Documenting Facilities

The manual every camp should have

By Jacqueline Kaminsky

Over the years, working with hundreds of camps and retreat centers all over the country, I’m still amazed that less than half have quick access to a comprehensive facility manual. Typically, there is a maintenance or facility person who:



1. Has a good idea where everything is

2. Remembers off the top of his or her head when a building was last renovated

3. May have architectural documentation or recent paint colors in a maintenance garage somewhere.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, let’s get started on documenting your facilities. With the technology era, this can be done quickly and electronically. Spreadsheets, digital images, and editable PDFs make documentation and updating extremely easy, even for non-tech-savvy folks. With some initial setup of facility inventory forms, documenting and updating the forms can be done by anyone.

Top Five Reasons To Document Facilities

1. To record and organize facility data for easy access

2. To help evaluate the conditions of each facility to develop a maintenance priority list to track and plan for improvements

3. To develop an overall camp design/building material standard for a comprehensive look and camp brand

4. To be used for emergency purposes and maintenance; for example, utility plans showing locations of electrical lines and panels, gas lines and valves, water shut-offs, warranty information, etc.

5. To be used in future master planning of the property.

Having records of existing facilities ensures that anyone who needs access to the most current information can find it all in one place. While this service can be provided by an outside architectural and/or engineering company, it’s also something that can easily be documented by staff members or a few willing volunteers. The first step in creating the manual is to understand what information will be helpful for your records. Facility manuals can be brief or extremely detailed. The work can be separated into three phases: pre-field work, field work, and post-field work. Typical information that may be helpful to document is listed below. The main goal is to document as much as possible. Some items may require a more experienced person to review the information if the volunteers aren’t familiar with construction, materials, etc.

Facility Inventory Form: Documentation Ideas


Tools Required

  • Camera

  • Tape measure (50 to 100 feet) and a measuring wheel

  • Facility inventory forms (created by you, or contact for examples)

  • A field team (at least two willing participants).

Pre-Field Work

1. Locate any existing information that the camp may already have. This will save time in the field.

  • Architectural/construction drawings of existing buildings (blueprints, CAD drawings, etc.)

  • Site drawings (i.e., utility information)

  • Camp map

  • Topographic survey (if available).

2. Scan any key plans and building elevations that aren’t already digital (at a minimum, a floorplan of each level is key). Scans/digital files should include overall dimensions, if available.

3. Identify all names of buildings and program areas on the camp map or topographic survey, if not current. Each building and program area will eventually have its own facility inventory form.

4. Document as much of the “general information” (above) about the facility as you can before heading into the field.


Field Work

1. Take photographs.

Take one photograph of each side of the building. Try to fit the entire building in one frame if possible, for each picture.

  • Take one photograph of each major interior space.

  • Take any additional photographs to capture the overall image of the building.

  • Take photographs of deferred maintenance items or issues/concerns of the overall building integrity.

  • Helpful hint: There’s no such thing as too many photos! Dated documentation is very helpful.

Exhibit 1. Examples of exterior photos to document each side of an existing facility

Exhibit 2. Examples of interior photos to document each wall and space within an existing facility

2. Fill out the remainder of the facility inventory form.

  • General information: This information pertains to the use, operation, and general configuration of the building.

  • Exterior building condition: Walk around the outside of the building and note the materials, condition, etc.

  • Interior building condition: Look at the walls, ceilings, and floors to determine the finishes and conditions.

  • Site improvements: Walk around the outside of the building to see if there are any constructed outdoor spaces.

  • Health, safety, and welfare: Take a look in and out of the facility and document safety elements at the facility (see facility inventory form: documentation ideas above for examples).

  • Accessibility: Note any item pertaining to accessibility (see facility inventory form: documentation ideas above for examples).

  • Building systems (structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing): Look at the foundations, wall, floor, and roof framing, if accessible, and review the structural systems. Document the presence of the electrical, plumbing, and heating/cooling systems and their condition.

3. Make a building sketch.

  • Draw the basic footprint of the building.

  • From the exterior of the building, measure each side of the building and write the measurement on the corresponding wall of the sketched footprint.

  • From the interior of the building, draw the appropriate location of the assembly (gathering) or sleeping spaces and show them on the drawing. Measure the inside dimensions of the room and label them on the sketch.

  • If architectural drawings are available, verify that noted dimensions and organization of spaces are accurate, and use that plan in lieu of making the hand sketch.

Exhibit 3. Example Building Sketch

Post-Field Work

1. Download all photos taken in the field, and rename the photos with the appropriate building name.

2. Complete all facility inventory forms per the field work.

3. Compile the photos and facility inventory forms into a comprehensive document.

4. Update on an as-needed basis or when new facilities are added.

The facility manual should be reviewed every couple of years to make sure all of the information is current. The initial task of developing such a manual for an existing facility can seem like an overwhelming task, but once it’s completed, keeping it current, adding new facilities, and updating information will be a simple task. People come and go, so valuable knowledge of facilities shouldn’t be understood by only one or two people. Should something happen or someone leave the organization, this information will be invaluable in maintaining and planning for the future of the camp.

Jacqueline Kaminsky is a Landscape Architect for Domokur Architects in Akron, Ohio. Reach her at