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The cost of deprioritizing building maintenance

Before I get into this, the Health and Fitness Center at WCC opened in 2007. This 75,000-square-foot facility is 14 years old. For a commercial building, 14 years of age is not old. However, when you put up a public building, you agree to perform building maintenance as needed, when needed, and at whatever cost or effort it takes.

So, I was surprised to see an enforcement ticket posted by the Ann Arbor Township Building Department on the Health and Fitness Center. According to the information, during what appears to be a routine fire marshal’s inspection of the Health and Fitness Center in June, the fire marshal noticed a large deflection crack in the building’s northwest exterior. A deflection crack can occur when a structural member bends or flexes, usually due to an overload condition.

The crack affected the building’s northwest stairwell. When the fire marshal inspected the interior of the building, he noted crumbling concrete at the site of the crack. He noted a concrete repair, as well as a metal bracket that had come loose from its wall mount.

Higher in the same stairwell, “something occurred” to create a 2″ gap between the wall and the edge of the concrete. Carpet covered the gap itself. (Nice.) The fire marshal then ordered WCC to contract with a structural engineer to examine the fault and deliver an analysis to the fire marshal within two weeks.

WCC’s shameful approach to building maintenance is on full display here

Based on documentation Ann Arbor Township provided, WCC produced evidence of a 2012 structural repair at the site, involving that crack. So yes, the crack was repaired, but the repair is now crumbling. (It came with a 10-year warranty, which expires in August 2022.) I’m not a structural engineer, but if the repair is cracking, it tells me that the same stresses that caused the initial crack are still present.

The nuts on that loose bracket? According to the repair specification, they’re supposed to be hand tight. Which means they’re not tight. A person should be able to walk up to the bracket and turn the nuts without the aid of a tool. Ordinary vibrations – like what you might encounter in a stairwell – can loosen the nuts over time. And, to no one’s surprise (except WCC apparently), the nuts loosened.

This is the consequence of spending $0.25 per square foot on building maintenance. Industry standard is about $6.50 per square foot in case you’re wondering. This is what we get when the WCC Administration budgets $300,000 for maintenance for a 1.2M square foot campus. It costs exactly nothing but a person’s standard hourly rate to keep nuts hand-tight on a support bracket that’s a critical part of a structural repair. Or even to recognize that a repair is failing. But when the WCC Administration broadcasts to the world that building maintenance is simply not a priority for them, it is not a priority for anyone.

So, it is left to the Ann Arbor Township Fire Marshal to notice that critical maintenance isn’t getting done at WCC.

Washtenaw County taxpayers aren’t getting the maintenance we’re paying for

Keeping old network equipment in service is NOT a life and safety issue. Cracking foundations and neglected maintenance in the stairwells of a public building ARE LIFE AND SAFETY ISSUES. To anyone who uses the Health and Fitness Center at WCC (or any other building, for that matter), the WCC Administration believes that YOUR LIFE and YOUR SAFETY are not worth more than a quarter per square foot. Are you comfortable with that?

Cutting the building maintenance budget to the point of irrelevance is part of the WCC Administration’s broader strategy to outsource its facilities and maintenance staff. Ironically, WCC has all the money in the world to hire more vice presidents and build new buildings, but sadly it has no money to take care of the buildings it already has.

Photo Credit: Travis Swicegood, via Flickr