GIS: The Simplest Approach to Planning and Maintenance

By Ken Syers, GIS Specialist, C2AE
November 1, 2023

Has your school ever invested in a master plan or capital plan that winds up sitting on the shelf, only partially implemented? You aren’t alone.

Many schools struggle with this same challenge. With so many moving parts, these plans are difficult to maintain. To build your plan effectively, you need to know the location, condition, and cost to maintain each campus or district asset—the components of each building, utility, and road. All too often, this data ends up scattered, supplemented only by memory and best guesses. As a result, your plan is easily derailed by surprise expenses.

But there’s a modern solution to this persistent problem: Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. By integrating your plan with GIS, you can make it more dynamic, sustainable, and reliable. GIS databases are easy to use and maintain. They’re also scalable, meaning you can choose how much data you want to track, and you can perform large-scale data collection and integration processes strategically and incrementally.

As a GIS specialist who has spent the last decade creating databases for school districts, colleges, universities, and entire communities, I’ve seen GIS programs pay for themselves repeatedly. So what are the benefits of planning with GIS?

Learn business risk.

When I populate a GIS database, I supply information about each asset’s expected useful life and the cost to repair or replace that asset. Then I set up the database to calculate something called “business risk” by weighing the likelihood of an asset’s failure against the consequence of failure.

For example, if a boiler is both costly to repair and likely to break down soon, the business risk of choosing not to repair the boiler would be high. In contrast, if a piece of furniture is inexpensive to replace and unlikely to break down, the business risk of leaving that asset for another year is very low.

To estimate each asset’s useful life, I draw on the same rules of thumb that architects and engineers have used to develop facility and capital plans for generations. It’s the same thought leadership—just viewed from a modern lens.

Make data-guided decisions.

Armed with comprehensive, reliable information about your campus assets, your administration can prioritize and budget for upcoming projects. It always helps to have an experienced design firm analyze the data, paired with your short- and long-term goals. I work with C2AE, a firm with decades of experience helping schools and communities plan for the future.

As a result of these efforts, your school will experience fewer surprise expenses, saving time and money in the long run. Because you can estimate your assets’ useful life, you can anticipate expenses and shop around for the best solution well before any project becomes an emergency.

In addition, your administration will be able to clearly defend funding requests to constituents, eliminating any question of bias or human error. Plus, GIS provides a holistic look at your school’s needs, which makes it a useful visual aid in public engagement sessions.

Do it all in real time.

Traditional planning requires thorough facilities assessments every three, five, or ten years. The best part about planning with GIS is that it’s more dynamic than traditional planning.

With GIS, you can easily access and update your plan from a dashboard on your smartphone or tablet. Any team member can take a picture of an asset in the field and upload it to your database in real time. That means nothing gets lost, no information conflicts, and no time is wasted. When personnel leave, they don’t take your only source of information with them. And when it’s time for your next assessment, there’s no headache. The work is already done.

After developing a GIS database for a school, I work with the operations and maintenance staff to make sure they’re fully equipped to keep the program up to date. With a little training, your team will be ready to keep your database running for years to come. But if you have any questions, I’m just a phone call away.

Planning for growth and maintenance is a notoriously difficult job for even the most organized of schools. You have to account for thousands of assets each year, some of which are bound to break down. Integrating your plan with GIS makes this process simpler, more collaborative, and more proactive. This is the future of master planning and capital planning.

For more information or a demonstration of GIS in action, contact Sandra March, C2AE Education Leader, at [email protected].

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