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Business Officer Magazine
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Some Space Allocation Surprises

On many campuses, administrative office space far outstrips the square footage of classroom facilities. Such a mismatch of space and mission offers opportunities and incentives for evaluating use, creating efficiencies, and reassigning space—all of which can yield substantial savings, while supporting the institution’s priorities.

By Sally Grans-Korsh

When it comes to managing costs, campus leaders often emphasize the utilities component of the facilities operational budget. As mentioned in the October 2013 Business Officer article, "Spatial Concepts,"  "While this approach includes the added benefits of improved overall sustainability and reduction of the institution's carbon footprint, such costs comprise on average only 2 to 8 percent of the overall campus budget. Many other major factors are involved in the overall efficiency of space."

One such factor, which has the potential to achieve much higher levels of savings than what can be achieved in the utility budget, is office space. On some campuses, administrative offices can account for as much as 30 to 40 percent of the total campus square footage—often multiple times the space allocated to classrooms and labs. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17, 2009, "Campus Officials Seek Building Efficiency, One Square Foot at a Time," author Scott Carlson noted that at the University of Illinois, a mere 5 percent of space was devoted to classrooms, while 36 percent was used for offices and other institutional support.

Such a mismatch of space assignments and mission means that evaluating use, creating efficiencies, and revising programming for private academic and administrative offices can yield an institution substantial savings. Establishing a formalized facilities master plan to reach these goals can be quite effective. In conducting these efforts, keep the following ideas in mind:

In space evaluation discussions, office space often gets passed over. Historical precedence and "that's-the-way-we've-always-done-it" attitudes can easily win the day. At the same time, many corporations and innovative businesses have undergone huge transformations in office space, developing new forms of flexibility, communication, team dynamics, and synergy along the way, and greatly reducing or eliminating private offices.

For example, Boeing Corp., Seattle, conducted space analysis in 2009 that ultimately reduced its footprint from 21 million to 14 million square feet. Part of that reduction, notes Anthony Desnick, principal, Tool Set Consulting, resulted from eliminating private offices and creating more flexible, open, collaborative workspaces. Similarly, Best Buy, says Ian Ellis, former director of the company's corporate facilities, opened its Bloomington, Minnesota, headquarters in 2003 and took all the directors out of private offices and placed them in open-office cubes.

"Moving away from private offices is more than a trend; it is a well-established strategy in mainstream corporate America," explains Mike Lyner, principal with RSP Architects, who has worked with many Fortune 500 companies on space issues. "It is done for programmatic reasons to increase collaboration and flexibility, but is also done to directly reduce operating costs."

Some campuses are leading the way in space conversion. To make the most efficient use of its office space, Normandale Community College, Bloomington, Minnesota, converted to an open-office environment, using flexible office furniture and installing "hot desks," in which multiple staff members take turns using the space. Eighteen of the college's part-time faculty share six cube-format stations furnished with such hot desks.

The open space upgrade includes large, adequate storage for books and computers, along with a couple of different-sized conference rooms where faculty can meet students, explains Ed Wines, vice president of finance and operations, "These touch-down spaces are both essential for faculty as well as efficient."

Consider the savings from the space not built. Additionally, the Normandale Community College campus grouped programmatic areas in open offices and provided a central support area for storage, copying, and reception. One specific program dedicated to creative space sharing is the university's Partnership Center (to provide four-year programs while sharing the two-year campus). In the center, 23 "open" offices are available for business and partnership faculties.

What kind of savings does this consolidated approach represent? Let's do the math. The center typically assigns three faculty to each open office, which is approximately 65 square feet in size. Compared to private offices, which were 100 square feet, a savings of 35 square feet per office (times 23) totals approximately 800 square feet. By assigning three faculty to each of the 23 offices, the college did not need to build 46 private offices at 100 square feet each, thus saving an additional 4,600 square feet. Add the 800 square feet saved by building smaller offices, and the campus reached a total saving of 5,400 square feet.

Placing dollar values on the space, total savings would equal the 5,400 square feet at approximately $353 per-square-foot construction costs, or more than $1.9 million. The space that was not built also resulted in an avoidance of overall operations and maintenance expenses, which would equal approximately $550,000 across 10 years.

Shared space can improve productivity and functionality. While many faculty members still insist on private offices, valid reasons exist for moving toward an open or shared model. It's not just about savings in operations costs due to less square footage; function and efficiency play important roles.

Many work environments, including those in colleges and universities, strive for collaborative spaces; row upon row of private offices do not improve that collaborative spirit. However, clusters of faculty offices can be conducive to optimum success. For example, space shared at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Cloquet, Minnesota, resulted in faculty assisting each other on programmatic issues.

Faculty offices often come with additional layers of complexity. For example, many campuses have relied on seniority in placement of faculty offices, and that may or may not be beneficial for the overall mission. Verifying the amount of offices, time of actual use of the offices, and potential collaborative use of these spaces can be accomplished as key components in the facilities master plan.

Documenting the faculty offices by program, type, square footage, and actual office usage can be enlightening when considering areas of need and future development. At the recent 2013 APPA annual conference, Jack K. Colby, assistant vice chancellor of facilities operations for North Carolina State University, challenged attendees with a series of questions:

  • "Who here has faculty that somehow managed to get two or three offices?"
  • "Who here has had a brilliant researcher come to the campus in 1981 with a great lab, create great work for 20 years, but eventually use the lab space only minimally?"

Obviously, some inequality can occur due to faculty seniority or departmental ranking. Nevertheless, such inequalities should be examined for the maximum benefit and alignment to campus mission. Campus leaders need to ask hard questions such as:

  • "Should the emeritus faculty member who spends two hours a month on campus still have a 200-square-foot office, while an up-and-coming recent recruit who is doing innovative research shares a desk with three other adjuncts?"
  •  "Could improved communications occur with teaming areas?"
  •  "What benefits occur when faculty are sharing areas and communicating on learning goals? "

Space-use alternatives can be worth the effort. It pays for campus leaders to recognize the value of space and the opportunity it provides for increased benefits and lower costs. For example, administration offices, specifically the one-stop center for students, have been quite innovative in opening up transaction counters and office spaces staffed with cross-trained employees who can deal with payments, vouchers, loan applications, and much more. The thoughtful use of space and staff has created big benefits to the student, while allowing more efficient use of staff during a time of necessary operational cuts.

Similarly, in the private sector, offices are changed on a regular basis to improve service delivery and inspire collaboration.

The bottom line: Changing offices—in terms of overall type, design, and use—can spur new energy, collaborations, and synergy to enhance the campus and its mission.

SALLY GRANS-KORSH is director, facilities management and environmental policy, at NACUBO.