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2023 Challenges for School Facility Managers

Challenges for School Facility Managers - Classroom
Cynthia Cline
Cynthia Cline
January 6, 2023

Facility managers (FMs) juggle meetings, phone calls, answering emails, coordinating teams, budgeting, and cost control, performing audits, handling supplier negotiations, and much more. They also receive pressure to find ways of providing more work output with fewer resources, especially as hiring staff has become an ongoing challenge.

In the post-Covid-19 world, schools are loosening restrictions and returning to pre-pandemic routines. In 2023, this will present a significant additional challenge as facility managers figure out how to address the heightened awareness in public buildings regarding infection control and school occupants' expectations of appropriate cleanliness levels.

What Does a School Facility Manager Do?

School facility managers cover jobs in many areas based on the size and type of school. Responsibilities usually fall under the following categories:

  1. Environmental, health, and safety
  2. Fire safety
  3. Maintenance (all types: emergency, routine/preventative, and proactive/predictive)
  4. Sanitation and cleaning
  5. Operational duties (changing lightbulbs, shoveling snow, clearing storm drains, removing garbage)

Apart from the task categories, a deeper dive into the job of school facility managers in 2023 uncovers specific challenges unique to the time of year, the condition of the job market, and other factors outside their control. The following issues exist on every campus, presenting additional challenges for school facility managers.


Many school facility managers are familiar with the operations and solutions they have learned firsthand. However, they only benefit from exposure to other options, such as best-practice operational methods at other facilities.

Guiding standards, such as the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges Standard for K-12 School Districts and Higher Education Institutions, were designed to educate managers at the facility and district level on best practices for cleaning operations, use of chemicals, proper protocols, setting policies, and procurement, among other areas. The program includes an assessment so schools can see how they measure up against the established standard and help the team measure their success.

Staffing the Team

School Janitor

Quality employees are a crucial piece of the puzzle in keeping schools clean, healthy, and safe. School facility managers face the ongoing challenge of filling vacancies on their teams. Low compensation, especially during higher inflation, means the wages do not attract enough recruits.

Most school FMs have no control over wages. This decision is made with board approval, although managers can still speak up for their staff and educate the decision-makers on the challenges of filling positions.

Retaining Staff

Another common issue facing FMs is retaining employees and keeping up morale. The workplace must have a culture of trust and empowerment to keep employees engaged. The old saying, "employees quit bosses, not jobs," rings true for school facility personnel as in any other job.

Improved training for newly promoted facility managers can help, especially since many did a great job as a technician before being promoted but came to the FM job with few management or leadership skills. Workers want to stay in a job where they get support and development and feel that their manager always has their back.

Summer Maintenance

During the school year, the facility management team may find it challenging to complete specific projects while the campus is in full swing. However, once school is out for summer, the facilities team has the benefit of lower occupancy to schedule additional maintenance projects that might not have gotten the attention they deserved during the school year.

For example, deteriorating or broken down HVAC systems are a common problem. Summer is a great time to maintain or replace the system without a lengthy list of other maintenance and operational tasks.

Forgotten Maintenance Processes

Flood in front of a school

Maintenance staff can forget processes and procedures over the summer break due to staff turnover or other reasons. If the facility staff forgets the procedures used to maintain buildings, care for the grounds, maintain the stormwater system, and other crucial tasks, several problems can crop up. New staff may pick up the work but not perform it using best-practice procedures as was used previously, for example.

Time management is one of the challenges for school facility managers year-round, and boiling the myriad of maintenance tasks down to a set of documented procedures is one of the best ways to ensure the tasks happen consistently. Documented processes make it much easier to train staff so they can step into their roles without letting any maintenance activities get off track.

Lack of Innovation

Schools are not generally considered "first adopters" when it comes to new technology and may not even spend the time to evaluate potential technology solutions to improve and expedite work processes, which makes FMs work harder than they need to.

Facilities managers can improve operations by using technology such as smart sensors. These intelligent sensor tools can allow FMs to manage heat, electricity, and cooling more remotely. For example, a sensor can use wifi to detect the number of people in a classroom and transmit the data to the school's HVAC system to adjust the heating and cooling automatically.

Not Minding Green Spaces

During summer break, it's easy to ignore the green spaces, which ultimately creates more maintenance work for staff when the fall session starts. Pruning bushes, pulling weeds, and keeping the grass cut on a regular schedule will eliminate extra work at the end of summer. Summer may also be an excellent time to aerate lawns so they can recover before the students return to class.

Aging School Infrastructure

One of the single biggest challenges for school facility managers is aging school infrastructure. Schools in the U.S. are, on average, 44 years old. Schools' facility management tasks are already substantial without the extra burden of deteriorating buildings, grounds, and equipment. On the other hand, new schools require other maintenance that involves learning new technology and acquiring additional management expertise.

Every educational facility has its own needs, making it impossible to have a one-size solution for facilities management that fits all schools. Facility managers can benefit from implementing their own SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures to manage the long maintenance and operational tasks required.

Book with procedures

An SOP is a set of instructions for a standardized procedure, and it is used as a single point of reference so that all staff performs tasks the same way, in the same order, time, etc. SOPs can keep best practices in place, even with staff turnover. They take out the guesswork of completing tasks and make work more efficient for the team. On any school campus, there could be hundreds, or even thousands, of tasks that fall within some type of SOP.

Have Stormwater System Maintenance Staff On-Call

Having the staff and expertise to get the job done presents challenges for school facility managers, especially in tasks requiring specialized knowledge, such as stormwater system maintenance.

Facility managers can outsource these specialized tasks to a team with in-depth knowledge and experience with all aspects of stormwater management, including regular system maintenance and emergency response.

Hiring an experienced team to perform regular maintenance is like putting the work on autopilot. Contact Catchall Environmental today to learn more about how we can provide a cost-effective solution to your stormwater system maintenance woes.