – as the two examples illustrate. Working hand in hand with users and all of the stakeholders in the management of the estate will make for more successful and relevant community spaces no matter their civic purpose.