Project Management: Choosing a project manager

SN11 - Property - Project Management - 4984698School principals have extremely busy roles these days with the management of the school, along with staff, students and, sometimes, the community.

Gone are the days where the Ministry of Education (MoE) actually administered the bulk of the school’s affairs at a local level. Now schools and their elected Board of Trustees are charged with completing all the administration, employment and payroll of teachers, financial payments, end of year accounts and strategic planning – just to name a few.

Another impact of the 1989 Tomorrows Schools reform saw the responsibility for school maintenance and capital development work funded by the Ministry transferred to each individual school.

The requirements of managing a multi-million dollar school property can be daunting and even overwhelming at times.

Some principals can struggle to come up to speed with even the current MoE, local and central government requirements – such as building warrant of fitness, compliance schedules, consents, and changes to building and health standards – which they should be aware of.

The MoE still oversees the property portfolio for the crown and provides plenty of support for the individual schools. The Property Management Handbook, for example is a substantial reference for schools as well as the Ministry’s website, seminars and regular newsletters announcing important changes.

However, one of the best resources for schools is the regional Network Provision team. The team assigns a network facilitator to every school in the country and they can provide general, specific and individual advice.

Often, when the situation requires more in depth advice, the network facilitator will recommend that the school engage a project manager.

In fact, the MoE is actively encouraging schools to build an ongoing relationship with a Ministry-registered professional project manager or consultancy. Schools are encouraged to utilise the benefits of a consultant with considerable experience in the education sector.

The role of the school project manager is primarily to offer professional industry advice so the school and the Board of Trustees can satisfy their occupancy requirements to the MoE.

A project manager holding professional insurances is required by the MoE to manage any capital work requiring a building consent. However, many schools are now seeing additional benefits in this relationship by engaging project managers to deliver their 5 Year Agreement programme on schedule and within budget. The project manager essentially becomes part of the school’s property team.

The regular attendance of a property expert around the school site also helps identify possible expensive issues sooner and can help upskill the schools caretaking staff in many areas.

Schools often have similar property issues and an experienced project manager in this sector will already have special knowledge that can save the school considerable money, time and stress.

Consider engaging a project manager who dedicates time to regularly attending MoE seminars and keeping in touch with the MoE Property team. It is also worth choosing a project manager who fully understands the contents of the Project Management Handbook and takes time to understand your individual circumstances.

A number of consultants offer assistance in preparing 10 Year Property Plans.

However, according to the MoE team that processes them, the quality varies greatly. Schools should, therefore, contact their MoE network facilitator for advice on their short listed candidates before engaging anyone.

Once engaged, ensure the consultant does a thorough condition assessment of the property and seeks in depth information from classroom users, caretaking staff, specialist contractors and the principal, who will all have something to contribute to a good property plan.

A good school project manager will always be available – even by phone – to offer advice on all property issues, not just new building or refurbishment work.

Many project managers have extensive building and property maintenance backgrounds that schools often don’t fully utilise, preferring to manage things themselves. This can sometimes be a false economy with such limited maintenance funding available.

A school using a knowledgeable independent consultant to properly investigate issues, make recommendations, and then procure contractors, repairs or maintenance contracts, can be assured they will receive advice on the most cost effective options for the situation.

The MoE recommends that schools engage an independent consultant. This is a consultant that has no ties to any particular contractor, design consultant or architect who all deliver a product – either construction or a design.

This independence will ensure there is no conflict of interest and makes sure the school, BOT and the MoE are protected and receive the best recommendation available.

Lastly it is important to remember that a good project manager should provide a professional service.

Project managers don’t build a good reputation from their building skills or the building design but, more importantly, from how they deliver the requirements and wishes of the client – the school!

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