The county should set aside nearly $700,000 each year to maintain its facilities, Public Works officials said, having conducted a full infrastructure report detailing every square inch of 26 county-owned buildings.
An extensive infrastructure study completed last year by Sampson County Public Works detailed $82.8 million in replacement costs for the county’s 462,000 square feet of space in 26 buildings. Four infrastructure capital maintenance accounts were subsequently established for the county, both school systems, and the community college as part of the current 2012-13 budget.
The infrastructure study initially concluded the county should be saving $500,000 per year to ensure the long-term upkeep. That took into account just five major components: roof, HVAC, interior finishes, exterior enclosures and site improvements, mostly parking lots.
This year, the remaining components have been added, to include all plumbing (fixtures, water heaters and coolers), electrical (outlets, lights and generators) and fire protection, specifically sprinkler systems — and the number that should be annually earmarked for maintenance and upkeep has gone up.
“This year we’ve added the rest of the layers that we think it’s worthwhile to track,” Sampson County Public Works director Lee Cannady said during a recent planning session of the Board of Commissioners.
The numbers of buildings and square footage has remained the same, while the deferred maintenance is at $1,571,897, up from around $900,000 last year, due to the added components.
The Sampson County Infrastructure Maintenance Program shows exactly where funds, once set aside, should be expended. The director, who first presented the program to commissioners last year, commended the foresight by the board allowing efforts to be dedicated toward the infrastructure study, and then subsequently establishing the capital reserve accounts.
“This was a good endeavor,” said Cannady. “This is the best tool that I’ve had in the 20 years I’ve been here. We are very appreciative of the Board of Commissioners taking the initiative to set aside funds to (allow) for infrastructure improvements.”
The current 10-year forecast with all components taken into account is $6,941,781. The proposed average amount that needs to be set aside annually would be $694,178, whereas last year it was $503,833, Public Works officials stated.
“It is imperative that we continue to try to set reserve funds aside in order to meet the annual projections,” Cannady said. “Without these reserve funds, we will continue to compound these increased deferred maintenance costs.”
In the massive report, every building and its attributes — year built, building square footage, replacement value and deferred maintenance — is listed, along with the facility condition index, which takes 1 minus the deferred maintenance, divided by the replacement value. That percentage is taken off the 100 percent condition.
Overall, the facility condition index has declined slightly due to depreciation, from 98.9 percent to 98.1 percent overall.
While the median facility condition index is 98.1 percent for county buildings, deferred maintenance at the EMS/911 Center, built in 1956, is among the highest at $244,652 and the condition index the lowest at 93.3 percent. The courthouse, built in 1904, has the highest deferred maintenance at $278,471, but the condition index is 97.1 percent. The difference is the replacement value. The EMS/911 Center has a replacement value of $3.68 million. The courthouse has a value of $9.7 million.
All in all, Cannady said the facilities are in solid status. As time goes on, though, money will have to be spent to keep them that way.
“Our facilities are still in pretty good condition,” said Cannady. “It is still apparent where funds have not been expended. There is still some work to be done.”
Cannady and Public Works facilities maintenance superintendent Brian Royal took commissioners through their method of data collection. That included measuring every square inch of all 26 county-owned and maintained buildings to compile M&R (maintenance and repair) costs.”
“The way I collected this data was by using as-built drawings, visiting every room of every building to confirm the data was correct,” said Royal. “Once I collected all the data, I brought it back and entered it into our database. This is a work in progress.”
The result is a huge document that is constantly changing, and can be laid out to show where county maintenance funds, as they are available, should be expended.
“I can show you any building you want, any information. There are hundreds of reports I can run to show you what components need to be looked at,” said Royal. “This basically forecasts what you need to look at most.”
Any time something is repaired or replaced, or deteriorates in condition, the numbers — and budget forecast — change as part of the fluid document, Royal noted. He mentioned the new boiler at the courthouse and how it was reflected in the modified forecast.
Cannady compared a February 2012 report for the courthouse with a January 2013 report. The 10-year forecasted HVAC cost at the courthouse at the beginning of 2012 was $72,121. Following a $50,000 expenditure for the boiler, that forecast now stands at $23,373.
He called it “a fine example” of why the system works. “As long as this thing is updated on an annual basis, you will get a true reflection of exactly what you need, and there is a prime example of it,” said Cannady.
“Once we do major repairs or replace components, it does show a difference in the figures,” Royal said. “I think this software is an excellent tool to forecast what is in your plan to maintain our county buildings.”
Avoiding the ‘perfect storm’
The 462,000 square feet is roughly 17 percent of the total square feet for which the county is responsible for maintenance. Sampson County Schools represent another 1.5 million square feet, or 55 percent, and Clinton City Schools are 610,000 square feet, or about 22 percent. Sampson Community College makes up the remaining 6 percent, at 150,000 square feet.
That is more than 2.74 million square feet of space that the county is obligated to maintain.
Over the last decade, Sampson County has invested more than $140 million in bricks and mortar infrastructure for local government and the school systems. The county obtained USDA financing for much of the money, primarily for a 40-year term, meaning after 20 years of regular utilization and normal wear and tear, the facilities will still be encumbered with 20 years of debt.
Last year, Cannady said if the county keeps doing what it has always done, it will continue to have “massive, costly repairs every 10-15 years uncontrollably.” County officials said Sampson, with annual debt service mounting amid a revenue plateau, was headed for “the perfect storm” if some funds were not set aside each year for necessary building maintenance.
“It is apparent we need to find a new way of doing business,” Cannady said then. “This program has been a wise and prudent investment and will be of great benefit to our department and the county for many years to come. This stuff really works.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby said he was a proponent of having an infrastructure program, but at the same token called into question the amount of emphasis placed on the process. He said “the eventuality is the eventuality,” that so much money has to be spent on a building.
“Whether you slice or dice with a computer program or not, the bottom line is you have to spend money,” said Kirby. “I’m just wondering out loud, does it really make a difference? I suppose it’s almost like why go to the doctor when you’re going to die anyway, right?”
“But the only difference is you have to live until you die,” Commissioner Jefferson Strickland replied. “If a building is 30 years old, there are moments in the life of that 30 years that some things have to be done, and this is the only way to guess about when.”
Cannady said if areas where maintenance is needed can be identified, funds can be spent in a timely manner and money can ultimately be saved. Taking those steps can prolong the life of a building and ensure that a much larger line item — the construction of a brand new facility — can be delayed.
“If you don’t choose to spend anything,” Cannady said, “I say your life expectancy is going to be cut shorter than it would if you maintain it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.