By Andrew Vidor
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about Canada’s “crumbling infrastructure.” City, provincial, and national decision-makers are facing hard choices—and potentially enormous bills—about how to repair old and worn roadways, bridges, and viaducts.
This infrastructure crisis should serve as a cautionary tale for parking owners, both public and private. As with any infrastructure component, your parkade requires maintenance and routine repairs over its lifetime. To borrow a cliché, it’s easy to be penny wise, but pound foolish. Deferring (or ignoring) routine maintenance will inevitably lead to far more expensive repairs down the road.
But protecting your parking investment doesn’t end with maintenance. It’s just as important to have an asset management plan to operate, maintain, and perhaps even plan for the decommissioning of your parking assets at the end of their useful service life. An asset management plan should revolve around the specific characteristics, uses, and plans for each individual parking asset as well as the organization it supports. It should also take into account the resources that are available to manage the parking asset in the short-term, as well as anticipated parking assets in the years to come.
MAINTAINING YOUR PARKADE
For many parking owners, maintenance can be an elusive concept. As one long-time operator once told me, “I know I’m supposed to be picking up the trash, sweep the elevator lobbies, and mop up the spills; but are there other maintenance items I may be forgetting?”
In fact, a maintenance plan is much more than occasional spot cleaning. It’s a comprehensive strategy designed to keep a parkade operational and structurally sound. Of course the primary purpose is to prevent structural degradation of a parking asset, but maintenance plans can also help keep parkades operating at optimum efficiency.
What does a maintenance plan involve? The most obvious elements are regular sweeping and semi-annual power washing of floors, emptying trash bins, and washing windows. But there are also other very important elements too. These include replacing lights throughout the parkade, painting walls and ceilings, snow removal, and maintaining the grounds. All of these elements contribute to keeping parking facilities functionally and structurally sound.
Two areas are particularly important when it comes to maintenance: electrical and mechanical systems. Electrical systems include light bulbs, exit signs, outlets, electrical panels, conduits, generators, and building automation systems. Today’s garage is much more technologically advanced than those of the past, and the electrical systems, which can be intricate, are essential to assure a parkade’s smooth operation. Not only does regular maintenance of these systems assure that the garage will operate as it should, but many of these elements, particularly lighting and wayfinding equipment contribute to patron safety and the overall parking experience. It’s essential to implement a schedule of maintenance to assure that all electrical systems are operating properly. Mechanical Equally important are the mechanical systems. Elevators, heating ventilation and cooling systems, fire protection, snow melt systems, oil water separators, stand pipes, overhead doors, building automation systems, and parking access and revenue control systems are all essential operational elements of a parkade. It’s important to have a regular schedule for both inspections and maintenance to assure that they are operating at full capacity. In the case of stand pipes, regular pressure testing should be conducted to make sure that they work properly in the event of a fire.
In addition to these operational maintenance items, there are also many structural preventative maintenance elements that must be adhered to. For instance, cracks in concrete surfaces must be sealed before they have an opportunity to allow salt intrusion and cause corrosion of the reinforcing steel which will expand and cause major damage. In general joint sealants should regularly be replaced, waterproofing sealants every 7 to 10 years and architectural sealants every 15 to 20 years. Likewise, floor surface sealers should be reapplied every 5 to 7 years and traffic topping should be recoated every 5 to 10 years, or when wear is noticed. Expansion joints should also be replaced if glands are torn and header materials should be repaired if they are damaged. Finally, structural steel should be painted on a regular schedule to prevent rusting, and comprehensive inspections should regularly be completed to look for other potential problems.
The importance of these preventative maintenance initiatives can’t be overstated. Too often, owners and operators ignore them until it’s too late and costly repairs are required. Often it’s a matter of perceived cost, but the price of repairs vastly exceeds the cost of implementing a comprehensive maintenance plan.
What type of repairs typically arise when maintenance is ignored? There are relatively minor issues that crop up, including the need to fix trip hazards and knock down loose overhead concrete, both of which can cause safety hazards for patrons. More seriously, ignoring maintenance can lead to major overhauls, including post tensioning repairs and fixing concrete spalls in beams, columns, and floors. Both of these issues often reflect structural issues that can pose significant hazards to parkers and staff alike, and they can be very expensive. Ultimately, these are the types of issues owners and operators are trying to avoid through scheduled maintenance because they are so costly and potentially dangerous.
ASSET MANAGEMENT PLANS
As important as a program of scheduled maintenance is, ultimately, it’s merely one element of an asset management plan. This is where owners who only have maintenance plans in place often fall short. As stated earlier, an asset management plan is an owner’s long-term financial plan for maintaining their parking assets. Asset management plans don’t come off a shelf. Rather they are developed around the specific characteristics, uses, and plans for each individual parking asset. The plan will also provide short- and long-term strategies for obtaining and setting aside the necessary capital for maintaining and repairing the asset—and even building it if a new parkade is under consideration.
The idea of the asset management plan is to be proactive rather than reactive. The worst thing owners and operators can do is carry on hoping nothing will go wrong or break down in a parkade. This is usually what happens when maintenance is deferred over long periods of time. By the time owners and operators are paying attention to maintenance issues the damage is done and the cost of address them will be exponentially higher. Sometimes the damage is so severe that repairs aren’t even cost effective. Figure one demonstrates the extent to which managed deterioration (through an asset management plan) extends the life of a parkade and reduces repair costs compared to unmanaged deterioration (deferring maintenance and operational planning).
So, what exactly does an asset management plan entail? There are five primary elements of a comprehensive plan: budgeting, maintenance and repairs, future planning, and programming continuity.
Budgeting is the essential first step of an asset management plan. Parking system managers need an effective planning and budgeting tool to properly manage, maintain, and repair their structured parking assets. They need to be able to anticipate both actual costs and available capital over the period of the plan, and they can’t rely on past budgetary experience to make those determinations. As with every business, some years are good and others are slow. In budgeting for operations and repairs, owners and operators need to be able to estimate when capital will be available, and when lean times are likely. Only then can they create a realistic budget schedule for the plan.
When the budget is complete, then owners and operators can start planning for maintenance and operation. The first step is evaluation. Understanding each parkade’s conditions and service objectives provides the baseline for the asset management plan. There are a number of key questions to be answered by the evaluation process. What is the current condition of each parkade? Will the structures’ role or use change in the near future? How long much each structure remain open? Which structure(s) need attention and in what order? For long-term structures, which repairs will maximize service life? For structures which are programmed for demolition, which minimal repairs will ensure safety? What structural maintenance should occur and how frequently? What are the long-term (usually 10 years) probable costs of each structure’s maintenance and/or repair? Should upgrades (i.e. lighting, ventilation, accommodations for persons with disabilities, EV’s, etc., functional, parking access and revenue control, signage, etc.) be implemented in any structure?
There’s a lot there right? So let’s break it down. First, what’s the current condition of the parkade, and what’s its planned future. Will it continue to operate indefinitely? Will it be demolished in five years so the land can be put to another use? The answers to these questions will obviously inform how intensive maintenance and repair strategies are, and how much capital will be put into it. For structures with an anticipated long-term lifecycle, a comprehensive maintenance and repair plan should be put in place. On the other hand, the focus is more limited for those deemed short-term: what will be necessary to keep it operational and safe for the few years it will still be in service.
For parking assets with long-term lifecycles, the asset management plan will need to establish a budget and schedule for maintenance, as well as operational plans for accommodating that maintenance. How do you provide maximum service to patrons while work is being done? How do you schedule work to minimize the impact on patrons?
And what types of work will be included in the plan. Owners and operators need to be able to accurately project what types of repairs will be needed in the future. It’s not enough to understand the condition of the asset when the asset management plan is being created; owners and operators also need to be able to predict the condition in each year of the plan. That way, they can implement strategies to prevent system, equipment, and structural breakdowns before they happen. In essence, owners and operators need a crystal ball that will tell them what’s going to break and when so they can budget and plan for the repair or maintenance in advance. Fortunately, there are a variety of technological tools and engineering approaches that can help provide these answers.
The final step in creating and implementing an asset management plan is programming continuity. It’s important to remember that the plan is a living thing. It will change as conditions change. For instance, sometimes things break unexpectedly and need to be repaired or replaced sooner than expected. Or capital may run low because anticipated business opportunities don’t come through. Owners and operators need be aggressive about evaluating the status of the asset management plan and maintain flexibility when implementing it to be able to adjust it as conditions and circumstances warrant.
PEACE OF MIND
An asset management plan provides a variety of different benefits. It can minimize financial surprises; reduce operational surprises; reduce facility downtime, which of course improves the bottom line; put owners and operators in a stronger position to compete for limited dollars or capture program dollars; and provide program continuity. Asset management plans offer confidence by providing accurate records of past repairs, quick financial projections for future repairs and maintenance, and reliable support information for developing funding for managing and maintaining each parking asset. They also offer overall master planning capabilities and maximize the useful service life of the parkade. And they can save owners and operators substantial money by helping them better plan for the needed service life of each parkade using the minimum amount of capital. Ultimately, combining all of these benefits, asset management plans can offer owners and operators peace of mind, and that’s no small thing.