Higher education campuses may each face unique challenges, but accurately predicting space needs is common to most of these institutions. Many colleges and universities watched enrollment surge between 2007 and 2012 only to level out, if not decline, from 2013 onward. Due to this plateau, decision makers at higher education institutions have become more reluctant to turn to new construction as their first solution to facility challenges, particularly when funding is through tuition revenue that may or may not be stable over the long term.
That’s why, when faced by strong demands from the faculty to increase academic space, the administration at one mid-sized university in the Northwest first decided to take a step back and assess the situation. Before agreeing to commit millions of dollars to the construction of a new academic building, the university wanted to first determine if it could reimagine its existing campus design and put the current teaching space to better use.
To make an unbiased decision, university decision makers knew that they needed data that either supported the faculty’s argument or could help create an alternative working arrangement that would meet the evolving faculty needs.
A Three-Pronged Space Investigation
To determine whether the existing academic space could be better arranged to meet changing academic needs, the university began an investigation that sought to address three questions:
- Do the current teaching space configurations align with the school’s program?
- How effectively are the existing teaching spaces being utilized today?
- What are the comparative conditions of those teaching spaces?
To best answer these questions, the university turned to an independent third-party that could gather this data through a four-step discovery process.
The first step of the process was to conduct interviews with faculty and students. Through these interviews, the team was able to better understand the changing expectations for classrooms, and identify where the existing space configurations fell short. This insight helped the team pinpoint more practicable classroom designs, layout and requirements that met new student needs and desires.
Next, the team conducted field assessments of each classroom and a thorough inventory of all of their components, from desk styles to technology. The team also performed a higher-level analysis of how the existing space was currently being used, breaking down precisely the activities performed in each room. Finally, all of this information was compared with a broad review of course scheduling to determine if adjustments to timing could free up some of the existing space for new uses.
This multi-tiered approach to space analysis paid off. The team learned that the majority of classes were being held in rooms much larger than was needed, as determined by enrollment trends and the expressed preferences of faculty and students. More importantly, this thorough data collection did more than outline the problem. It also offered a pathway to improvement.
From Discovery to Renovation Process
To better align the room inventory with enrollment and faculty preferences, the university decided to cap more classes at 20 students. With this limit set, the university was able to renovate existing teaching spaces to accommodate the smaller class sizes and multiply the amount of available teaching space.
The data gathered during the discovery process continued to prove helpful as the university began its renovations. The condition analysis served as a framework that allowed the school to prioritize projects. Those areas with the highest backlogs of needs were renovated first, with work spread out over time in order to maximize the budget.
With more space for teaching, the university had to take a second look at its scheduling process. This became an opportunity to align block scheduling with faculty preferences by holding more classes at peak times.
Building in New Efficiency
The result of this discovery process was a 30-percent improvement in the university’s use of its existing space. This proved to be plenty to meet faculty’s demands and eliminate the need to spend significantly on a new facility. More than that, it proved an opportunity to create a more effective teaching and working environment that could continue to attract bright minds.