In preparation for a $45M, 3-year renovation of the Wesleyan University Public Affairs Center, the institution’s planning and facilities teams were determined to step away from the surface level renovations of the past and find a new approach to updating classrooms on campus. It was a lesson learned when, after renovating two of four floors in Fisk Hall—hailed for its cosmetic and technological improvement—a ceiling collapsed in one of the rooms that had not been renovated. The institution realized that they were, according to Facilities Business Manager Jeff Murphy, putting “lipstick on a pig,” not addressing their Deferred Maintenance backlog, and needed to “look at whole building renovations that reset the clock on buildings.”
The planned renovation of the Public Affairs Center would displace approximately 70 faculty and staff and take 15 classrooms offline for more than two-and-a-half 2½ academic years. Among the most heavily utilized classroom buildings on campus, the PAC was also reviewed by students as among the worst buildings. The primary issue became “what are we going to do with these 15 classrooms?”
The team began looking for space on campus that was underutilized and could be re-purposed as temporary classrooms. “We started trying to grab lounges we could put doors on and amassed a list of rooms we could easily convert to classrooms,” says Murphy. One of the key areas identified was the stacks on the second floor of the science library. By clearing out and consolidating the thousands of books in the area, the team felt it could get eight or so temporary classrooms in the space. The cost to do so, however, was estimated at $5 million.
The team knew that spending $5M to build out temporary classrooms that would then be redesigned after project completion was not how they wanted to utilize the project budget. Instead, says Murphy, Wesleyan “got back to the basics of our planning principals,” and engaged with Sightlines on a Space Utilization project.
Working with the facilities, registrar, and project teams, Sightlines created an inventory of nearly 160 teaching spaces and analyzed the utilization of rooms, seats, and conditions. A data set of all inventoried classrooms with tech and condition components, utilization levels, as well as a library of 360 degree photos of each room, was provided to Wesleyan to aid in the ongoing management of campus academic space. Multiple presentations to University executives were delivered which provided an accurate view of how space on campus was being used and what was available to solve their immediate need for temporary classrooms.
Sightlines data revealed that, contrary to the belief that classrooms “were jammed and every seat taken,” there was an over-abundance of small classrooms and on average only 30% of those were in use from 8am to 4pm daily. The data highlighted rooms where course enrollment was much lower than the capacity of the space (96% of courses have 39 students or less) and provided an opportunity to better utilize total capacity and room inventory. Armed with a list of departmental, registrar-controlled and shared classrooms by capacity and type (auditorium, lecture hall, seminar, regular classroom, etc.), the registrar was able to make the temporary changes needed at a fraction of the estimated $5M cost. “Without new space, without shuffling course distribution, Sightlines proved we could fit all those classes in our existing inventory of classrooms,” says Murphy.
“This has become invaluable to us in the planning process,” says Senior Product Manager Brandi Hood. Access to granular information from the data set is allowing the team to make maintenance and technology improvements in advance of any classroom shifts, enabling Facilities to coordinate their annual allotment of expenditures to bring the lowest utilized rooms up to Wesleyan standards for tech, furniture, and overall condition.
That the current rooms didn’t fit the programmatic needs of the school was an “a-ha” moment for the team. “The over-abundance of small rooms was surprising,” said Murphy. “No one likes being in the small rooms. We had 10 people in 30-people rooms because they want to spread out.” In response, the University’s space policies are being reexamined in a number of ways, including a reevaluation and increase of the GSF per person standard.
The Sightlines data has also played a role in the PAC renovation design, influencing the number of rooms, size of spaces, functionality, tech needs, and furniture requirements. “Sightlines gave us that hard data set to look at and we were able to take that, inform conversations with faculty about our design parameters, about our planning principals, about our goals for the renovation, and I think we’re going to get to a much better product in the end.”