Insight Blog

Challenges of Managing Independent Schools Facilities

Challenges of Managing Independent Schools Facilities

Operations and maintenance used to be the central focus of an educational institution’s facilities management department.  Then came sustainability, energy management, safety and security, and capital construction programs vying for attention. Over the last several years, these advancements have altered the daily operations and overall objectives of academic facilities departments. 

While one may first think of universities and colleges when considering the evolution of facilities management in an educational setting, independent schools deal with similar issues. These institutions are also focused on improving facilities processes, analyzing operations, and leveraging limited budgets, all while maintaining campuses that are attractive and functional for students and staff.

As executive search consultants who specialize in securing professionals for facilities management and related roles within academic institutions, we have seen a trend of independent schools initiating more proactive approaches to their facilities programs. Most are strategizing about master planning, preventative maintenance, energy efficiency, and sustainability. 

An increasing number of independent schools are becoming adept at analyzing their facilities management programs related to:

Maintaining historic architecture while integrating new trends in building design

Maintaining traditional campus settings is critical to most private and independent schools as many of these institutions, particularly boarding schools, are more than 100 years old and have campuses of historic significance.  While it can be done, integrating modern amenities that address the needs and wants of 21st century learners is challenging when trying to retain the ambience of an “old school” setting.  Facilities departments have to weigh considerations carefully and set standards for new construction and renovations to ensure they don’t lose the feel of a traditional environment.    

Leveraging technological advancements

Building management systems, energy and utility programs, and other innovative technologies have completely transformed facilities management. To leverage advancements, independent schools must have facilities teams that stay abreast of new developments and understand how to apply advanced tools to operations in the most effective manner with limited financial resources.    

Implementing safety & security programs

Unfortunately, safety and security have become some of the most critical issues of our time. Facilities management departments play the lead role in these measures, and components of these programs span space planning and access control to emergency preparedness. Independent schools must address these plans efficiently and comprehensively for the safety of everyone within their communities.   

Balancing major capital programs with maintenance and operations

Embarking on a capital plan can be a major undertaking for many different reasons that go beyond just having the financial resources. Most programs have to be rolled out in phases, and they have complex logistics.

Additionally, there are numerous factors to consider when it comes to significant building programs, such as sustainable design and alternative delivery methods. Multiple building and renovation initiatives can be draining on a facilities department whose primary focus is operations and maintenance. Furthermore, there are times when a school may not have the appropriate team members to achieve all of their goals simultaneously. For example, not every facilities director is going to understand construction as well as maintenance and operations, which can create a skills deficit within a department.    

Weighing outsourcing versus in-house facilities management

Outsourcing is a common contemplation among independent schools because some find it more beneficial and cost-effective to retain an outside firm to conduct its facilities management. Others prefer to have the control that comes with having an in-house team. There are pros and cons to both options, and each can make sense depending upon a school's needs. Furthermore, the right option can change in time so it's a constant debate. 


Facilities management departments within independent schools have multiple components for which they are responsible. Although many of these schools have smaller campuses than higher education institutions, their initiatives and challenges can be equally as complex, and they work diligently to maintain their facilities progressively and effectively for the benefit of their entire academic communities.

*Are you involved in prep school facilities? Helbling & Associates is attending NBOA's 2017 Annual Meeting February 27 - March 1 in Washington DC ~ Stop by our booth #96 and meet Joe Wargo and Wendy Zang!