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First Cost vs. Life-Cycle Costs: Don’t get caught in the trap of saving now to pay later

The danger of building your budget for school construction upon short-term, as opposed to long-term, costs is not academic theory.

The danger of building your budget for school construction upon short-term, as opposed to long-term, costs is not academic theory. As reports James T. Biehle, an architect and president of Inside/Out Architecture, Inc., of Clayton, Mo., schools all over the country are suffering the results of poor decisions by an earlier generation.

“What we’ve discovered during the past 10 years is that a significant amount of school construction is failing,” Biehle says. A lot of schools were built in the ’50s and ’60s to house the baby boomers, and a lot of today’s tendenciencies were the result of architects being told to get these schools built as fast and cheap as possible.”

Some of the problems now visible, notes Biehle, include flat roofs that are failing, rooftop HVAC systems that have outlived their useful life and need to be replaced, flimsy wall systems that are falling apart, and single pane windows that allow the inside heat to escape and the outside cold to enter. “What we see all over Missouri are rigid floor plans, with the bearing walls at the exterior and at the corridors,” says Biehle. “This means the spacing between the exterior wall and the corridor is 24 ft., which is rather narrow. It’s difficult to renovate these schools.”

One of the things known about any type of building, continues Biehle, is that the life-cycle costs can be four to five times the initial cost of the structure. “If you design and plan well, you can reduce these long-term costs anywhere from 10-25 percent,” says Biehle. “But you have to spend more time and money for the pre-design and design phases so the architect can develop strategies to reduce maintenance and future renovation costs.”