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Stretching your dollars: preventive maintenance.

Camps and conference centers usually perform preventive maintenance (PM) on their climbing walls. Logs are kept for the number of hours each rope has been used. By monitoring the log, ropes are replaced before they fail. Daily, staff visually check the ropes before they are put in use. They also regularly check, tighten, and if necessary, replace the climbing holds. An outside professional inspects the wall annually. However, camps and conference centers can become stymied when it comes to implementing a preventive maintenance plan for their site, facilities, and equipment.

First, it is not a simple checkbox on a "to-do list" where you can take an afternoon and finish the task. Preventive maintenance is a way of doing work--a continual process. Using the climbing wall example as an analogy, you can apply similar preventive maintenance methods to your site/facilities.

Determine Life Expectancy

For a climbing wall or any ropes course, industry standards are in place for the ropes' life expectancy. Similarly, the building/construction industry is a good baseline, e.g., the average life expectancy for an asphalt-shingled roof is twenty years. A second place to find life-expectancy information is the description or warranty from the purchase, e.g., a water heater is described as a "fifteen-year tank." Last, by using your property records, you can look at the history and predict, "Since this building has additional use, the paint on the walls will only last eight years, instead of ten years."

Schedule Inspection Intervals

Many variables (including temperature, use, materials, climate, maintenance performed, etc.) determine the actual life of an item. It is critical to know the frequency in having it visually checked and sometimes tested. For the climbing wall, an outside professional inspects it annually. For site/facilities, maintenance staff consult each state's regulations and the ACA Standards. However, these are usually considered first steps. For example, the camp/conference center staff may have identified in their risk management plan a unique circumstance with the location of a well near an agriculture site (possible nitrate/nitrite contamination) and determined that more careful monitoring was necessary than what the state or ACA required.

At least annually, the maintenance staff or property manager needs to take a walk-through of the entire operation to visually check the condition of foundations, drainage, utilities, buildings, etc. He/she can also take digital pictures to update the property portfolio. The camp administrator needs to walk with the maintenance staff or at least review the written report to better understand the condition and the work necessary for the coming year. For example, even though a roof may be expected to last twenty years, a yearly inspection may reveal unknown damage from wind or hail. Another source to use to help monitor the changing condition of your camp/conference center is camper/guest observations. Add a question on the checkout or evaluation form about your site/facility.

Utilize Expert Inspectors

A qualified professional needs to inspect the climbing wall annually. Likewise, with site and facilities, professionals are also essential. Depending on the skill sets required and the type of area, inspectors are a combination of internal staff, hired external professionals, and regulatory agencies. As with any expert, make sure you know their background, certifications, insurance coverage, skill sets, and understanding of camp/conference centers. You have a lot invested in their report.

Plan Maintenance Intervals

For the camp's climbing wall operating procedures, specify how often the staff will inspect the holds, etc. Similarly, your facilities and other equipment require maintenance intervals. Performing regular maintenance checks at specific intervals can extend the life of the equipment, prevent it from failure, and help to ensure that it will perform under peak conditions. The owner's manual has the schedules you need. If you can't find all of them, ask a volunteer to track them down by contacting the company or by searching on the Web. An easy way to keep track of monthly maintenance intervals is to set up an Excel spreadsheet. Each piece of equipment will have several items. The items can be organized by different intervals (four times per year, two times per year, annual inspection, etc.).

Establish Written Logs

Written logs tell you the history of the rope at the climbing wall. For site/facilities, written logs detail the breakdown maintenance, the preventive maintenance, and the inspections performed on an item. It's excellent management to be able to view the record of a piece of equipment and know that you've replaced a part three times in the past year. Logs show trends or potential problem area(s). Also, logs are critical to share information between staff, especially during staff transitions. And of course, logs are critical for risk management.

Replace Items Before They Fail

In the climbing wall example, the climbing ropes are replaced before they fail. While most site/facility failures are not as directly obvious as a rope breaking and potentially injuring a child, they still can be life threatening. For example, propane gas leaks are dangerous. Components need to be replaced before they fail, using the standards in the field.

How much of your budget should go towards preventive maintenance? While there is no standard in the camp industry, schools are spending 1.5 - 5 percent of the building's replacement cost, depending on the building condition and complexity of the building. Applying what the schools have reported to spend, if your buildings are valued at one million, then $15,000 - $50,000 needs to be spent on preventive maintenance.

It's very easy to say, "I'll get to it next week." The weeks turn into months, and time slips by. The first place to begin focusing on preventive maintenance is in the area of time management--figuring out where you are spending your time, and purposefully scheduling time for preventive maintenance. By spending time on preventive maintenance now, you can save time on corrective maintenance in the future. Preventive maintenance is a different mindset where the focus of site/facility activities is in scheduling and planning: "Every year we will flush the waterlines," and "Compressors will be regularly serviced based on manufacturer recommendations." That's quite different than a reactionary focus: "Repair the waterline." "Remember to get the compressor part while you're in town," Or worst yet, "Put a project off until it really needs to be looked at." In the long-run, preventive maintenance wins. If it's not broken, fix it.

Corrective or Breakdown Maintenance

Corrective or breakdown maintenance, sometimes referred to as emergency maintenance, means fixing nonworking or failed items due to regular use, malfunction, defect, neglect, or vandalism by cleaning, adjusting, repairing, replacing, restoring, etc.

Preventive Maintenance

Servicing land and ensuring that equipment and facilities are in satisfactory operating condition by providing for systematic inspection, detection, and correction of incipient failures either before they occur or before they develop into major defects is called preventive maintenance. Some definitions include the phrase "regardless of its condition at the time." Preventive maintenance is intended to extend the useful life of site and facilities and reduce the need for major repairs. The service intervals may be monthly or only once every two years.

For example, the owner's manual of a car may state the replacement interval for the timing belt is every 60,000 miles. If you replace it around 60,000 miles before it breaks, this is preventive maintenance. If it breaks at 70,000 miles, it is corrective maintenance.

Upgrades are another form of preventive maintenance, which entail changing some aspects of the design to improve conditions or eliminate continual repairs. Upgrading can include some remodeling projects for functionality, rather than expansion.


Buchanan, B. (2003). Repeat this facilities mantra: fix now or pay later. National School Board Association, (accessed 2/2/04).

Alaska School Facilities Preventive Maintenance Handbook (1999). (accessed 2/2/04)

Food Service Equipment and Applications: A Pacific Energy Center Factsheet, (accessed 2/2/04).

Mobley, R. Keith. Measuring effectiveness: It's not as simple as you think (2002). (accessed 2/2/04)

American Camping Association (ACA). (1998). Accreditation Standards for Camp Programs and Services. Martinsville, Indiana: American Camping Association.

Specific ACA Standards:

* PC-7 Adventure/Challenge Equipment Maintenance

* PC-11 Adventure/Challenge Area Inspection

* SF-4 Fire Equipment Examination

* SF-5 Water Testing

* SF-7 Electrical Evaluation

* SF-8 Maintenance Program

* SF-9 Facilities in Good Repair

* SF-11 Power Tools in Good Repair

* TR-15 Transportation Mechanical Evaluations

* TR-16 Transportation Safety Checks

Overall Standards:

* SF-8 Maintenance Program

* OM-4 Risk Management and Appendix K, Risk Exposure chart

Increasing Your Preventive Maintenance Efforts

Classification of Site/Facility Work (pdf - 167k)

For More Information....

* Life expectancy of home components and systems

* Articles focusing on maintenance issues from Maintenance Technology Online:



--Best practices

November-December 2001, Camping Magazine--Reducing Risk With Preventive Maintenance

Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S., is president of Callippe Solutions, LLC, offering site/facility management software. She has worked in the camp industry for twenty years in a variety of positions including staff, board member, and American Camping Association (ACA) visitor. Whyman is currently authoring a book about camp facility management to be published by ACA. She can be reached at
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Author:Whyman, Wynne
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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