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Opinions Wed, 17 Oct 2018

Maintaining the National Cathedral; A case for facilities management

The proposed construction of a 5000-seater National Cathedral which has been described by President Nana Akuffo Addo as "a priority amongst priorities" is yet to commence.

The government’s contribution is the provision of 14 acres of land at one of the prime locations in the country. An acre of land at Ridge is estimated to cost about US$3million.

The Christian community has been tasked to pool resources to commence the construction. The total cost of construction is yet to be established but I know it would run into millions of dollars.

The pros and cons of constructing a National Cathedral have been discussed extensively by people of diverse backgrounds.

To many, it would be a one-stop venue for national Christian events. To others, it would be a great monument to add to our national stock of tourist sites, which in their views can help Ghana rake in some revenue.

Yet to some, it is a good intention but bad timing because there are other more urgent demands for our funds.

The objective of this write up is not to assess the appropriateness or otherwise of building a National Cathedral but to draw the attention of the government and the Board of Trustees to the many benefits of engaging a facilities management professional or facilities management company to manage and maintain it, if it is eventually built.

A built environment created to host 5000 people would need proper management and maintenance to deliver its intended purpose.

It is an obvious fact to many that, generally there is lack of a maintenance culture in Ghana. Those who say so are quick to site some public buildings as evidence to back their claim.

However, it has been argued within the facilities management fraternity that, Ghana does not lack a maintenance culture but rather lacks facilities management professionals.

It was therefore refreshing to learn that Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology had started a Master of Science degree in Facilities Management.

I applaud them for thinking outside the box to train Facilities Management professionals to mitigate the so-called lack of maintenance culture problem in Ghana.

The National Cathedral if completed would represent a substantial investment and a national asset. If that is the case, then, there is a need to ensure that the National Cathedral is managed and maintained in line with international best practices.

And the surest way of doing this is through the facilities management approach. The International Organisation of Standardisation defines facilities management as “an organisational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and productivity of the core business”.

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) defines facilities management as a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology. From my perspective, Facilities Management is basically a function that supports functionality of the built environment.

A built environment in this context is a man-made environment that is safe, secure and conducive for undertaking business or events. The National Cathedral if completed would fit into this context.

The point is not to suggest that our Christian authorities or the Board of Trustees are not capable of managing and maintaining such a facility.

The point being made here is that considering the quantum of investment going into it, the use of best practices in operating and maintaining such a facility should be prioritized.

The best practice, in my opinion, is to engage the service of a Facilities Management (FM) professional or company to manage and maintain it on behalf of the government and the people of Ghana.

The design and construction period of such a project is just a small fraction of the life cycle of the project. Operations and maintenance represent a substantial period in the life cycle of such a project.

It is therefore important to put in place a strategy that would manage and maintain it in order to keep its physical and functional modernity throughout its life cycle.

Facilities management professionals have the specialist skills and training to maintain and operate such facilities. Facility operations have to do with ensuring that the facility performs to deliver its intended purpose.

Facility maintenance ensures that all installed equipment such as electrical and mechanical systems are performing as per design.

Facilities management professionals are trained to be proactive by planning ahead, to be safety conscious, to improve conditions, mitigate all possible risks, increase life cycle etc. They also add value by increasing life cycle and reducing cost of maintenance.

Therefore, an integrated FM approach in managing and maintaining the National Cathedral will add value through improvements and sustainability initiatives.

A well thought out maintenance plan will include building improvement. Building improvement is a strategic move which allows facilities managers to add building elements that help to improve operational efficiency resulting in value addition. Sustainability is very critical in facilities management.

Through sustainable practices, a facilities manager is able to add value to a facility and the society by constantly ensuring that the operations of a facility do not impact negatively on its environment. Sustainable practices can also result in substantial cost savings such as reduction in energy consumption and recycling of waste.

The inherent building elements would also be maintained to harness and/or increase their operating life cycles at a minimal maintenance cost. Facilities management professionals have the skills set to reduce maintenance cost without compromising on quality.

The point must be made clear that a maintenance management system must be made in the course of the design phase and this must be ready and handover together with the keys.

A simple wrist watch is not sold before it manual is made how much more a faculty like the National Cathedral.

The National Cathedral should be operated in such a way to generate revenue to pay off funds invested and also pay for operations and maintenance. The surest way of ensuring this is achieved is by giving it to a professional Facilities management company to manage and maintain.

It should not be a cost centre to the government and the Christian community. We do not want to see a repeat of what we see at the Ghana International Trade Fair facility.

The recent low patronage of the Grand Sales can in a way be attributed to poor maintenance of the venue, Trade Fair. A well-maintained facility is able to retain its aesthetics over time.

The National Cathedral once completed would represent a substantial investment. Steps must be taken to safeguard and protect such investment.

In conclusion, if we are to succeed as a nation in maintaining our assets, it will not be far-fetched to insist that government outsource the management and maintenance of state built environments.

Alternately, government should consider establishing a dedicated facilities management office at the Ministry of Works and Housing in charge of managing and maintaining all state built environments such as the National Cathedral.

This office will be empowered to oversee various state-owned built environments and even be upgraded to become a regulator to oversee private facilities management organisations to ensure compliance in the private sector.

As a nation, let us not demand maintenance only when disasters occur, but let us make facilities management an institution and agency of state.

The writer is a Facilities Management professional with many years of experience in the Facilities Management industry in Ghana. He is a member of the International Facility Management Association

Columnist: Kwame Nsiah-Wiafe