5 Smart Ways To Spend Your School’s Facilities Management Budget Surplus

by James McDonald on December 16, 2021
What COVID-19 Safety Expenses Can Public Entities Cover With Federal Funds?

Not many companies expect to end the year with a surplus, but many schools might be in such a position after the influx of COVID relief funds. Elementary, middle, and high schools received $128.5 billion of the allotted funds, while colleges and universities received $40 billion.

The popular 2000s sitcom “The Office” featured an episode where rather than return budget surplus funds to the corporate office, employees fought over whether to purchase a new copier or new chairs. While many company leaders can relate to the delicate dance of balancing a facilities management budget, the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act is putting some businesses – especially schools – in the position to splurge at the end of this year.

See how to use federal funds for COVID-19 expenses.

At their fiscal year end in June, Idaho reported close to a $900 million surplus. Officials were divided on how to use a portion of that for schools, such as increasing salaries for teachers or offering state-funded all-day kindergarten. Though the stakes are much higher than new chairs or copiers, there are ways schools can benefit from and use these surplus funds in these few remaining weeks, especially when it comes to facilities management essentials.

5 ways to spend your school’s facilities management surplus

1. Visitor management software

Public schools, especially those in K-12, already have a strict gatekeeper process when determining who is allowed in the building and when. The need for enhanced safety measures over the years have led to visitors making appointments, only being able to enter through one entrance at the main office, needing to show IDs, and more.

While the pandemic kept visitors out of schools for the better part of two years, as visitor parameters begin to lift, implementing touchless visitor management software provides a way for visitors to more easily spend time in schools while mitigating the risk of spreading germs.

The best visitor management systems allow employees to pre-register guests and send them a QR code to check in using their mobile phone. Once a guest scans the code, employees receive a notification digitally so they can greet their guest at the door. The technology even can take a guest’s photo and print a one-time use ID badge, which is more sanitary and secure than reusable lanyards or other physical identification. They can even complete a short wellness check by answering a few questions about their exposure to COVID-19 and digitally sign important documents.

Visitor management software combines the administrative side of managing building capacity and planning space with the safety and wellness side of reducing the spread of germs and viruses. School facilities managers should budget for new technology like this to help with contact tracing, streamlining your guest and employee experience, and keeping your school safe, hygienic and secure.

2. Wayfinding and navigation software

A wayfinding system includes software and digital signs that help them navigate your building or campus.

Oral Roberts University encourages visitors to use its wayfinding software through the school’s website. The wayfinding system at the religious liberal arts university starts online, where visitors browse directories, receive turn-by-turn directions, view maps, and send information or instructions directly to their phones.

The software also links digital screens across 16 buildings, with 3D custom mapped designs spanning 48 total floors and 1,000 rooms. The customized campus maps and floor designs help visitors and students find their way to classrooms, buildings, amenities, and more. Using 3D technology, users can zoom in and out with their fingers, or enjoy a touchless experience in this time of COVID-19 by using their phones.

User-friendly wayfinding and navigation software is a good use of your facilities management budget because it gives users real-time information on locations of people and spaces. The right software also makes it easy to broadcast news and other information across digital signage. It can even integrate with desk and room reservation software. This helps you make the most of your space while creating an interactive environment for students in a time when physical contact is limited.

3. Space management solutions and occupancy sensors

The implementation of social distancing has given schools with already reduced space a challenge when it comes to creating a safe but engaging, effective educational environment.

Some school districts are using COVID relief funds to solve this issue in a very literal way with building expansions. Raleigh County schools in West Virginia created a plan that distributed $9 million – more than $800 per student – to expand an elementary school. This plan added nine classrooms, upgraded the library, expanded the kitchen, and separated the cafeteria and the gym.

Schools that are unable to do this are turning to space management solutions to make better use of their buildings. Smart technology helps them reconfigure spaces according to distancing parameters. Occupancy sensors show who is using what space, when, and how frequently. Facilities managers who understand what rooms in the building have higher traffic at specific parts of the day can better schedule cleaning routines, and budget for cleaning and sanitation supplies as the sanitation needs in schools change.

Smart sensors offer versatility for all types of spaces, from those as small as a nurse’s room or an administrative office to those as large as the gym, cafeteria, or other common space. They collect high-resolution occupancy information anonymously using thermal technology instead of cameras. This allows for improved accuracy while maintaining privacy.

Facilities management teams and school administrators can see activity reports and other data, which is stored in the cloud for on-demand access, and even schedule notifications and alerts such as when a room reaches a certain capacity.

The ability to have real-time data on building occupancy allows facilities managers to optimize ongoing budgets as sanitation protocols increase. You can schedule cleaning crews more efficiently while keeping student and staff health and safety at a consistent forefront priority.

4. Upgraded air filters and purification systems

The EPA recommends enhancing the already robust commercial HVAC systems in schools with portable single-room filters and purifiers. Though air filters and purification systems cannot stop the spread of airborne viruses alone, they can help to reduce the spread of virus particles. For maximum effectiveness, they should be able to filter particles as small as 0.1-1 um.

Schools that allocate a portion of the COVID-19 relief funds to enhanced technology in air purification – like the Cherokee County School District in South Carolina – may consider using emerging technology. Bipolar ionization is a technology mentioned by the EPA as a way to generate positively and negatively charged particles.

Provided manufacturers have data to demonstrate efficacy, manufacturers of these types of devices may market this technology to help remove viruses, including SARS-2-CoV, the virus that causes COVID-19, from the air, or to facilitate disinfection of surfaces within a treated area.

Air purifiers and filter systems are a quick way to make sure students and staff are breathing cleaner air. Investing in these solutions is as simple as buying portable purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fans or filter systems. In a list of suggested ways to improve building ventilation and circulation, the CDC estimates adding these systems cost between $500 and $2,500 each, making them an affordable way to spend your facilities management budget surplus.

5. Consulting services

With the pressures of returning to schools in person, managing hybrid schedules, keeping up with safety requirements and protocols, and the other litany of duties demanding school district administrator’s time and attention, determining the best use of additional recovery funds can be daunting. School districts are asking for public input, putting out various proposals and plans, but often the best way to develop a full action plan is to hire an expert.

Workplace consultants focus on identifying and implementing strategic improvements. They can assess operations, identify the needs of the students, staff, and community, and also determine facility management priorities. From there, they can determine the best way to spend a surplus budget.

Before the pandemic began, the global consulting market was an estimated $132 billion industry.

Hiring a workplace consultant is like hiring a physician for your school. You may not even notice the small aches and pains that are creating a larger issue; or you may be so focused on one pain point that you don’t recognize your overall needs. A workplace consultant can come in with fresh eyes to evaluate, plan, and help implement improvements for your individual schools and your district as a whole. A surplus of funds that you didn’t plan to have creates the perfect opportunity to invest in a service you may not have been in a position to use before, but will yield more efficient – and effective – results.

Make the most of your facility management budget all year

School districts, colleges, and universities across the country continue to find unique ways to improve the health, safety, and wellbeing of their students and staff with the additional funds from the American Rescue Plan and other support.

For more ideas download our guide and learn how to make the most of COVID relief funding.


James McDonald

James McDonald is a sports enthusiast, brother in Christ and once swam in a tank with the infamous TV sharks.

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