Case Study: Ontario University System

New Case Study

Making the Case to Increase Facilities Funding in The Ontario University System 


The Client

The Ontario University System is comprised of 19 universities across the province, including schools such as Carleton University, Queen’s University and the University of Toronto. Programs in arts and science are offered at the undergraduate level system-wide, while a number of the universities offer doctoral law, education, engineering or medicine/nursing programs. There are approximately 357,000 full-time students and 31,000 permanent employees across the system.  Ontario Universities encompass over 70 million square feet of facilities.  Annual expenditures equal to approximately $9.1 billion dollars with the current replacement value of their facilities at about $20 billion dollars per year. 

The Challenge

According to two major studies commissioned by the Council of Ontario Universities in the late 1990’s, “The demand for university education in Ontario could grow by as much as 40 percent by 2010.” With rising enrollment projections anticipated due to population growth and increasing rates of participation in university education, the Ontario University System needed to develop long-term facility capital plans for each of the universities as well as for the system as a whole. 

Each university in the System had its own method for compiling data about facility condition. Some conducted their own condition audits, others hired third-party firms, and several used a combination of in-house staff and consultants. Each university also had different techniques for prioritizing maintenance projects and estimating costs. Neither deferred maintenance nor renewal needs were planned on a system-wide basis.  The disparate data from each school made it difficult for officials to conduct long-term capital planning across the system.

Changes in the Ontario education system increased the urgency of having reliable facility data for system-wide planning. The province was planning to transition its high school education system from a 13-year to a 12-year program in the next few years, doubling the number of incoming freshman that the system would need to educate and house. When the provincial government called for better quality data about system facilities, school officials realized changes were needed to meet the request. “We needed to be able to build a persuasive argument to the provincial government for more funding. Irrefutable data on our existing facility conditions and deferred maintenance is a necessary component to achieving this goal,” said Duncan Watt, Vice President, Finance and Administration, at Carleton University.

The Solution

Ensuring the accuracy and consistency of facility assessments system-wide was the initial challenge facing the Ontario University System. The University System’s solution was the Facility Condition Assessment Project (FCAP), which had two primary goals. The first was to provide consistent and comprehensive facilities data to the Ontario University presidents and the provincial government. The second was to deliver best practice facility management tools to the universities’ physical plant departments.

Beginning in 2001, the Ontario University System implemented an assessment program as part of an integrated Capital Planning and Management Solution (CPMS™) from VFA. CPMS combines facility assessment services with VFA.facility® Web-based software for asset management and capital planning. Each university in the Ontario University System assessed 20 percent of its building portfolio annually using the VFA assessment methodology. Assessment information related to condition and maintenance requirements was captured in VFA.facility, which serves as a central database for managing and analyzing facility information.

“Having this information on the Web has given us invaluable advantages,” said Kevin Gallinger, Manager of Maintenance Services at Carleton University. “The same information is shared by everyone, from facilities people to the steering committee. We now have consistent cost models, benchmarks and reporting capabilities.”

Physical plant directors use the software’s built-in cost data from RSMeans to realistically estimate the cost of facility projects. “What-if” planning tools allow users to see how a particular investment will affect a facility’s condition and additional funding requirements over time. With these capabilities, for example, the University System can model how varying funding levels will impact future deferred maintenance spending.

The Results

With accurate information at their fingertips and sophisticated analytic tools to assist in making optimal planning decisions, the universities have promoted a better understanding of the impact of investment decisions and can more readily make the case for long-term facility planning initiatives. Facility management and planning have become a compelling topic, attracting the attention of key funding sources, both internally at the universities and externally at the provincial government.

Less than two years after the creation of the FCAP, the Ontario government awarded the Ontario University System $93 million in deferred maintenance funding – an increase of $40 million from previous years. This funding level was based on requirements from only 20 percent of the universities’ physical structures. Funding for the universities’ Facility Renewal Program has increased by $80 million over a nine-year period.  In 2009, the Ontario University System was able to complete their 8th comprehensive system report with the help of VFA’s solution.  For the future, the System looks to continue to report any problems, possible solutions, and successes to their funding agencies. 


“High quality, reliable data has enabled us to raise the profile of facility management and planning among university presidents, governing boards and government agencies,” said Watt. “Before our implementation of CPMS, deferred maintenance was an unknown term outside the physical plant departments. Now, our provincial minister is talking about it and more importantly, understands the value of it.”

The Ontario University System was recently awarded the Real Property Institute of Canada Service Excellence award.