Long-Term Planning and Institutional Stewardship

To provide a top-quality environment for learning, colleges and universities must plan for and undertake the ongoing stewardship of their physical property and the funding of long-term capital needs. In doing so, they must manage their facilities and operations on a continuum, relating present-day and ongoing needs with future expectations and needs for the physical campus.

But many small campuses across the country &mdash from private schools to community colleges &mdash do not have sizeable staffs or budgets committed to master planning and long-term capital planning. Nevertheless, the need for and benefits of longer-term planning apply to one and all. Institutional stewardship is equally important for these institutions as it is for a Harvard or a Stanford University.

In our experience as architects and planners, both inside and outside of higher education institutions, five areas of need stand out.

Understand Your Campus

The campus is ever-changing. Renovations and additions present ongoing challenges. Most academic buildings require renovation or adaptation on some scale at least every decade. With the need to incorporate new technologies or systems, that timeframe significantly shortens. Consider, in contrast, that renovation is expected in commercial buildings after about 40 years.

The importance of documenting physical property cannot be understated. In the absence of a campus master plan, start with a database that cites building-by-building parameters and needs. Tailor the document for your particular purposes, incorporating data that are most helpful on issues and schedules relating to space programming, operation, maintenance, and expansion.

Care should be taken to note any buildings that are or have the potential to be on the National Register of Historic Places. They should be surveyed and documented. Many states provide historic resources recordation forms to record buildings that are at least 50 years old. Following a building survey, one records such specifics as building characteristics and location, and the occurrence of alterations, renovations, and maintenance over time. See the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers at www.ncshpo.org.

Assemble a Coordinated Team Approach

Coordination is imperative. Led by the president or provost, a campus planning team should meet regularly and interact informally between meetings. At minimum, this team would include the chief financial officer, the head of operations, and individuals responsible for &mdash even if not full-time &mdash campus planning and capital planning.

The knowledge and skills brought to each of these areas of responsibility impact all the others, and their convergence can ease the way for any project. Otherwise, collisions large and small are certain to occur &mdash from inadequate budgeting to ill-timed construction work. A team approach enables even small impacts to growth to be undertaken in a more efficient, holistic way. As for large projects, close coordination is crucial in helping to stay on top of three key concerns: scope, schedule, and cost.

Practice Integrated Planning

Keep in mind that an institution will outlive the current administration, faculty, staff, and students. For this reason alone, campus leaders should feel compelled to act in the long-term interests of a campus. As a historic preservation practice, we are keenly interested in how much a campus was actually shaped by the original designer and how much of that form is retained, respected, and reinforced over time even as creative new designers are appointed to add new buildings.

Principia College, in the small river town of Elsah, IL, illustrates a high level of preservation and, given its landmark status, ongoing respect for its origins. Bernard Maybeck began a master plan for the fledgling four-year school in 1923. He served as its architect from 1924 to 1940, designing 13 buildings in all. Principia’s newest addition, a contemporary athletic center, is under construction.

The profile of your own campus may not be closely identified with a specific style or designer. Rather, like most cities, your buildings may represent a range of eras and design styles that have created a dynamic diversity of their own. In many ways, this mix requires even more careful planning than Maybeck’s Principia or Frederick Law Olmsted’s Stanford. Simply put, your planning team should act as guardians for the historic buildings and landscapes of value that are there. Often, it is these historic resources that figure prominently in alumni memories and this is what they remember during the annual fund or a capital campaign.

On a project management note, campus construction is typically budgeted at a fixed cost per square foot. While establishing a rule of thumb is essential, a static computation can sometimes result in under-budgeting. When conserving historic structures, for example, the cost to renovate, re-purpose, or expand may well be higher than for most buildings in order to respect the quality of materials and design.

Our practice applauds the use and adaptive re-use of historic structures, believing that their presence adds immeasurable gravitas, utility, and warmth to a campus. Realistically, campus leaders must understand that the presence of historic resources may add different materials costs and a higher level of detail to a project. These details must be identified and budgeted for during the scoping process.

Scope“Areas of Influence” Rather Than Single Structures

It is not unusual for the proponents of a single structure, whether under construction or being expanded, to become fixated on“their” building. Perhaps these supporters have contributed money or raised funds to help realize the project or are academics focused on specific program needs. But this proud sense of ownership should not be allowed to disrupt the larger area of influence of which their building is but a part.

At Stanford, a surcharge is added to each building project budget to help integrate that project into its surroundings. Circulation, landscape, parking, and wayfinding are just some of the issues that must be addressed and funded in order to stitch new campus fabric into the existing fabric.

Project integration doesn’t need to be costly. But it does require forethought. Longer-term, campuswide thinking and scoping at the front end of each project can anticipate and mitigate against factors that would otherwise isolate the new structure.

Maintain the Campus

Maintenance is an under-appreciated and often under-funded function. Campuses that defer maintenance will ultimately pay the price, and the price will most assuredly be higher. Sometimes, the band-aid approach fails because it is a short-term fix. Or, it is the wrong band-aid for the job. We’ve seen misapplications of waterproofing, and stucco applied over a still-moist surface, for instance, as stopgap measures that ultimately require significant repair that wouldn’t otherwise have been needed.

Beyond routine maintenance, preventive maintenance is smart. And the incorporation of processes to make campus operations more sustainable is smarter still, benefiting the planet and your bottom line. Identify ways to use less energy. Conserve water, and make use of graywater. Salvage and re-use building materials. The Alliance to Save Energy cites “Green Campus” resources at www.ase.org/content/article/detail/3038.

The traditional campus in the 21st century faces unprecedented competitive pressure. Non-traditional and long-distance learning appeals on price and because of easy, on-demand accessibility. Also, increasing numbers of specialty education facilities and private institutions cater to students and instructors with tightly focused interests.

“Place” &mdash the physical campus &mdash thereby has the potential to become even more of a differentiator. The well-organized, well-maintained campus with a solid plan for its evolution and future growth can be a vastly appealing component in recruiting faculty, students, and benefactors.

Ruth Todd, AIA, AICP, is an associate principal with Page & Turnbull, which engages in architecture, historic preservation, and urban design. She previously was associate architect at Stanford University. Contact her at [email protected]