Strategic Space Planning teams in higher education are increasingly pressured to help design flexible, dynamic spaces to meet the needs of a changing workforce, and a student population in search of nontraditional learning options.
“One of the things that I think a lot of universities and maybe some businesses are looking at is how do you change the allocation of space and space guidelines post-COVID with the introduction of telecommuting,” said William & Mary University Space Data Manager Tim Russell, in a recent discussion with Armored Things.
Space Planners at colleges and universities have always been tasked with solving current space disputes while also planning years ahead, and the 2020 shutdown of campuses across the country has only intensified their missions. In just one example, many higher ed space planning leaders say a common post-pandemic request is for increased lab space – often alongside the new realization that their administration offices are underutilized.
“Most people don’t realize that the fight for space is fairly common in universities,” said Russell.
Russell, like campus Space Planners at colleges and universities across the country, sits at the center of many departments that are looking for creative ways to provide flexible, creative spaces for students and faculty – and meet sustainability goals at the same time.
WHAT IS THE ROUTINE FUNCTION OF SPACE PLANNING TEAMS?
According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), no matter how large their team or campus, all higher education Space Planning teams share common goals as you’ll see below.
Understand space needs in order to better respond to plans for future projects: University Space Planners are responsible for tracking space utilization on campus in order to determine whether spaces are being over or underutilized. This allows them to make future decisions about space allocation.
Analyze and resolve specific space issues and concerns: At schools such as Boston University, space analytics is used to understand how space has been used previously, its current status and use, and future plans for the space. This data is then used to determine how much space departments should be granted as Space Planners are constantly faced with competition. William & Mary University created master plans that focus on areas such as academic space needs, administrative space, and infrastructure and utilities. Master plans such as these serve as an outline for long-term space planning and other facilities demands.
Providing space studies: Space Planning teams are responsible for providing space studies, including suggestions and solutions to optimize the efficiency of existing spaces or identifying overages or shortages of space.
5 TOP CHALLENGES FOR HIGHER ED SPACE PLANNERS
Annual project funding: A routine issue for Space Planners is the unpredictability of funding. As enrollment numbers change, and some federal or state funding is unclear, space managers on college campuses need to connect their budgets to student experiences, or show costs associated with deferred maintenance.
Supply chain trouble: According to William & Mary’s Russell, the pandemic has caused massive supply chain disruptions which have resulted in some projects being two years behind schedule.
Sustainability: Many universities are also looking to become more sustainable by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions by reducing their electrical use. Colleges such as Indiana University also noticed that this energy minimization also generated significant utility cost savings which lowered operational costs and increased their overall energy efficiency.
Deferred maintenance: Deferred and overall building maintenance has been a growing concern and issue for many universities, especially after the pandemic. Campus leaders are now looking to address these maintenance issues as they can be incredibly costly. In a recent Higher Ed Facilities Forum article, the University of Missouri detailed having an $881 billion backlog in building maintenance, causing them to reduce its campus size by one million square feet.
Underutilization: As telecommuting has risen in popularity, many facilities managers are reporting that classrooms and office spaces are severely underutilized – sometimes reserved with booking systems but then only filled to a quarter of capacity. Inside Higher Ed recently outlined the way that some universities are repurposing unused space for public uses such as health and wellness centers or even childcare centers.
HOW CAN AI SOFTWARE HELP SPACE PLANNING TEAMS?
Space utilization software can provide universities with insights as to how their space is being used and help Space Planners make future data-driven decisions. Software can provide visual mapping as well as monitoring utilization. Armored Things is able to surface utilization – which makes occupancy data more relevant. This can be done without requiring any new hardware. Occupancy analytics are surfaced within a few weeks rather than months.
One Armored Things customer, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, initially used our software to help determine library staffing hours and cleaning schedules. UTK recently expanded its initial deployment to cover more buildings and deliver deep insights through an integration with their class scheduling system.
Armored Things allows users to gain real-time insights as well as historical overlays to create predictive analytics. Our software displays estimates of peak usage and density to help customers understand their space in new ways. Peak usage and density enable campus leaders to track which sector of campus – or any shared space – receives the most traffic.
Alex Trotto contributes to the Blog and Social Media channels for Armored Things. She is currently a Northeastern University student in her sophomore year.