Philadelphia’s property managers, in a survey conducted last year, estimated that about 48% of the 12 million square feet of building space they currently manage, including City Hall, parks and rec areas, libraries, police and fire stations, prisons, health department facilities, and the Rocky-famous Art Museum, are not in a state of good repair.
Too many properties to manage, too few resources, and of course not enough funding, has led to what they described as “chronic deferred maintenance.” This occurs when routine maintenance is either ignored or postponed which leads to much more serious problems like leaking roofs, broken windows, and crumbling brick or concrete that then lead to more serious structural issues. The more serious the issue, the more serious the repair cost.At its September meeting, the City Planning Commission discussed a recent project called the Capital Facility Planning Database. The database provides detailed specifications like location, acreage of the properties, square footage of any buildings, amenities, year it was built, the department currently occupying the property, etc. The database includes most of the city’s facilities and properties, including playgrounds and sports fields.
The database took city officials two years to populate, and is the first single source in the city’s history to aggregate an inventory of all the properties in the city. If utilized correctly, this database can have a lasting effect on many departments, as well as residents throughout the city. For example, city officials can evaluate which neighborhoods are not getting adequate coverage from fire and police station locations based on current changing population shifts. Many of the facility and property locations were established decades ago based on the neighborhood at that time. The Parks and Recreation department can use the database to ensure playgrounds and recreation centers are evenly disbursed. The emergency management department can use it to quickly identify which facilities can be used to store debris, supplies, or even people in case of a crisis.The main function of the database is to help officials manage the properties effectively and optimize their space. It can provide alerts for when major equipment like boilers and cooling systems need to be cleaned or replaced. The maintenance records can track when a specific building has become just too expensive to maintain and should be sold. Furthermore, by identifying the square footage of all the buildings and determining how the space is used (or not used) they can lease significant office space to outside companies. The city estimates there are 30 significant leases that could each bring in $5 million to $25 million annually.
This data tool is so useful it makes you wonder why it took the city so long to develop it and how much of tax payer dollars could have been saved.The city now needs to understand that organizing this data was only the first step. What they do with this information and what actions they take based on it is where the true value begins.
The city is dynamic and evolving and the database will therefore need to be constantly maintained to reflect the ever changing population. Will the database itself have the same fate as many of the properties and go into a state of disrepair?