Key players to involve in the conversation
By Randy Gaddo
Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.
Maintenance issues generally draw fire from the community quicker than any other aspect of parks-and-rec operations. Regardless of how imaginative or solid a program or activity is, or how qualified an instructor may be, if maintenance of a facility is lacking, it will become the focus, and not in a good way.
Some maintenance departments might be tempted to just stay off the skyline, using the “no news is good news” approach. There is some logic to this mindset, and depending on individual department circumstances, it may indeed be a workable tactic; avoiding major negative issues may be the best you can accomplish in the current anemic economy. On the other hand, it may be compared to the ostrich sticking its head in the sand; the problems are there, and it’s only a matter of time before one of them becomes a crisis.
The issues that departments face vary because each has its own social, political, economic, climatic, and other variables. Common issues, such as overused sports fields or facilities with little downtime for proper preventive maintenance or uninformed clientele who don’t understand the complexity of proper maintenance may be evident. Although a one-size-fits-all solution is difficult to develop, every department can benefit from a maintenance plan.
Look to other departments for examples. A quick Web search will provide example after example from across the nation. Some maintenance plans are embedded in comprehensive master plans, some are stand-alone, and some are focused on specific items, such as tree maintenance.
Generally, it’s best to project a plan for at least 5 years, always emphasizing the next year’s requirements. For those groups just developing a plan, perhaps starting with 1 year and dividing it into four short-term planning cycles is more manageable. The plan can gradually be projected out to 5 or more years to consider a long-range budget more effectively. Regardless of longevity, a realistic financing section should be a critical part of any plan.
Developing an effective plan must involve everyone in the discussion phase. This serves a dual purpose:
- It brings all perspectives that impact maintenance to the table.
- It forces discussion among these staff groups in a non-crisis environment where all members can learn what the others do.
Plus, the experience also will create buy-in with greater acceptance from the people who helped develop it:
- The programming staff runs the programs that use the facilities that need to be maintained.
- Customer-service staff members deal regularly with patrons face-to-face and often hear comments that may represent a trend that impacts maintenance.
- Actual users, such as paid and/or volunteer instructors, as well as the clients who are being instructed or other facility and program users, can provide the down-and-dirty truth about how maintenance efforts appear from the customer’s point of view.
- The finance department should also be involved as soon as needs are identified and before plans are finalized so requirements are shown with workable solutions. A financing plan should be embedded into the maintenance plan to show what the various items will cost.
- The lead public administrator (city manager, county manager, etc.), or leader in a non-government organization, should be consulted from beginning to end in the planning process. Generally, this individual will finally approve the plan so it pays to know what is important to him or her.
- Keep appropriate appointed, volunteer, or elected officials in the information loop. They often take questions from citizens who are potential customers, so it is helpful to have them armed with accurate information related to goals and objectives. It also pays to ensure they are informed because generally they will have some level of influence on the budget.
Finally, make sure the general public knows what you’re doing and why. This can be accomplished through news media, a website, presentations to local groups, or one-on-one. Ultimately, if the public openly supports the plans, the odds of success are greatly improved.
Seek Expert Advice
Although it’s easy to pontificate about the importance of maintenance and a good plan, sometimes having the staff members, the time, and the experience to actually do it isn’t always possible.
If so, it might pay to contract with someone who has experience to put a solid plan in place. Then it’s merely a matter of updating it each year, a process you can build into the plan within your own resources.
The best conceived maintenance plan is worthless if it gets stuck on a shelf. The plan must be a living document that is consulted often and updated as needed. It is better to have a simple plan that is rigorously used than a brilliant plan that collects dust.
Maintenance is a year-round, never-ending task that becomes more challenging as facilities age, budgets and staffing get slimmer, and everyone has to do “more with less.” There is no guarantee that a great maintenance plan will lead to accomplishing everything, but it at least provides a framework to document important requirements. Proper sustainment of the plan will ensure that important items don’t fall through the cracks.
If anyone has any questions, ideas, or comments, I’d be happy to talk; just contact me.
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. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration and now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.