Maintenance Pros, Listen Up!

PRB feels your pain. LBWA changes focus to help

By Randy Gaddo

This column, LBWA--Leadership By Wandering Around--is focused on gathering input from PRB readers in the maintenance field, those battling in the trenches to find ways to do more with less. How are you doing something successfully that might help others? Or, what problems are you facing that we can pose to your counterparts? Each month, we will feature one or more departments somewhere in the world with problems, ideas, and solutions common to the field. Do you have ideas? Contact the editor or me to be part of the solution.

PRB recognizes that maintenance is one of the primary, and arguably, one of the most important tasks that parks and rec professionals perform. In fact, it is so important we want to focus the LBWA column on it and even reinforce the name of the column to prove it!

Let me explain why this new focus is important.

Generally speaking, parks and recreation departments are responsible for large amounts of infrastructure ranging from buildings to ball fields, ice rinks to basketball courts, indoor facilities to outdoor ones, walking trails to rubberized tracks, golf courses to amphitheaters, ad infinitum. These represent millions of dollars of investments by cities, counties, and other public or private organizations.

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And somebody has to take care of that infrastructure.

Each one of these facilities requires unique maintenance practices that change and intensify as each year passes, due to age. It’s up to the maintenance staff to know each and every aspect of the facilities. The staff must also know how to maintain the equipment needed to maintain the facilities. The staff must anticipate what will break before it happens in order to avoid service interruptions.

Maintenance is a constant task--and often a thankless one. Most people don’t know what it takes to care for these facilities--what might seem like a one-hour job might actually take several hours or days due to unforeseen circumstances.

Most people just want the lights to turn on when they hit the switch, the heating and air conditioning to work, the water to be the right temperature, the toilets to flush, the fields to be mowed, and so on.

Starting in late 2007, economic woes hit the country and are still intensifying today. Private recreation providers have been hit equally hard.

As local governments and other organizations look for ways to stretch dollars, parks and recreation is one of the first places they look, and it is often the maintenance function that is hit first and hardest.

The term “deferred maintenance” has become an all-too-familiar term over the past few years. In some extreme cases, entire recreation departments have been disbanded or facilities have been closed. This only extends the maintenance issues. Nothing generates maintenance needs more than a long-term, closed facility or neglect due to insufficient staffing.

In many cases, maintenance-related services are being “outsourced” to private contractors, a practice that can be a double-edged sword. There are examples of successful outsourcing and equally as many failures.

In most cases, an odd phenomenon occurs: though the budgets decline, staffing declines, and resources disappear, expectations remain at the same level. In other words, citizens still expect the lights to come on, the toilets to flush, the fields to be ready, and the grass to be mowed. They pay their taxes or membership fees, and they expect reasonable services.

For the parks and rec maintenance staff, the task is formidable. Do more with less; devise ways to sustain facilities with the same or reduced budget and staffing. I include the private “outsource” contractors in this number because, once contracted, they become part of the team as well.

How do you professionals do it? What challenges are you facing? Have you overcome a challenge with an idea that you can share? Have you come to a point where you’re ready to reach out to the vast pool of experience embodied in PRB readership and ask for help?

That’s what LBWA is here for. My goal is to make this column the go-to place for parks and rec maintenance professionals to discuss maintenance issues. I would also like to hear from other parks and rec staff besides those in maintenance; those members also have a perspective because proper maintenance can often be the difference between a successful program and one that generates complaints.

I will be reaching out to departments all over the world. I’ll be calling, talking with people in the field, asking questions, getting ideas, and sharing them in this column.

I want to find out firsthand what you are facing and how you are coping.

I’m even planning to do some “Ride-Alongs” within a reasonable distance of my physical location, 30 miles south ofAtlanta, and “Cyber-Ride-Alongs” anywhere in the world. I want to be in the truck, on the mower, on the tractor, and even walking the fields and facilities with you.

Modern technology also enables fast information-sharing. The digital version of PRB enables you to comment immediately at the end of each column, so you can add your ideas, experiences, or questions. This can lead to some helpful discussions, producing quick solutions for many professionals.

Are you excited yet? I am! This is a new concept, so we’ll be breaking ground together. But there is strength in numbers, and with the combined readership of PRB magazine, we can develop a formidable maintenance presence.

So let’s hear from the maintenance crews, the supervisors, the managers, the directors, the contractors, or anybody who has a dog in the maintenance fight. Call or email me or the editor. And don’t be surprised if your phone rings one day and it’s me at the other end.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. He earned his Master’s in Public Administration and now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642, or