More than ever, educational institutions are contracting their Facilities Management (FM) programs to companies specializing in custodial, groundskeeping, and operations management.

It makes sense. Delegating these services to proven and trusted facilities partners can help educators reduce costs, diffuse risk, and increase facilities program effectiveness. An efficient external provider also takes pressure off of internal staff members, allowing them to focus on other mission-critical projects. Most of all, the right facilities service provider helps build a better learning environment by creating safer, cleaner, more appealing spaces.

For all these reasons, schools from K-12 through higher education are seeking facilities management providers that specialize in educational facilities.

Finding the right FM provider

It’s not always easy, however. In recent research from Gartner, 77% of buyers state that their latest purchase was either “very complex” or “difficult.”1

That’s a stunning number – and a really unfortunate one. Especially in the education sector, where financial prudence is crucial, we believe contracting with a new facilities services provider should be a smooth, seamless, even enjoyable process.

To help educators of all levels have a better customer experience, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to contracting. And remember, the right FM program is cost-effective, flexible, and tailored to your facility’s unique needs.

A step-by-step guide to contracting your FM program

Below, you’ll find helpful insights to consider as you begin the process.

1. Teamwork makes the dream work

To get a clear understanding of whether a facilities management company is the right fit, you’ve got to ask the right questions. That means getting input from key stakeholders long before your Request for Proposal (RFP) is written. By including the right team in the RFP writing process, you can identify pain points in your current facilities program as well as aspirational goals. Then, you know what questions to ask potential providers and what specialized skill sets to focus on.

When your team can clearly identify needs and goals, it allows you to examine potential providers with clarity. Company history, including industry knowledge and experience, capability of delivering services – and, most importantly, references from other education clients – should all be considered and weigh heavily in your vetting process. How a company has performed or is performing in comparable facilities is a strong indicator on how they will perform in yours.

Don’t be afraid to ask for any of this information. A reputable and stable company should be more than willing to share this with you.

2. Consider an alternate path

Prior to releasing an RFP, you may want to look into two options that can help avoid time-consuming, costly mistakes. An error in the procurement process or procedural requirements can trigger challenges to your award, a redo of the RFP process, or even litigation.

To avoid this, consider a state cooperative contract or a national cooperative contract offered by a Government Purchasing Agency (GPA). If a state or GPA contract includes your desired services and meets your budgetary requirements, you can “piggyback” onto one of these existing contracts. It can be expensive – or not – depending on the contract, and a GPA or service provider will help you understand the process.

State contracts are usually no cost. GPA contracts always have a cost built into the overall pricing from the contractor, so it is important to choose one with a reasonable fee. If an advisor tells you it’s free, that’s not really accurate, and you should be wary. The fee is usually 1% to 3% of the overall price. However, some GPAs are very low-cost and should represent an excellent value and a great way to contract facilities management services.

3. To save time, take time

Even the best facility services provider can’t conquer the time-space continuum. Make sure your team maps out enough time for an orderly, thoughtful RFP process, vendor selection, and transition plan.

School start dates, the return of in-person instruction, perhaps even postponed school sports or other events can all affect the timing of your new program. Give yourself and your new provider every opportunity to succeed by not having to rush into a decision.

Additionally, take time to establish open and transparent lines of communication. While no facilities operation will go flawlessly 100% of the time, having a smooth and simple chain of communication with your service provider  is critical to the overall success of the operation. 

4. Choose value over cost

So you’ve received proposals from several FM providers. All have some experience and all say they can fulfil the requirements of your RFP. How do you decide? Base your analysis on overall value, rather than straight cost.

For example, if a custodial services provider reduces costs by paying lower-than-average wages, or doesn’t invest in training and career development, turnover will become an issue. Constant rehiring can be costly – and lead to less-than-optimal results on your campus. Your custodial services provider should be able to show how they recruit, retain, and reward employees for bringing their best work to your facilities.

The takeaway here is, a vendor could be less expensive through operational efficiencies – or by cutting corners. Make sure you examine their proposals carefully, so you know which is which.

A great tip for vetting prospective service providers is to incorporate a grading scale or matrix, with values associated for each of the required areas of the service. This allows a committee to grade or rank service providers, which ultimately helps you select the company that is the best fit for your needs. For example:

Grading Scale

  • Organizational structure  0-25 points
  • References 0-25 points
  • Proposed approach 0-25 points
  • Cost 0-25 points

This process should uncover the top two or three most capable responders.

However, the contracting decision should not be based solely on the written response to your RFP. The response is like a resumé, and like any good hiring manager, you should follow up with an in-person interview, including a live presentation of offered services and price. This gives the potential client and contractor the ability to clarify portions of the RFP, identify areas possibly not addressed by it, and ultimately ensure that everyone has the correct expectations for services provided and their costs.

It’s also a great opportunity to see if you truly want to work with each other. Is it the right fit? Will it be a true partnership or a client-contractor, work-pay arrangement? The partnership culture will be critical to success of your program.

5. Look for flexibility and capacity

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s the importance of flexibility in facilities service programs. The country is preparing for a full return to in-person learning – but that might look different for each educational institution.

Half-day programs for kindergarten students, for example, are vastly different than on-campus housing environments for university students. Your facilities services provider should have teams that specialize in your learning environment, and should have the flexibility to shift service levels to meet your organization’s needs.

And if your overall needs increase over time – as the on-campus population grows, for example – make sure you’re contracting with an FM provider with enough capacity to maintain established levels of service. They’ll grow as you do, building a stronger partnership over time.

6. Let your FM provider make life easier

We cannot stress this enough: Contracting with a new FM provider should make life easier for school administrators, staff, and other stakeholders. There should be no surprises and no headaches.

That said, we also know the right transition process makes a world of difference. Ask a potential provider about its approach, including:

  • What does the transition timeline look like?
  • Can you outline specific tasks and their dates?
  • Who will the onsite team members be?
  • Can current in-house staff be brought on?
  • Is there a single point of contact as questions arise?

Having this information well in advance can create a smoother transition and a better start to your new program.

7. Look for experience

So much of a successful facility services program comes down to experience. For the best possible experience, choose a provider that can:

  • Understand and respect the work of educators, and provide services that enhance the learning environment
  • Integrate custodial, grounds, maintenance, events, and project management into a single, tailored program
  • Offer experience in emergency cleaning and COVID-19 mitigation strategies
  • Draw on a deep nationwide network of suppliers and service providers
  • Offer a robust quality assurance program
  • Use technology to track key performance indicators (KPIs), trends, successes, and areas for improvement
  • Show a track record of successful long-term partnerships
  • Support your program with dynamic, experienced leadership

And finally, choose a provider that makes you and your team feel comfortable in your decision. Contracting your facilities program is always a big adjustment, but with the right team by your side, your educational institution will benefit from a program that improves each year. By partnering with industry experts for your facilities needs, you and your team are able to focus more specifically on your educational mission, while delegating these tasks to a trusted and capable service provider.


The illustrations, instructions, and principles contained in this website are general in scope and for marketing purposes. We assume no responsibility for: managing or controlling customer activities, implementing any recommended measures, or identifying all potential hazards.


Gartner research: “The New B2B Buying Journey and Its Implication for Sales.”