Sprawling Texas agency takes stock of buildings with software

Sprawling Texas agency takes stock of buildings with software

Computer-aided facility management system corrals data covering 1,500 buildings, with 10.5 million square feet of space, on 22 campuses


Wide open spaces are great for cowboys and country songs, but they sure can make it difficult to keep track of an organization's infrastructure. That is, until cowpokes go digital.

Texas' second-largest agency, the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Department (MHMR), sprawls across the state, with 1,500 buildings and 3,000 vehicles on 22 campuses with 8,500 acres. Some of the buildings house hospitals for the mentally ill. Some are old tuberculosis sanitariums that were converted into schools for mentally disabled children.

MHMR even had an old prisoner-of-war camp that had held 19,000 German prisoners during World War II and had later been converted into a state school for the mentally disabled.

Although the agency was created in 1965 by the Texas Legislature to serve Texans with mental illnesses or mental retardation, some of MHMR's facilities date to the 1860s.

The oldest building, the administration building for the Austin State Hospital, built in 1857, is still in use.

And the distances between MHMR campuses are staggering. The nearest MHMR facility to the state hospital in Rusk is the State Center in El Paso, 1,000 miles away.

The buildings were in dire need of maintenance. Many were built in the 1930s and 1950s. Many had asbestos insulation and lead-based paint. The facilities were so far apart that it often took a day to travel from one campus to another. So many old buildings, so many miles to cover.

Administrators decided to use information technology to assess the widely scattered infrastructure.

Facility management

In 1996, the department began working with several companies to develop a computer-aided facility management (CAFM) system to help track the buildings' heating, air conditioning, floor plans, hazardous materials and other infrastructure elements, all within 'about 10.5 million square feet of space,' said Sam Richards, director of the CAFM program.

Richards and his team worked with engineers and architects from VFA of Boston for 14 months. 'It took the folks from Massachusetts a while to get acclimated to the distances out here,' said Lloyd Kennedy, project manager of CAFM. 'But before long they became Texanized,' he said.

The department also employed the infrastructure management services of Peregrine Systems Inc. and the San Diego company's FleetAnywhere fleet management software.

The two companies helped MHMR create enterprise software tools that showed the status of the buildings.

Now the department has a central Oracle8 Release 8.06 database in Austin that holds all the information about the agency's infrastructure. About 350 users can access the data over a statewide fiber-optic WAN.

'The Facilities Assessment System really is an enterprise system,' Richards said.
It lets users communicate work orders and maintenance data by sending in bar code information over LP 1500 series handheld scanners from Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y.

'That alone reduced the time it took to do workorder entry by 60 percent,' Richards said.
Maintenance workers also took about 100,000 samples of the facilities to check for asbestos, using asbestos control software from DeltaSource Inc. of Portland, Ore.

Under budget

The department estimated that a fence-to-fence survey of its facilities would cost $10 million to $12 million, Richards said. But the final cost was $6.5 million, about half the original estimate.

The best decision the CAFM team made in doing the facilities survey was to involve all the potential users in the planning stages, Richards said.

'We had a core group of all different kinds of people who performed the needs assessment,' Richards said. 'We put janitors, maintenance folks and CEOs in the same room. It paid off big-time. Getting that buy-in from users is essential.'

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