Design and Construction, Maintenance and Operations, Training

It’s the End of an Era for Plan Rooms

The modern facility campus is packed with the most advanced technologies in the world, allowing facilities teams to see through walls and ceilings via virtual reality and augmented reality, curb energy usage while improving the workplace experience, and analyze data to predict outcomes via machine learning and artificial intelligence—so, why is it that so many facilities are packed with materials in paper form which may date back 50, 60, 70, 80 years or more? It’s a complicated question.

While technology continues to drive facilities’ ability to keep buildings safe, comfortable, and secure, many facilities are still plagued with inaccessibility to information that’s needed to perform maintenance, construction, renovation, emergency response, and other tasks because it’s stored in paper. This information is especially important when something critical goes wrong. Even the most organized rooms still require someone to drive or walk from the field, and dig through the rolls or boxes to find what they need. Even if a drawing set is found, determining its currency is difficult.

Buildings go through countless changes over the years, and each change means more drawing sets and binders to add to the piles. When you finish a renovation, you get a drawing set that only shows the part of the building touched by that renovation, never the entire floor. What you end up with are pieces of an incomplete puzzle for your building.

Paper and paper-filled plan rooms present many problems for facilities. Paper fades. Paper stains. People draw in the margins. Paper is lost forever when there are floods and fires or when documents are “borrowed.” Paper accumulates and we don’t know what to do with it, so historical drawings, project closeout boxes, and other information are stored in plan rooms or document storage rooms “somewhere” on campus, which may be in the basement of a building, in the engineering office, or in closets of individual buildings all over a large campus.

Whether you’re the facility manager for a university campus founded in the 1700s or a mid-century community hospital, you are probably painfully aware of the historical and current building documentation that’s in your plan room. With every renovation and retrofit, there is further accumulation of building documentation, making the situation unsustainable.

The challenge is that these document storage areas, even if they are organized, clearly labeled, and color coded, require the reader to dig through piles or folders, roll out drawings, and hope that the documents are accurate and legible. Digging through a document storage area takes time, something which is precious to on-the-go facilities teams tasked with an ever-growing list of work orders and PMs.

Then there’s the distance factor. Facility campuses often cover acres. Whether you’re walking or driving, it takes time. Rural facilities and municipalities typically include many buildings in different parts of town or across the state. This means even more “windshield time.”

Facilities that have scanned documents to shared drives are taking a step in the right direction, but electronic files may also be difficult to identify and are largely inaccessible to technicians who are in the field, not tied to desktop computers.

“Fast access to those plans is vital to building operations and future renovations. At home, we don’t really worry too much about having old remodeling plans, but in a hospital where we are going to knock down a wall next week, it is critical to know ahead of time that there is a water pipe running through the wall now, that wasn’t there when the building was built,” said David Trask, National Director of ARC Facilities. “Otherwise, if a leak is found, it could compromise building occupant safety, cause severe damage, trigger change orders, and create construction delays.”

Is it time to rethink the document storage or plan room?

For on-the-go facilities technicians, information gathering needs to be fast and simple. There simply isn’t time and space in their lives for deep dives into storage spaces. In the future, perhaps we’ll be more selective about the paper we save and look to technology to solve access to information challenges.

Jack Rubinger is marketing content writer for ARC Facilities. He can be reached at

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