Space Utilization and Facility Condition Assessments

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About this session:

Traditionally, finance and facility managers at most higher education institutions are accustomed to hearing academic department heads, residence life leaders and even administrators clamor for more space. “We don’t have enough room,” became a regular call for individuals who wanted greater control over the scheduling process. However, the pandemic’s sudden and stark disruption to “normal” operations brought a uniquely shared experience that challenged the culture of higher education as a whole. Nearly every campus has seen some reduction in campus space utilization and with the very notion of an academic community being redefined in real time, planners have begun raising questions about what kinds of classroom spaces will be needed in the future and how to optimize the physical footprint in continued service of the school’s educational mission.
For campus stewards, these questions have profound ramifications. Undoubtedly, the pandemic offered these stewards a clear and extreme example of what an overabundance of space, particularly classrooms, can do to college budgets in the short term. The ongoing growth in the backlog of deferred needs as renewal budgets likely stay flat or shrink paints a potentially painful image of the future. Pre-pandemic circumstances already presented their own unique challenges as the average U.S. classroom before 2020 was occupied less than 60 percent of the available hours during a typically scheduled day. These compounding data points certainly suggest higher-ed campus’ needs to use less space. They simply can’t properly care for what’s been built, nor is the current space being utilized to its
fullest capacity. A thorough utilization study of teaching spaces creates a strong foundation for documenting the real costs of operating campus facilities, identifying investment or divestment priorities, and revealing insight into the implications of inefficient scheduling models on spending waste. Whether enrollment or budgets are shrinking, growing, stable or variable, all institutions are candidates for a space utilization study.
Campus space use has been transforming for some time; the pandemic only served to accelerate the transformation. For a while in 2020, we didn’t use space at all. Every institution adopted a remote model initially and many would claim that model persists in some form across their campuses today. The resilience of the educational experience in a remote format has been surprising to many, but the sheer scale of its adoption made remote teaching and learning a viable possibility. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics and as reported by Inside Higher Ed, from 2019 to 2020 the number of students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses made a 150% leap. That remote bias persisted into the spring of 2021 with only 18% of schools fully or primarily in person, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education and the College Crisis Initiative based at Davidson College. The change to remote access wasn’t just for teaching and learning. Administrative departments discovered that employees were remarkably productive away from the office. Dollars directed toward programmatic priorities will only further diminish the available funding to care for physical campuses straining under deferral and age.
Enrollments most recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse reports a 3% enrollment drop in the fall of 2021. Enrollment has been trending downward since 2012/2013 and birthrate data indicates the overall pool of traditional-aged students falls off considerably starting in 2026, with no uptick anticipated through 2038. The implications for the physical campus are profound and must be confronted.
The student age population is shifting, and the implications of this shift are everywhere. Higher Education enrollment peaked at 21,253,000 students during the 2012/2013 academic year. For the 2019/2020-year, enrollment was 19,720,000. This 7% reduction represents a loss of 1.5 million students in just seven years. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report from January 13, 2022 reveals an additional enrollment drop of 5.1% between 2019 and 2021, representing 938,000 students. This winnowing away of the student body has an effect on the physical campus. In fact, 63% of the facilities leaders we surveyed anticipate an impact from the expected enrollment drop by 2025-2026.

Start Time:

3/21/2023 1:00:00 PM

End Time:

3/21/2023 2:00:00 PM

1.To maximize the return on the investments already made into existing spaces such as classrooms, science and computer laboratories, administrative offices, general purpose spaces, creating priorities for their likely use going forward. By identifying areas of opportunity and strength, a complete space utilization assessment will ensure institutional leaders know what they’re doing well and what they could be doing better. Fundamentally, it will help create a coherent space narrative, incorporating the expectations of the community and the demands of the facilities, that represents a shared agreement for how to best optimize service to academic aspirations and institutional mission.
2. The cost savings from more effective space management are tremendous, and they can potentially be used over time to drive high-priority investment projects. Every additional percentage point of improved space utilization can engage millions of dollars’ worth of physical assets around campus. Operating cost is $4 - $7/GSF, with a deferred maintenance back log in the millions. Cost savings in both of those areas could have a large effect in our ability to maintain and renew our assets.
3. Securing campus-wide sponsorship can remain a challenge when the perception of space ownership is not evaluated in an objective way. In some cases, a third-party space utilization consultant can help overcome political disputes more effectively than a department at the center of these conversations. By reevaluating the ownership of space in a fair and unbiased way through discussions with all stakeholders involved, it may be possible to reach compromises on how space is used that better serve the needs of the institution. Utilization studies will first and foremost identify opportunities within the physical environment and scheduling processes.
4. To pursue a facility condition assessment for approximately 44 buildings or 3.3M square feet involving primary infrastructure systems such as roofs, building exterior integrity, elevators, HVAC, plumbing, primary electrical systems, interior spaces, technology infrastructure. The assessment will also quantify replacement cost and expected useful life of equipment.

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1 hour

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