Many of the nation’s school buildings are getting older, while
the student population continues to grow. This has created a great
need to build new schools, and simultaneously to preserve and
modernize existing buildings. New York City has more than 1,100
school buildings, most more than 50 years old. Over the past 12
years, since the creation of the New York City School Construction
Authority, more than $10 billion has been invested in school
facilities. While much has been accomplished to slow down the rapid
deterioration that preceded this investment, much remains to be
In July 1999, the Board of Education’s third Five-Year Capital
Plan went into effect. In their draft proposal, the BOE requested
funding of almost $11 billion to be spent on new construction and
the renovation, restoration and modernization of existing buildings.
In developing this five-year capital plan, the BOE relied heavily on
information obtained through a computerized Building Condition
Assessment Survey (BCAS). This survey was conducted by a joint
venture of three consulting firms under contract with the NYC School
Benefits of Condition Assessment
Some would define planning as the equitable and optimal
distribution of scarce resources. What is the best way to determine
how much to spend, which buildings to spend it on and in what
priority order? BCAS is a logical answer. It is a method by which
architects and engineers using a consistent, uniform method assess
every single capital asset. The advantage is that survey results,
obtained mostly via objective rating criteria, provide ‘‘baseline’‘
measurements of individual building conditions, the school system as
a whole or any part thereof.
It provides a sound basis for long-range capital planning, a
realistic and defensible estimate of ‘‘cost of good repair’‘ and
objective building condition information that designers can use to
develop scopes of work. This improves consistency and minimizes
subjective decision-making by designers.
Before embarking on a BCAS program, it is important to determine
how the information from the survey will be used: Will it be used
for a) capital planning, b) designing capital projects, c)
maintenance or d) all of the above? It is also important to decide
how often buildings will be surveyed. For example, New York City has
a legal mandate to look at certain critical components such as
structural elements annually.
Early planning decisions should include a) identifying what
information already exists; b) deciding the universe of the survey
-- will every building be looked at; and c) deciding if there will
be one survey for all buildings on a site or one per building.
Scope of the Survey
The scope of the survey was influenced by the amount available to
be spent. New York City spent about $4 million on about 1,400
surveys, for an average of about $2,900 per facility. On average, a
team of three surveyors (an architect team leader, an electrical
engineer and a mechanical engineer) spent one day at each facility.
When it was necessary, a structural engineer visited the facility to
evaluate special conditions.
Once they are at the school, surveyors may collect a variety of
information; 1) they can simply look at building conditions and
provide a condition rating for each component, 2) they can record
every deficiency and take photographs, 3) they can inventory all
equipment, 4) they can alert school authorities regarding imminent
hazards, 5) they can assess the technology readiness of the school,
6) they can evaluate the school’s compliance with the ADA (Americans
with Disabilities Actand, and 7) perhaps most important, they can
gauge the educational adequacy of the school facility. Generally,
educational adequacy is defined as the extent to which any
particular facility complies with commonly recognized current and
anticipated standards for education. This would include the
availability and sizes of various required rooms, the ability of the
facility to properly accommodate instructional technology, the shape
of rooms and their relationships to one another, the flexibility of
the overall plan, insofar as its ability to adjust to different
learning styles and the size of the school itself.
Often, decisions to renovate or replace any particular facility
may be less influenced by its physical condition than its
In New York City, the pressing need to complete the surveying of
almost 1,400 school facilities in about six months meant that only
observed condition deficiencies could be recorded. While the surveys
addressed items one through six from the prior list, it only
marginally addressed item seven, the issue of educational adequacy.
Certain common rooms such as auditoriums and gymnasiums were
evaluated for their adequacy but, overall, the question of whether a
particular facility met required educational adequacy standards was
not dealt with.
An important observation regarding costs: New York City decided
that surveyors would gather objective data regarding deficiencies
with appropriate unit measures of the deficiencies. Unit costs would
then be applied based upon historic project cost data.
Finally, in deciding the scope of the survey, the question of
‘‘granularity’‘ must be addressed. Granularity is the level of
detail at which the survey is conducted. The least granular survey
would have one question regarding an overall system such as
‘‘exteriors.’‘ In New York City, the granularity extended down to
four levels -- interior, classroom, doors and wood.
The entire facility was broken down into components for purposes
of the survey. This breakdown of building components was referred to
as the ‘‘Physical Breakdown Structure.’‘ It contained a total of
about 320 components included within one of three systems --
architectural, mechanical and electrical.
To minimize subjective ratings by surveyors, the following or
similar system is necessary.
5 = Poor Condition: The component cannot continue to perform its
original function without repairs or is in such a condition that its
failure is imminent. Equipment exceeding its useful life and
requiring replacement would fall under this category.
4 = Condition Between Fair and Poor
3 = Fair Condition: The component is still performing adequately
at this time, but may require preventive maintenance to prevent
further deterioration and to restore it to a good condition.
2 = Condition Between Good and Fair
1 = Good Condition: The system/sub-system is sound and performing
Purpose of Action
Every deficiency is attached to a recommended action. A ‘‘Purpose
of Action’‘ is attached to every recommended action. The following
menu is taken from the New York City survey model and listed in
priority order: Life Safety, Structural, Regulation/Code, Security,
Betterment, Cost Avoidance, Operations/Maintenance Savings,
Aesthetics and Community. In the above coding system, the
recommendation to fix a broken light fixture in a non-teaching area
which is rated a five (poor) would be considered betterment, whereas
the recommendation to replace loose coping stones also rated five
(poor) would be life safety and take precedence. This system allows
planners to distinguish between and prioritize available
Neither the rating by itself nor the purpose of action addresses
the issue of urgency. Therefore, five urgency codes were
established. They were: 1) fail now, 2) fail within six months, 3)
fail within 24 months, 4) no fail within 24 months and 5) no
After all components were surveyed and rated, weights were
assigned to the various systems and their components. A condition
roll-up system uses these assigned weights to aggregate survey data
in a manner that gives more importance to the systems and components
considered critical or high priority.
Managing the Survey Task Force
A key to the success of the New York City program was the
up-front planning and mobilization efforts. A detailed database of
school facility information including school address, driving
directions, names of school principal and custodian, size and age of
building, etc. was included in the package of information given to
each inspector. An appointment database was created and maintained
by central administrative staff. Inspections that were incomplete or
otherwise failed to pass quality control were rescheduled.
Using the Survey Information
New York City used the BCAS data in a number of ways. Primarily,
survey data became the basis for a proposed $10.8-billion, five-year
capital plan. Survey information regarding potentially hazardous
conditions was also used to provide emergency stabilization measures
at hundreds of locations throughout the city. The survey provided
the Board of Education with the most complete and comprehensive
inventory it ever had regarding handicapped accessibility of its
buildings and programs. Project scopes of work for capital
improvements were also reviewed against the BCAS data to ensure
consistency and accuracy.
At the time the survey was performed, Prakash Nair, RA, REFP was
a Director of Operations for the New York City School Construction
Authority. He is currently the Director of Educational Planning for
Vitetta and President of Urban Educational Facilities for the 21st
Nadine Chin-Santos was formerly Project Manager of New York
City's Building Condition Assessment Survey. She is currently
working with Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm in New