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What is Deferred Maintenance? What is the Definition of It for My Schools?

Dude Solutions
  • Apr 24, 2017
  • 3 minutes

A great question around capital planning was submitted that requires defining and feedback:

"I am a resident and involved parent in our local school system which is in the process of contemplating capital improvements for our aging buildings. I'm hoping you'd be kind enough to lend your expertise for a brief moment. The term "deferred maintenance" is being thrown around quite a bit, but without any real definition. Do you know of any standard definition for deferred maintenance that you could point me to?" 

This question is not limited to just education. Any assets, properties, etc. can experience deferred maintenance. It's not just facilities, either. A story passed onto me this very morning reiterated that IT departments can experience this also. 

For some, it is a simple backlog of what needs to be done, but most would say it is a backlog you cannot tackle with resources currently in place and a downward slide is imminent or has commenced. 

What Does Deferred Maintenance Mean? 

We'll start with simple definitions, yet watch how this can scale into definitions with viewpoints: 

Merriam-Webster: an amount needed but not yet expended for repairs, restoration, or rehabilitation of an asset 

Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board: maintenance and repairs that were not performed when they should have been or were scheduled to be and which are put off or delayed for a future period. 

Wikipedia: the practice of postponing maintenance activities such as repairs on both real property (i.e. infrastructure) and personal property (i.e. machinery) in order to save costs, meet budget funding levels, or realign available budget monies. The failure to perform needed repairs could lead to asset deterioration and ultimately asset impairment. Generally, a policy of continued deferred maintenance may result in higher costs, asset failure, and in some cases, health and safety implications. 

Asset Lifecycle Model (coordinated with IFMA, APPA, and other highly-regarded subject experts): The total dollar amount of existing maintenance repairs and required replacements (capital renewal), not accomplished when they should have been, not funded in the current fiscal year or otherwise delayed to the future. Typically identified by a comprehensive facility condition assessment/audit of buildings, grounds, fixed equipment and infrastructure. These needs have not been scheduled to be accomplished in the current budget cycle and thereby are postponed until future funding budget cycles. The projects have received a lower priority status than those to be completed in the current budget cycle. 

Commonwealth of Virginia's Auditor of Public Accounts: the facility owner leaves unperformed planned maintenance, repairs, replacement, and renewal projects due to a lack of resources or perceived low priority and deferral of the activity results in a progressive deterioration of the facility condition or performance. The cost of the deterioration including capital costs, operating costs, and productivity losses is expected to increase if the activity continues to be deferred. 

Final Thoughts 

When a department uses any term or category, it should include what they determine as the interpretation. Deferred Maintenance is more than a category or a number, it is about questions and discussions driven around why, what, where, how, how much, who and when. 

Deferred maintenance creates vigorous debates about the past and passionate views about the future, so be cautious in getting too lost in an autopsy of past wrongs that keeps you from focusing on future rights. What "should have happened" does not change "what is happening" and hampers "what needs to happen". 

As I like to quote W. Edwards Deming, remember you can "Manage the cause, not the result. Managing by results is like looking in the rear-view." 

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