An Overview of Facilities Master Planning

Planning is a continuous process with the goal of getting from where you are to where you want to be. A plan is a snapshot at a point in time. A facilities master plan is a physical response to a vision that documents conditions and trends, identifies assumptions for the future, and sets priorities.

Your master plan will not be the final solution, it is not set in stone, and it does not place every nut and bolt. It is not just a drawing that shows where new buildings can be located, but is instead a response to the history, mission, policies, and projections that emanate from the leadership of an institution. It is a look at, and a plan for the next ten years; a living document responsive to changes and evolving during its lifetime.

The development of a long-range planning document is time-consuming, often taking a year or more. Getting organized; gaining approval for institutional projections; planning for future academic programs, ongoing feedback, and review, and detailed analyses of buildings and infrastructure are all time-consuming activities. It is important that shortcuts to save time do not unintentionally restrict creativity or unnecessarily hinder the process. Other important aspects of a planning document to consider include the following.

• The future must be described in words and numbers — academic programs, organization, projected students and faculty.
• Many factors must be analyzed in order to determine the most effective location for new facilities.
• Existing space must be evaluated — quantity, quality, and functionality — to determine the amount of funding needed to return those buildings to a satisfactory condition, as well as the amount of space that can be retained to meet institutional needs.
• Individual projects must be related to, and located in accordance with, institutional goals and planning criteria. They must be of a size and design that is compatible with campus architecture.

Addressing these elements and others is the goal of a facilities master plan. Although the components may vary, they generally consist of the following four major headings.


This section provides historical information about the institution and assumptions about where it wants to go, what it wants to become, and what it needs to do. Included are the institutional history, a collective vision of the future, the specific mission and goals, how the institution is organized, the campus environment and how it impacts the people using the campus, characteristics and numbers of students, and a variety of other data that quantify the vision and are used to determine the gross amount of space required now and at the end of the ten-year planning cycle.

Assessment of Needs

The quantity, quality, and functionality of existing space — academic and auxiliary facilities — must be evaluated. Of critical importance is the adequacy of an institution’s infrastructure and its ability to accommodate extension or expansion: signage, communications, electricity, fuel, domestic water, storm water, sanitary sewage, parking, roads, and bridges.

Based on the assumptions provided in the Program section of the master plan, global space needs are determined for existing conditions and the ten-year projection using space-planning guidelines. The global space needs are reduced by existing space that is to remain, with the net space to be accommodated in new or renovated construction.

Analysis and Planning Issues

Analysis begins with a detailed look at existing campus conditions. Facts are conditions that are neither assets nor problems, and include boundaries, land use, circulation, and potential building sites and land acquisition. Assets are characteristics that make positive contributions and that should be retained and reinforced. Problems are negative conditions that are in direct conflict with institutional or planning goals and must be resolved.

The vision for the institution’s future and the projections create planning issues that must be resolved. The combination of an assessment of the quality of existing facilities, the gross amount of space required, and the analysis of the campus determine sites with potential for alternative uses, including those where existing buildings could be razed. These lead to alternative planning concepts and the selection of a single direction.

The Plan

Presentation of the final recommendations is the primary purpose of this section. Drawings would include land and building use, land acquisition, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, open space, and density — generally defined as ground area coverage and floor area ratio, but sometimes limited to maximum building area and the number of floors. Also included are planning criteria to evaluate proposed future changes to the plan, capital projects in priority order with estimated size and cost, phasing within the ten-year time frame, and general design criteria for the entire campus. How the master plan will be implemented — process and accountability — and conditions that would require an updating of the plan must be identified.

The completed facilities master plan should achieve the following objectives.

• Document the results of an extensive institutional facilities planning effort that involves all facets of the institution — governing board, administration, academic, planning staff — in identifying the physical aspects of a vision of the future and the goals and objectives that form that vision;
• Facilitate communication within the institution, between the institution and its governing board, and with external review agencies; and
• Establish priorities for the institution in its preparation of capital budgets and funding requests.

Paul Abramson is president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, educational space planners, and serves as Industry analyst for College Planning & Management magazine.

Ed Burnap is a consultant in the planning and programming of highe- educational facilities.

Abramson and Burnap are co-authors of Space Planning Guidelines for Institutions of Higher Education, published by the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International (CEFPI, from which this article was excerpted.

Outline of a Facilities Master Plan

• History
• Vision, mission, and goals
• Administrative and academic organization
• Academic programs and educational change
• Student characteristics and demographics
• Student life: organizations, services, residence life, cultural and recreational activities
• Campus environment: urban, suburban, or rural; interrelationships
• Data current and projected for a minimum of ten years
- Enrollment: by degree program and by level and by day and evening; participation rate (credit hours by discipline as a percentage of the total)
- Number of hours seats are occupied, by lecture and laboratory and by discipline, and the percentage each discipline is of the total
- Study seating
- Collection size
- Staffing: number of faculty and administrators that require offices

Assessment of Needs
• Existing facilities: description, size, construction date, room inventory
• Building quality: physical and functional, life expectancy, replacement value, renovation costs
• Buildings that can be razed
• Global space needs, using space-planning guidelines
• Outdoor facilities and fields
• Residential requirements
• Parking
• Infrastructure: utilities, storm water, roads, bridges

Analysis and Planning Issues
• Facts — boundaries, land use, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, expansion potential
• Assets
• Problems — pedestrian/vehicular conflicts, image, signage, landscaping
• Analysis of potential building sites
• Planning considerations
- Identity, scale, environment, community
- Land and building use, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, parking, open space, landscaping
- Plan criteria: statements that guide the development of the final plan
• Alternative planning concepts

The Plan
• Land acquisition strategies
• Land and building use
• Open space and landscaping
• Pedestrian and vehicular circulation
• Infrastructure
• Design criteria — architecture, scale, materials, density, open space
• Capital projects — buildings, site and utilities: size and cost in priority order
• Phasing of projects
• Impact on space planning guidelines
• Expansion beyond target enrollment
• Implementation — process and accountability
- Criteria for updating the plan