Broward County Schools

Maintaining Excellence in Physical Plant Operations - A New Frontier

“This is the most significant reorganization in the history of the Broward County Schools” . . . A senior level administrator to the Facilities Task Force, Sept. 2004


The School Board of Broward County, at the request of Dr. Frank Till and the Operational Services Committee, recognized the need to make major organizational, technological and cultural modifications in the district’s maintenance operations.  There was a perception that each of these core elements had not kept pace with current best practices in the maintenance of school district physical plant operations.

The Operational Services Committee selected a partnership of two firms to provide leadership to the reorganization effort.  The firms (The Portolan Group and Grau & Company) were charged with providing both an assessment of the department with recommendations, and implementation assistance over the course of a year.

Consistent implementation of the reorganization across the three geographical zones and the central district operation required the support and accountability of all levels of leadership in SBBC.

There were many challenges to the implementation of such a massive change.

  • Maintenance and organizational culture and climate
  • Organization and administration
  • Work authorization and work control
  • Budget and cost control
  • Maintenance planning and scheduling
  • Preventive and predictive maintenance
  • Harsh environmental issues such as mold and mildew
  • Multiple systems integration and modernization
  • Trade skill development
  • New maintenance performance measurements and business processes

It was recognized early on that buy-in would be required from all Board Members, the Superintendent’s staff, and the Federation of Public Employees (FOPE). The late Kevin Browne of the FOPE was an unrelenting supporter of this effort.

This project was chosen because we believe it represents an outstanding team effort in the introduction of change. Barriers to change acceptance have been broken down.  By all measures: financial, organization, process improvement, and acceptance by the staff, the project is successful.  We look forward to continued improvement in the performance of the physical plant staff of SBBC.


The need for an impartial and fresh outlook became self evident as the process unfolded. Grau & Company and The Portolan Group were selected to fill this role because of their experience with school districts in Florida and extensive maintenance, grounds and custodial expertise.

A steering group of key maintenance managers was assembled.  They met weekly and sometimes daily with the consulting team to process and organize the change.

Meetings were held with the senior management team and the school board. Presentations and discussions took place with community groups such as The Facilities Task Force and the Tools for Schools Committee.  This provided key information and buy-in with these important stakeholders.

Two meetings were held with the maintenance trades workers.  This kept them abreast of the changes and garnered helpful feedback.  Periodic meetings were held with the Operational Services Committee to keep them informed and involved.

Synergy teams were created composed of district supervisors and members of the consulting team.  In each of the 112 site visits, these teams interviewed site administrators as well as site-based physical plant personnel.

Consistently and at every level, key stakeholders were involved in change readiness. Therefore, when it became time to implement the changes, there was minimal change resistance.


The project also directly supports the School Board of Broward County 2000-2005 Strategic Plan which addresses FCAT Scores, School Resources and Technology.

It was recognized that maintaining a physical infrastructure conducive to a safe and positive learning environment was a critical aspect of achieving the Strategic Plan goals. If this level of physical plant excellence was not in place, other things such as improving FCAT Scores cannot possibly happen or would be greatly impeded.


An initial assessment and gap analysis were the major tools in developing a Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology for a logical path forward.

The Project Team developed a methodology to do assessments on 112 schools examining maintenance, custodial, grounds and support services.  The team interviewed over 300 staff members in one-on-one evaluations. This assessment gave a comprehensive overview of the mission critical activity of maintaining all facilities, is a safe and cost effective manner that was conducive to student learning and would also appeal to the taxpayers of Broward County.  It provided a baseline for developing a long-range Strategic Maintenance Plan that upgraded the use of technology and streamlined the organizational chart to improve the use of taxpayer money.

The assessment results indicated many areas that needed attention and correction. School Administrators voiced concern about the cost effective use of Plant Operations Mechanics/Journeymen for some school-based repairs/maintenance.  This included the personnel showing up to do maintenance in areas that were currently being utilized by school personnel; multiple personnel showing up to do the estimate on one job; tradesmen arriving to do the job but with the wrong repair part; or taking too long to complete the requested maintenance.


What emerged was a pattern of duplicated or wasted efforts/time resulting from a lack of coordination of the overall maintenance effort. The study of these problem areas indicated a need for a centralized mechanism/department for planning and control of these support services to eliminate the problems identified above.


To accomplish this goal, several changes in senior leadership positions and in the departmental structure were implemented.  These included creating the positions of an Executive Director who now has the responsibility and control over the entire Physical Plan Operations.  A new department, Facilities Support Services, with a new Director position was also created.  The positions within this department would be filled by a combination of creating some new positions and moving already existing positions from other departments.  The responsibilities of this new department included planning and scheduling, preventive maintenance, and coordination for outside contracting and training.

The single maintenance department was restructured into a physical plant operations division.  This division is composed of four departments: maintenance, custodial and grounds, support services and energy management.  Three maintenance geographical zones were expanded into four.  Work shifts were changed.


The solution will eventually be deployed throughout all Physical Plant Operations of the Broward County school system.


The School Board of Broward County is the nation’s sixth largest school district.  The maintenance operation is charged with maintenance and minor capital projects for 238 schools.  Physical Plant Operations has central control and leadership of physical asset management for four operating areas in the county.  With over 2,500 trades, service and clerical personnel, the SBBC were striving for world-class maintenance and service. Through implementing advanced maintenance practices and with the collaboration of the Portolan Group, SBBC was able to reduce the amount of contracting and outsourcing and dramatically improve maintenance, grounds and custodial service to the schools.

The School Board of Broward County was able to improve trade utilization, parts inventory and reallocate resources as a result of these evaluations and analysis.  The SBBC was able to determine where to spend precious resources and to continue with efforts in preventive maintenance, planning and scheduling and stockroom improvements.  Through extensive teamwork efforts and facilitation, they were also able to communicate and instruct the middle and lower-level managers in the vision of the future as outlined by the Superintendent and the Operational Services Committee.

Maintaining excellence for Physical Plant Operations is still a work-in-progress.  It was agreed that the cost would be neutral to the school district.  In other words, the additional people required would be offset by a reduction in contracting services.  After six months, these savings are now on track.  Other long-term improvements such as the new CMMS will be implemented in the months ahead.

A total of $2.26 million savings or approximately 55% of the $3.78 million projected long term savings have been verified.  A savings of $944,536.00 was projected for a 5 month period.  Of this, $942,536.00 has been authenticated.


The perception that maintenance was broken is now a perception of the past.  There is a new awareness that Physical Plant Operations now has taken the initiative for major improvements.  The schools look better, the internal morale is higher, and this has been accomplished even though we are only 6 months into implementation.


Budgeting information was a major short fall identified.  This crucial area is being addressed and a new Budget Analyst position has been created and filled.  When this position is fully operational, it will be possible to develop and use more meaningful, accurate and useful budgeting benchmarking data.


There have been many revisions made based upon what is being learned as part of the process.  Demonstrated results and evidence of success is a key metric that was used during every phase of the reorganization.  Proven technologies and past successes helped make the transformation begin to take place in a timelier and less cumbersome manner that is normally experienced in a large organization.


The current reorganization of Physical Plant Operations is only in its beginning stages. As the project continues and reaches a successful implementation, the following goals will have been accomplished:

  • A new Stockroom organization to include use of web sites for parts availability
  • Improved Preventive Maintenance Program
  • An overall coordinated training curriculum/plan for the entire department
  • 5 new localized work zones
  • A move to 10 hour/4 day work weeks for selected trades
  • 43 new trade positions
  • 4 new management positions
  • Implementation of a new CMMS
  • Utilization of bar-coding as standard practice
  • Two contract coordinator positions
  • New communications procedures with external departments
  • More complete written policies and procedures on all department functions
  • Implementation of the KRONOS time keeping system


Portolan Associates, Inc is the nation’s premier provider of school district physical plant operations consulting.  Please feel free to contact us at 1-706-569-9669.