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Slices of Life: Thoughts on Deferred Maintenance

For Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio, deferred maintenance is also known as avoidance.

Written by Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio

While writing this column, I keep glancing up at a football-sized hole in my living room ceiling. The hole gets more interesting when a family member happens to be taking a shower. It is then that water leaks through the hole, soaking the rug.  This is certainly a drag and will presumably be expensive and time-consuming to repair. But what it is not, is surprising.

For years now, the ceiling in this area has shown the slow and steady signs of water damage. We knew there was probably some pipe in the bathroom above it that needed attention. But, as I said, it was, until recently, a very slow leak causing only subtle damage and therefore very easy for us to ignore.  

This tends to be our approach to home maintenance. As problems arise, we defer dealing with them until such time that they become impossible to ignore. Then we wait a little longer.

One side of our front porch, for example, has several rotted out boards. I realize this is a safety issue, but instead of repairing the porch, I got my hands on some brightly covered duct tape and fashioned a “cautioned off” area. This will not fix the problem, it’s true, but it may keep a child from falling through the porch.

I could go on and on.

What is the benefit of engaging in such deferred maintenance?  Nothing fixes itself or becomes less expensive when put off. In fact, it could be argued that household repairs fall under the rubric of “pay now or pay more later.” This reminds me of dentistry. Small cavities, if ignored, often become large cavities.  Large cavities are more expensive to fill than small cavities. And if you ignore a large cavity (ill advised!), you'll likely experience the expensive and painful expediency of a root canal.

I bring this all up not only because I now need the equivalent of a root canal in my living room, but also because I am a Dolphin parent. Meaning not that I managed to swing a cross-species adoption, but rather that my children are on the Belmont Dolphin’s swim team. As such, they have not been able to swim in the Higgenbottom Pool at the high school since before Christmas.

This pool has been plagued with issues for years. In fact, just last summer, the pool was shut down for six-to-seven weeks.  There are persistent pump problems, air and water quality problems and even simple lane line repairs have been difficult to implement. Members of Belmont High School’s boys’ swim team, of the Belmont Aquatic Team (the “BATs”), and of the Dolphins are all now scrambling to find pools across the state to practice in.  

Most recently, for example, the Dolphins were offered various time slots over a two-week period for swim practice at the pool used by Brookline’s Recreation Department. While this is a helpful and generous offer by Brookline, it is not exactly convenient for Belmont families.

And, as someone close to this process said last week, “there is no way the pool should have gotten this bad.”

Ah, the consequences of deferred maintenance!

I understand the town’s thought process. A pump system overhaul is expensive and taxes in this town are already high. But here’s the thing, the pump finally went kaput which resulted in serious problems with the chemical balance of the water. All of this still has to be paid for. And without proper planning and forethought, the fix has been disruptive and damaging to at least three swim teams, not to mention residents who utilize the pool for recreational and fitness swimming.

Maybe, as with my leaky bathroom pipes, pool repairs should have been dealt with sooner with the costs built into the budget and properly planned for. 

Now that the town has a facilities manager, I hope it can do the equivalent of “seeing the dentist” twice a year for preventive maintenance. Deferred maintenance, after all, is mere avoidance.  

John Bowe January 28, 2014 at 10:55 PM
A town maint staff member told me in the past few days that: [1] our building maintenance, like that of many towns, is too skimpy across-the-board [2] we cut regular pool maint budget this past year [3] we have not done the thorough cleaning they are doing right now for several years, and that it should be done every year.
Voice of the people January 29, 2014 at 04:30 AM
Now would be a good time for the Belmont Assessor to do a walk through at your house. Sad that if/when you decide to sell all of those projects that bothered you for many years will get done.
Nan Rogers January 29, 2014 at 08:12 AM
In reference to skimpy maintenance, I recall several years ago when we were unable to pass an override to improve our streets. It appears we prefer to complain about what our town doesn't do for us, and judge how they manage the lack of funds. Note that the school department has always had their own facility manager, dedicated to the schools (apart from other town owned buildings), even prior to the hiring of a director of facilities.

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