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The Big(ger) Picture: Why Integrated Master Planning Works—And Who to Get Involved

University Business, January 2013
Penn Park at  the University of Pennsylvania
Having input from the campus CFO early in the planning process ensures major projects can be funded, like the 24-acre Penn Park at the University of Pennsylvania, completed in 2011.

At The Ohio State University, the term “master plan” is obsolete. That’s because what traditional master plans often lack—input from an institution’s academic and finance folks—are an integral part of the One Ohio State Framework Plan, shares Amanda Hoffsis, senior director of physical planning.

“A lot of times, master plans have historically involved looking at the campus and deciding, almost like the city does with zoning, where they want to put things; it hasn’t been tied to the academic programs or the mission of the school,” she explains. “They often don’t get followed because they don’t necessarily make sense when you layer on the real work going on at the institution.”

The One Ohio State Framework Plan, approved by the board of trustees in June 2010, demonstrates the university’s commitment to developing an integrated plan. “The single biggest deliverable was a set of principles in which we agreed to develop our campus, instead of a map with footprints of future roads or buildings,” explains Hoffsis. And what sets Ohio State’s plan apart is that it’s constantly updated. “People talk about the framework plan as if it’s a living thing; it doesn’t have a date.”

Across the U.S., officials at colleges and universities large and small are starting to see the importance of getting more parties involved in the planning process. Below are four important constituent groups to consider getting involved in planning early on, along with what they can bring to the table.


Eastern Kentucky University’s master plan, completed in July 2009, gained support by varied constituent groups in the process, including academic departments. This helped bring more knowledge and interest to the table and resulted in a more robust plan, according to Vice President for Administration James C. Street.

“It’s very difficult to get support for anything on a college campus without including both faculty and staff in the process,” he says. “Otherwise folks feel that something has been done ‘to’ them, rather than ‘with’ them. The ‘with’ is always better than the ‘to.’ ”

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Connects campus plan (2006-2010) and Penn Connects 2.0 (2011-2030) were drawn up with input from a number of academic deans, which helped frame how the group thought about the growth and evolution of the campus, shares Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli.
“When we think about space, we may have a principle about how we want the campus to evolve, but it’s also got to adapt to how students are being taught, how faculty want to interact in their labs,” he says.

Without the support of the provost’s office, the One Ohio State Framework Plan may have overlooked the opportunity for integrated and collaborative spaces, which is a major component of the plan. It was important for the plan’s main stakeholders—the office of business and finance, the provost’s office, and the administration and planning office—for future projects to be multipurpose. That means, says Hoffsis, “not building a little fiefdom for each college or university, but building spaces that will support a multitude of programs and encourage them to collaborate.”


Not only do having multipurpose buildings encourage collaboration, but they promote a quality-over-quantity mentality that’s good for the bottom line. And because the Office of Business and Finance at Ohio State was one of the key sponsors of the Framework Plan, the updates to the plan have been fully-integrated with the capital plan each year.

“This is really where this symbiotic relationship between the CFO and the campus plan comes together, where we work through what we call the choreography, or the scheme, for the next several years and then we go back and prioritize specifically to the dollars available and work that into the capital plan,” says Hoffsis. Conversely, the capital plan is now also updated at the same time as the Framework Plan.

“It was clear to everyone it’s the right way to be doing this,” she recalls. “All of these decisions made so much more sense all of a sudden when you started to realize how you might be able to implement it financially.”

Having academic and financial people at the table early on not only ensures projects can be paid for, but it can save money.

For example, when Ohio State’s chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry departments needed new lab buildings, each had its own feasibility study. By collaborating and realizing the two departments had a lot of the same needs, officials decided to construct a single 225,000-square-foot Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry Building (a project that broke ground in June 2012).

Ohio State will realize a $1 million savings in annual operating costs alone. Another $20 million in deferred maintenance is being saved by knocking down four buildings that had been ignored to make way for the new building.

Back when EKU was developing its plan, the Kentucky state governing board was urging the universities in the state to increase their enrollment by the year 2020. EKU, specifically, was directed to try to increase its enrollment by more than 50 percent—from 13,000 to 20,000. Working with Perkins + Will and the vice president for financial affairs, the planning team was able to come up with a plan that could support that growth.

“It’s important to review what sort of financial resources are going to be needed to make that sort of dramatic change in your enrollment,” says Street.

One project that will help support this growth is a new residence hall complex. Now under construction, the facility will feature suite-style living accommodations for 260 students, with an anticipated Fall 2013 opening. Another major project that came out of the plan was the New Science Building, opened in January 2012. The $64 million, 175,000 square-foot facility houses the departments of chemistry and physics and astronomy, as well as classrooms and labs. The second phase will add the departments of biological science and geography and geology.

At UPenn, the master planning team recognized that the finance team can oversee situations that might warrant starting a project earlier or later, like an upcoming indirect cost negotiation, explains Carnaroli. “In general, we try to be pretty inclusive, given at the end of the day people say, ‘this is great vision, how are we going to pay for it?’ You’re better off having your finance team at the table. They’re thinking of how to manage the cash flows and any potential borrowing if things are gift dependent,” he says. “It makes us all smarter and better if we’re at the table working together.”

In the first phase of Penn Connects, the university was able to fund construction of major projects, including the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the 24-acre Penn Park, and the 500,000 square-foot Smilow Center for Translational Research. Penn Connects 2.0 has seen the completion of Golkin Hall at Penn Law and progress in restoring the ARCH, the main student hub on campus, among other projects.

Third Party

Penn Connects wouldn’t exist without a little outside help from Sasaki Associates, which was hired to consult during the planning process.

“Having a good consultant who has worked around the world can bring a broader perspective,” says Carnaroli. “Sometimes the challenge is that we see the campus how it is, while others see greater potential because they’re not as firmly ensconced in the fabric. I think a good planning consultant can be valuable to broadening people’s thinking.”

Similarly, Street of EKU recommends bringing in an outside firm with a global perspective on campus planning that can coordinate with the other interests involved throughout the entire planning process. Perkins+Will solidified the integrative approach to the plan by having discussions with various constituent groups and seeing what worked best for the campus as a whole and whom Street credits for the success of the plan.

“It’s hard from my perspective having been here a long time to be totally objective in conducting meetings or discussing with people what’s in the best interest
of the campus because I have a strong opinion,” he says. “By bringing the third party in, we got a much more independent, objective view of what we should be doing in the long-term,” says Street.


When College of the Desert (Calif.) sought to expand out of a single Palm Desert, Coachella Valley location into the West Valley in Palm Springs, the city government was involved from the get-go.

“They very much see the development of a community college in their municipality as an economic development vehicle,” says Edwin Deas, vice president of business affairs for the college. Famous for its “Hollywood East” image since the 1950s, Palm Springs has been trying to reinvent itself and broaden the jobs it has to offer. “Our education plans were very much in line with what the city saw for its future,” he explains.

One of the goals of the master plan for College of the Desert is to train students in a profession, and then have them get jobs in the community. “It’s a nice full-circle cycle,” shares James Matson, vice president and principal with architecture, engineering, and master planning firm HGA.

The campus is being built on land that the city of Palm Springs purchased from the federal government and donated to the institution.

While it may not be unique, the involvement with Palm Springs is unusual in the sense that the city has been involved all along the way, shares Deas.

“By law, we didn’t even have to submit plans to the city, but we chose to involve the city all along because it’s as much their initiative as it is ours. I don’t know if that’s a good approach for everybody, but it’s certainly a good approach for what we needed in the West Valley,” he explains.

While it would take less time to avoid these conversations, integrated master planning will help paint a clearer picture for the future of College of the Desert and other institutions.

“It takes longer and involves more people,” acknowleges Deas. “But we think it’s going to be far better in the future.”