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Outlook on Facilities: New visions for campus space

University Business, January 2016
Nearly two-thirds of higher ed readers surveyed expected a major renovation project to be launched or completed in 2016.
Nearly two-thirds of higher ed readers surveyed expected a major renovation project to be launched or completed in 2016.

Picture it: Faculty no longer get their own offices and libraries have vanished. Dorm rooms come standard with private bathrooms and maid service, and terrazzo tile has replaced carpeting as the new standard flooring across college campuses. Sound ludicrous? Maybe not.

While such a transformation certainly won’t be complete in 2016, big changes are coming, say facilities industry leaders. Shifts in use of space, dorm amenities and construction materials and a few key ones.

Here’s a closer look at what facilities department leaders are talking about at the start of 2016.

Building automation

Changes to building operations systems will continue to come fast and furiously. The Internet of Things is where much of the buzz is, says E. Lander Medlin, executive vice president of the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA).

In the last 20 years, the internet got people talking to more people digitally. But in the next 20 years, we’ll see increased communication between machines. This increased automation will make it possible for building equipment to report needed repairs or to order parts required for maintenance.

Trending/Fading

What’s trending

  • Student expectations for a higher standard of campus living
  • Better use of outdoor space
  • Larger square footage per student for learning spaces
  • Increasing need for power availability and wireless accessibility throughout buildings
  • Zero consumption goals
  • Total cost of ownership approach

What’s fading

  • The need to get buildings LEED-certified
  • Individual faculty offices and teaching spaces
  • Keeping buildings that have outlived their usefulness and cost too much to maintain
  • Traditional libraries (as the need to house printed books lessens

For now, this can be seen mainly in the use of sensors that can turn room lights off and on without human intervention.

Security, meanwhile, continues to garner attention as violence on campus and elsewhere generates headlines seemingly every week.

Universities have invested in high-tech surveillance cameras, redesigned outdoor spaces to limit access and overhauled landscaping to reduce potential hiding spots, says Michael Owens, executive producer of the annual Higher Ed Facilities Forum.

Video analytics is another rising star, taking video input and helping to identify security threats without the need for 24/7 eyes-on from campus police, says Owens. While this technology has been around for several years, it’s starting to make in-roads on campuses.

Facilities pros becoming more tech-savvy, valued

Increased reliance on these systems means facilities professionals must develop a more in-depth understanding of technology than they had just 10 years ago, says Medlin.

“The required skill set is changing based on construction and what needs to be replaced,” she says. As older buildings are razed or renovated, new technology is being added to aid in systems management—technology that facilities staff members must then learn to manage and maintain.

But that can be easier said than done. Training facilities staff members on advanced technology can be a challenge as the workforce ages.

There’s a realization by college and university officials that real estate is their largest asset—and facilities teams are getting a seat at the table in high-level discussions about upkeep, renovation and replacement, says Owens.

The changing classroom

Faculty members will continue to move toward small group work and collaboration, and away from standing in front of the room delivering lectures to large classes of students. More instructors want classrooms with structural flexibility and internal adaptability.

Plan, build and maintain

Campus facilities leaders have much to keep them up at night in 2016. There’s the long-term planning, with 4 in 10 of those responding to UB’s survey on facilities saying they will launch or be engaged in the facilities master planning process.

And then there’s the daily roster of projects to keep up with. About two-thirds will start or complete a major renovation project in the coming year, and more than one-third will break ground on a new facility.

Yet, plans often have to be changed. For nearly one in three of the approximately 45 respondents, planned projects will have to be scaled back or deferred due to funding cuts.

And speaking of deferring, keeping up with maintenance continues to be challenging for facilities administrators. Four in 10 expect building work orders to increase in the coming year.

Still, as admissions professionals can attest and many facilities leaders would argue, the shape of a campus’ buildings and condition of its grounds does influence the overall health and well-being of an institution and its reputation.

But this necessitates bigger classrooms, believe it or not. Instead of 12 to 20 square feet needed per student in traditional classrooms, new collaborative spaces require 35 to 45 square feet per student, says Mark Maves, chair of the Academy Council at the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and principal at Learning & Discovery, a planning and design studio.

Collaboration will also impact housing design, as more campuses create living-learning environments, explains Maves. In the interests of retention and community-building, schools are building and renovating residence halls that bring together students with similar interests.

Some campuses are creating “makerspaces,” or hands-on innovation labs, where students can attack a problem, work cross-functionally with other departments, and create something physical or digital. Here “students can problem-solve in a tangible way,” says Maves.

Colleges and universities assessing their current use of space will question the need for individual faculty offices, which take up a huge footprint. Of the amount of space devoted to teaching, faculty and administration, the biggest percentage by far goes to faculty offices, Maves says. Some campuses are exploring how that space could be reconfigured for better utilization, such as by consolidating teacher offices into a single cooperative work area.

Better use of space is an area in which there’s much work to be done. According to Medlin, campus space utilization rates are frequently below 50 percent.

It’s all about the money

Given that money is in short supply—a trend that shows no sign of abating, thanks to declining enrollment—facilities administrators are exploring new tactics.

An increasing number of their departments are considering the “total cost of ownership” of buildings and materials, says Peter Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management at Western Michigan University as well as the current president of APPA.

For years, administrators tended to go with the lowest-cost solution, but facilities leaders are now pushing for investments in long-term quality.

So instead of replacing worn carpeting in a building every three years, for example, more departments are recommending more costly, but more durable tile.

At the same time facilities leaders will be forced to hold the line on spending, they’ll also have to secure the money to compete projects.

That’s where outside partners are playing a key role on many campuses. Real estate developers, local employers, city planning departments and investors will more frequently approach universities about funding new construction.

In some cases, the developer builds and the university leases it back from the developer. In others, area businesses rent campus office space to get access to top students, offering part-time employment as a way to build relationships with future full-time prospects.

Overall, college officials—within the constraints of available resources—are getting more creative about facilities planning and maintenance to elevate institutions and their reputation.

Marcia Layton Turner is a Rochester, New York-based writer.

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