Maintaining Property: Not In Government’s Vocabulary




Sam Fields


On the entrance wall of the National Archives it says: “The Past Is Prologue.”

If that statement is true then sometime around 2077, the Broward County Commission will be seeking bids to knock down our new courthouse…the one that is still under construction.

I thought about this when I read that Norland High School, which was built in 1958, was being knocked down and replaced with a new building.

That was about the same life span for my Alma Mata, North Miami High School, which was put up in the early 1950’s and torn down sixty years later.

It is the same life span of Broward’s original courthouse, which was torn down in the 1980’s.

It’s the same 60-year lifespan the current courthouse, built in 1955 and scheduled to be knocked down if and when they open the new one.

I thought buildings were supposed to last more than sixty years.

I own a couple of homes in Baltimore that are 120-years old and they are in perfect shape.

Go to Venice, Italy where, notwithstanding countless floods, people are living and working in buildings that over 500 years old!

Closer to home you can go to South Beach where 80 and 90-year old Art Deco hotels have been reincarnated as spanking new.  And if rising seas don’t get them, they will be around for another 100 years.

So why are all these government buildings condemned to an early death?  The answer is one word:  maintenance.

Or more accurately…the lack thereof!

In Broward County, every year the County Commission, the School Board and the city halls look for ways to cut the budget.  And the low hanging budgetary fruit is always maintenance: “Let’s see if we can get another couple of years out of that chipping paint job.”

Don’t replace a roof when a little tar might get you through another rainy season.

In schools around the county, leaking roofs go unprepared and some get by with air conditioners installed 50 years ago.  Paint is pealing, walls are cracking and wires are exposed and maintenance is delayed year after year.

The same thing goes on in county buildings and in cities.  Roads go unpaved, water and sewer pipes decay, lights burn out and are not replaced.   Repairs get put off or done on the cheap.

But this “pennywise pound foolish” policy is not without consequences.

Hear about the judge who came back from lunch to find that an aging sewer drainpipe had exploded leaving her Broward Courthouse office with the effluence of the upstairs toilets?   Ugh!

At the state and Federal level it’s not much better.  We are looking at a trillion dollars of postponed infrastructure repairs that has left us looking like a Third World country.

Remember the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 killing 13 and maiming 145?

Currently one in nine of America’s 84,000 dams is rated structurally “high hazard.”  The cost of repairing them is estimated to be $21 billion.  The cost of a single dam failure could exceed that and kill thousands in the process.

But as long as the folks controlling the purse strings want to pass the buck to their successors we can expect buildings to wear out before their time and periodic life taking catastrophes.

Obviously our elected officials never heard the famous ad for FRAM oil filters warning drivers the cost of not spending for maintenance: “Pay me now or pay me later”



9 Responses to “Maintaining Property: Not In Government’s Vocabulary”

  1. John Henry says:

    Maintenance? More like taxpayer money.

  2. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    As someone raised in an American home built before 1903 n havibg lived in buildings from the 1300s thru taky 1970s it is not just maintrnance but materials i.e. the wood doors of 17th century to pre 1939 houses still work while my ca 1993 bedroom door of filled material is already in its death throws.
    A fireplace in Maine ca 2000 can have cracks an 1880 fireplace does not because real stone or brick wasnt used.
    You see Miami Beach 20 to 30 Million dollar homes beautify msintained but down market tiles or tile work already loise or cracking.
    But yes taxpayers will NOT fund maintaince n officials will NEVER TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT A PROJECTS REAL MAINTENCE COSTS!

  3. Real Deal says:

    The answers in our area most often include that these buildings were not built to last in the first place, bowing to the financial pressures of the time, have little if any architectural value, do not meet current capacity demands for today’s workforce, and are not set up for today’s technology or energy efficient expectations. Modernizing or rehab of the buildings is sometimes more expensive and sometimes doesn’t solve the problems. Take Sunrise City Hall as an example. In every way they have outgrown that ugly, obsolete building and require a new one. The Court House is another example, it is worn out. Fort Lauderdale requires a new city hall and a new public safety building. Maintenance is also a problem, but to blame it all on maintenance is incomplete. Bridges are collapsing all over the country, sometimes because of poor maintenance and sometimes because they are simply obsolete and must be replaced in order to carry today’s loads which are many times more demanding.

  4. Richard Kaplan says:


    It is more than maintenance.

    You have to realize that most cities in South Florida were created in the 1960’s. The standards of construction in the 1960’s to 1990’s were deficient compared to both prior and present day.

    Add to that the requirement that to save money governments used the “lowest responsible bidder.” That did not mean the best bidder with higher quality. Constructions companies, to win bids, had to find methods to build that were cheaper but not as long lasting.

    We sacrificed quality for costs and you can see the results today. We no longer use stone and marble, but wood and cheap iron.

    Our City Hall built in 1981 is a perfect example. The roof leaked the day the building was opened. The best thing that came out of Hurricane Irene 25 years later is that we lost it. The interior walls were covered with mold, the structure was giving way, and not worth repairing.

    Fortunately with requiring LEED and other improved building techniques, I believe that building construction can be stronger. But only if governments adopt these standards.

  5. HillaryIn2016And2020 says:

    Shut Up all of you!

    No student should be forced to try to learn in a building that is over 50 years old.

    How often do you buy a car?
    Every 40 years?
    Every 50 Years?

    Enough said.

    Pay your taxes and realize that students will be able to start to obtain an excellent education.

    You don’t want to pay teachers proper salaries.

    You don’t want to pay for the latest and needed school supplies and materials for the students.

    But buying a new car every 12 years or less is not a problem!

    How old is your newest TV?

    Taxes are a necessary issue to live in a civilized society.

  6. Richard Kaplan says:

    You are comparing the longevity of a building costing millions of dollars to a car that cost a few thousands, or a TV set that costs a few hundred?

    Just as a reference, my hometown elementary school was built in the early 1960’s, junior high school in late 1960’s and high school in the 1950’s. All are in operation today and doing fine.

    My fraternity house at the University of Michigan was built in 1912, many dorms and many of the classrooms in the area were built in the 1940’s and earlier, and the Presidents House was built around 1850.

    There are so many buildings, including buildings used for education, that are easily more than 50 years old. Particularly at older universities.

    This does not mean that proper salaries and school supplies shouldn’t be provided. It means that the millions paid for what was substandard structures that were built should have been built for a longer life.

    If they had, then more money would be available for salaries and supplies.

  7. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    I must not have had sleep when I commented because I missed the central point Counsellor Fields should have lead me to: UNLIKE EUROPE PARTS OF NORTH AFRICA NORTH N CENTRAL ASIA CANADA N LATIN AMERICA WESTERN N NORTHERN AMERICA Florida has no rock or stone quarries! A few pre-1939 buildings have stone imported from Europe or north of us but post 1945 buildings have usually only fascades.
    The reason so many South Beach hotels were lost is they used sand mixed into the cement. Rebars also decayed. These conditions do not exist elsewhere outside of Florida.
    Actually Federal Buildings built during FDR’s Administration including here in Florida because they had real stone n brick are still good as apposed to post 1950s construction.

    My 1952 tile roof is still good because its real tile and the concrete walls are fine while more expensive ca 1970 Boca homes leak and have problems
    Venice like most pre-1922 construction is brick n stone or stone construction.
    Actually ca 1980s buildings in Germany are starting to have South Florida condition issues because of lack of maintence.

  8. Real Deal says:

    Count, that is not the answer. We have cement block and reinforced concrete which is harder than stone. People have not built with stone for nearly a century. These buildings can last centuries if not thrown together cheaply. The issue is when we outgrown our buildings and structures due to changes in demand for them. Examples. Invariably the future of education will shift incrementally to on-line instruction. We see it in universities increasingly, it is happening slowly in high schools and eventually we will see more of that. As that one example progresses what shall we do with so many school buildings that will not be needed? We have library buildings in every city that are increasingly underutilized because technology has caused them to increasingly become obsolete. Paper books are less and less important to society. What shall we do with these library buildings? Emotional attachments to structures aside, the point of architecture is to serve us not the other way around.

  9. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    @8″I am sorry to disagree about Libraries in major cities or wealthier areas which actually are crowded not under utilized but usually have locally focused events that encourage library use. Maybe the fact that US students are at the middle or bottom of industrialized nations is because we are the ONLY NATION that stresses computer learning and our people use electronic comunication and cant write a complete sentence.