By Samuel Greengard
Operating the largest school district in Oregon is no small challenge. But for Portland Public Schools (PPS), which oversees 81 schools and approximately 47,000 students, the task is complicated by aging and increasingly outdated facilities, some of which are more than 70 years old.
“Although buildings and other assets get older, the money to maintain and update the buildings continues to shrink,” says Andy Fridley, data analyst in the facilities and asset management division of PPS.
In 2011, voters turned down a bond initiative that would have provided essential capital funds for the district. “So, we had to go back and reassess things and figure out a more focused and comprehensive approach to facilities management,” Fridley explains. That meant getting a handle on the specific condition of buildings and putting together a clearer and more compelling case for voters. “The public had to understand exactly why we were asking for the money,” he adds.
PPS turned to a facility and real estate management software solution to collect and consolidate information that was previously spread across a variety of systems. Using IBM’s TRIRIGA software solution, PPS began to examine everything from the seismic condition of buildings and classrooms to required facilities and equipment repairs.
“Once we knew the exact condition of the buildings and what improvements were necessary to bring them up to minimum seismic standards, we could present an accurate picture of the costs,” Fridley notes.
Among other things, the TRIRIGA software allowed PPS to evaluate future space requirements and make better long-term planning decisions. It also helped the district assess building conditions, while prioritizing investments.
In the end, officials were able to understand how to maximize the lifetime value of district facilities while minimizing costs. “We were able to obtain a very detailed analysis and then slice and dice the data so we could lay out the story in a way that the press and public could understand,” he says.
The software provided some remarkable insights. For example, the district had previously identified one school in dire need of repairs and had put it at the top of its fix list. After reviewing the data generated by the TRIRIGA software, Fridley and other officials realized that they had overestimated a number of building repairs and other requirements. “Ultimately, the school wound up at the middle-lower section of the list. We had made several miscalculations that became obvious.”
In addition, the district was able to view data in a more consolidated and holistic way. Because data is first entered into the software and then passes through the payroll system, PPS has significantly reduced data entry tasks. Likewise, the system links to CAD drawings.
Consequently, “We no longer have different people working with different spreadsheets,” Fridley says. “Everything is visible and accessible at a glance, and everyone is working with the same information.”
The result? In November 2012, voters approved by a 60 percent margin a $485 million bond proposal for Portland Public Schools. In addition, PPS has reduced facilities management costs by 15 percent.
“Accurate information helped sell the media and the public on the need for improvements,” Fridley concludes. “We are now able to assess and manage facilities in a way that previously wasn’t possible.”