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Facilities audit readies Institute for upgrades

An audit of MIT facilities now underway will culminate in a 10-year plan for renewing campus buildings.

The audit will gather information on the physical condition of buildings that will help staff decide when those buildings require renewal -- for example, new fire alarms, roof replacement or other work required as structures age and standards change -- as opposed to renovations made because a building's function has changed.

"This will let us see how effectively a building does the mission it was originally designed to do, so we can continue to get the full life cycle out of each building," said Robert Cunkelman, a senior engineer in Physical Plant who is supervising the facilities audit conducted by Vanderweil Facility Advisors (VFA). "By reviewing the relative condition of a building in comparison to others on campus, facility renewal budgets can be planned in advance, instead of handling construction projects on a case-by-case basis."

Several years ago, Physical Plant Director Victoria Sirianni and Mr. Cunkelman began discussing ways to evaluate which buildings need upgrades and then establish a priority list.

The idea became a reality when Steve Immerman, then director of administration and operations of the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education (ODSUE), recommended an audit of buildings to coincide with the reorganization of the Dean's Office. Mr. Immerman recommended evaluating buildings associated with the Athletics Department, the Campus Activities Complex and student housing. The independent living groups became part of the audit as well.

VFA, a division of R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, Inc., was chosen for the project because the firm is familiar with college campuses, having done facility evaluations for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Tufts University and others.

Three VFA staff members with expertise in mechanical, electrical and structural systems began field work for the ODSUE buildings in February and finished in August. They then met with Physical Plant Zone D Repair and Maintenance staff to discuss any renewal projects recently completed. "Zone D staff were a great asset to the project because of their knowledge of the buildings and the recent history of repairs," said Mr. Cunkelman.

Assisting him with the implementation plan are Christopher Nolan, manager of renovations for housing, and Meg Benson from the Bursar's Office. The three reported preliminary findings to Mr. Immerman, now director of project development for Senior Vice President William R. Dickson, and Karen Nilsson, assistant director of Physical Plant, and will soon present a formal proposal.

"The audit serves as a planning tool for the identification of building needs and projected costs, and provides this information in a database that prioritizes needs by the use of number rankings from 1-5," Ms. Nilsson said. "These data will be essential in renovation, renewal and capital projects."

The ODSUE database now contains almost 3,400 records of building deficiencies. Although this number may seem high, Mr. Cunkelman explained that the list includes many renovations that are necessitated by revised building codes. In student housing, electrical modifications may be required because usage has changed. "What students bring to college has changed over the years," said Mr. Cunkelman. "There are more consumer electronics like computers and stereos."

"Our project cost is about 12.5 cents per square foot," Mr. Cunkelman added. "The average insured replacement value of the buildings is around $140 per square foot."

To maintain consistency in the audit, the same three experts from VFA will review the entire campus. Mr. Cunkelman expects the field work to be complete in June 1998. MIT buildings total 9.2 million square feet, and 2.7 million square feet have been examined so far.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 1997.

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