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Business Officer Magazine
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A Master Plan for Facilities

A maxed-out campus, a vacant adjacent property, and a vision for community development and participation come together in a master facilities plan with multiple benefits.

By Pamela Roy, Jan Phillips, and Robert C. Klinedinst Jr.

Four years ago, the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College (USM LAC) began conducting a master planning process that clarified the institution’s facilities focus for the future. A campus literally bursting at the seams was the impetus for the Lewiston, Maine–based college to become more deliberate about capital projects and planning. For example, student enrollment had steadily grown, beginning with 273 students in 1990 and more than quadrupling to 1,227 by 2004. As a result, the original two-story building that the school had occupied for 20 years had gradually and completely reached capacity, and the 89,300-square-foot facility was exclusively dedicated to academic use.

Given the incremental expansion, adjacencies between spaces and departments weren’t ideal, which necessitated major renovation and reallocation of space. Predictions of ongoing growth also indicated the need for expanded capacity.

A combination of space needs, funding limitations, and a unique expansion opportunity led college leaders to create an overarching planning framework that eventually outlined 10 manageable construction and renovation phases anticipated to take place over a 15-year period. Each phase included new construction as well as retrofits.

In summer 2007, the first phase, consisting of site preparation work and a portion of the second phase (which included the addition of the first new wing to the original building), was completed. The momentum behind the master plan and the development of the campus has continued, with construction documents for the fit-out of the second floor of the new wing and a number of renovations in the existing building now completed and the work out for bid. Remaining construction is slated for completion by this summer.

As with any substantial undertaking, we’ve learned a few lessons as we’ve developed—and begun to implement—the elements of this planning framework.

Serendipitous Circumstances

The campus expansion became feasible when a property adjacent to USM LAC came on the market. The Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, the central economic development agency in the area, recognized the college as a vital component of the region’s economic development, knew its growth trajectory, and facilitated the acquisition of the property.

At the same time, a group of community leaders from higher education, business, and community agencies had moved forward—under the leadership of USM LAC’s dean and others—to start collaborative efforts to encourage Androscoggin County residents to continue their studies and obtain higher education degrees. They soon envisioned a home at USM LAC for what is today called LearningWorks, an educational hub that reaches out to the community.

As USM LAC leaders considered this goal along with the needed college expansion, they realized the importance of a coordinated plan.

Inviting All Ideas

The USM LAC building expansion team (BET) was formed to oversee the master planning process. The core group included several administrators, two faculty members, a graduate student, the facility management staff, three active community members, and consultants from Harriman Architects and Engineers (the firm having been selected through a request-for-proposal process). The business office would join in the planning once priorities and draft budgets were established.

The group met every other Thursday for six months, with BET’s chair keeping everyone focused on the plan deadline of November 2005. The process was inclusive; the team held meetings with every department and many student groups. Team members also made presentations to community groups and eventually reviewed final options with the entire faculty and staff. All stakeholders had multiple opportunities to review what was being proposed and to provide feedback.

Setting Facilities Goals

To ensure that the facilities plans would ultimately fulfill the college and community needs, the building expansion team held a kick-off meeting at which members identified the primary goals to be factored into the expansion strategy. Construction projects and building retrofits would be designed with the following in mind:

  • Improving the image of the campus.
  • Upgrading security and safety on and around campus.
  • Retaining a sense of community by developing a true campus with multiple buildings.
  • Maintaining the quality of existing programs and expanding them to meet community needs.
  • Enhancing student interaction and providing focus for student activity.
  • Providing multipurpose teaching and common space.
  • Allowing flexibility for future growth.

Through numerous meetings with faculty, staff, students, and community representatives, the planning team identified facility and department programmatic needs. Work included the following:

  • An analysis of the features of the existing site, including wetlands, regulatory requirements, topography, site circulation, site utilities, and parking.
  • A space utilization study focused on the efficiency of existing spaces.
  • Identification of sustainability goals and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) considerations.
  • Development and refinement of multiple site plan options and floor plan diagrams. (The BET weighed the pros and cons of each and selected the preferred plans to incorporate into the master plan.)
  • Presentations to the USM president made at key milestones to obtain his input and approval.

Pinpointing Priorities

The team used the mission of USM LAC as a framework for making decisions about how facility and department programmatic requests would be incorporated into the master plan. The three main points in the mission—being a national leader in interdisciplinary education, serving as a resource for the community, and providing an outstanding educational experience for students—were mapped on a Venn diagram that identified how each request supported the mission. The group agreed that a request needed to support at least one of the three components of the mission to be included in the final list. Those that supported two or even three of the components received a much higher priority. The diagram also helped during the architectural programming phase to evaluate options for space adjacencies.

Each request was assigned a final priority rating based on how it supported the mission, the timing of the need, and available funding. Requests that were needed to accommodate short-term growth or had funding in place were assigned the highest priority. The next priority rating was assigned to requests needed to accommodate growth two to five years out. The remaining items were classified as long-term, to be built in 10 to 15 years. Using the components of the mission statement and having a clear understanding of the timing and available funding of each need made the process of prioritizing items and making decisions an easier exercise for the group. All requests gathered were translated into quantifiable data and graphed to provide a visual aid in comprehending the large amount of information.

Reinforcing Eco Efforts

With a number of LEED-certified buildings on its other two campuses, the University of Southern Maine, a signator of the Talloires Declaration (for more information, see www.ulsf.org/programs_talloires_td.html), has been committed to sustainability for some time. Facilities management representatives made sure that the facilities master plan took such sustainability goals and planning practices into account during all discussions. Specific sustainability goals developed for the campus plan included the following:

  • Minimize impact on wetlands and the seasonal stream on campus.
  • Use the on-site wooded area for trails and educational purposes.
  • Reduce light pollution (caused by stray and reflected light that illuminates atmospheric dust and water vapor to cause “sky glow,” which limits visual access to the night sky, adversely affects nocturnal environments, and consumes energy and resources) while maintaining a level of comfort and security for students, faculty, and staff.
  • Incorporate energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems.
  • Maximize use of day lighting (that is, control admission of natural light into a space through its windows, with the intent of reducing or eliminating electric lighting).
  • Specify locally manufactured materials to be used in construction.

Budgets and Sequences

After the expansion team developed concept plans, the finance office worked with the architectural firm to undertake a cost analysis, projecting and assigning unit costs for different levels of interior renovation and new construction. The price tag for all the desired work totaled $18 million, a figure that far exceeded the available bond funds. The priority setting that the team had done earlier made it much easier to map out a construction and implementation sequence that was doable given the funding limitation.

Subsequent phases of the project include further renovations in the original building to create a new student hub (with bookstore, café, and computer group room) and construction of more additions for amphitheater space, a fitness center, child care facilities, and new second-floor space in the existing building.

Since LearningWorks was a high priority, it was included in the first addition that was completed in 2007. The space includes a resource center in the large main area, a conference room, and a number of offices and smaller support spaces.

To manage and prioritize the various elements of the overall project, we used graphic “what-if” scenarios illustrated by “possibility diagrams” (see example), which helped everyone visualize projects as well as functional areas that needed to be relocated. Another diagram—new construction versus renovation by priority—helped explain the dependencies between the various elements of work and the logic behind the ultimate sequencing plan. The result of the overall process and diagrams was a 10-phase plan, during which each department or program will expand to its desired size, and adjacencies with other programs or functions will be improved.

Managing Finances and Deliverables

The business office became highly involved in the process once implementation of the master plan began and contracts for the work were awarded to contractors. Estimates became real numbers and, as requisitions started to be submitted, project accounting became critical. Although the architect and facilities management staff were actively involved in monitoring construction costs through the requisition review and approval process, the business office now tracks the funding sources and timing of payments. Funding sources include multiple bond issues, a grant from the Small Business Administration, and private fundraising.

As plans for the next phase move forward, the business office is tracking cost estimates as they are updated and making sure that funding is in place. In managing the financial aspects of all projects, USM LAC’s director of finance works directly with the facilities and finance offices of the University of Southern Maine.

Whether it is the facilities team or the business office that is most involved in holding projects to budgeted costs, the appropriate office must set money aside for unforeseen conditions. Once site work begins, all too often something is found below the surface that wasn’t known or shown on survey drawings. For example, at USM LAC, an underground pipe wrapped in asbestos was uncovered during the construction of a new parking area. In these situations, the team must find a resolution quickly. Otherwise, the site contractor may seek a delay claim for the cost of idle equipment and lost time.

Early Phases

While the design for Phase 2 was being developed, Phase 1 was implemented to make way for additions to the original building. That meant demolishing a warehouse structure on the recently acquired property and preparing the resulting site for the new addition and additional parking. Doing this work helped shorten the construction schedule for the addition.

The primary goal of Phase 2 was to add a new wing to the original college building, including space for the LearningWorks and its programming. Other community resources that are part of this project include the Writing Lab; the Writing and Math Learning Center; the Women, Work and Community Office; the Service Learning Office; and the Senior College Office. These are grouped together in one hub.

The wing will be complete when we finish the second floor fit-out and the second half of the addition. Flexible classroom and conference spaces as well as faculty offices are planned for the second floor fit-out together with a storage room and small catering kitchen.

As money becomes available, the future phases of the master plan will move forward. Examples of new work include expansions of numerous labs; renovations of administration, student services, and business offices; construction of a new classroom wing; relocation and renovations of the bookstore, student center, computer group room, and café; and other expansions and renovations of such spaces as the library, greenhouse, and maintenance shop. The final phase of the plan is the construction of a new amphitheater.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

It can be difficult for a large group of individuals with varied perspectives and interests to come to agreement and make decisions. Defining goals for the process at the outset, as we did at our kick-off meeting, did a lot to bring our group together in support of a common and agreed-upon cause. The clear institutional mission also made the group dynamics quite effective.

Other characteristics of the process that we think contributed to the effectiveness of our planning process included the following:

  • Make the process and the criteria for decision making as objective as possible.
  • Establish an inclusive process, inviting many different perspectives to the planning committee.
  • Provide frequent presentations to a wider audience as the plan is being developed, informing people about what is happening and obtaining their input.
  • Never forget the student’s perspective.
  • Do it right. Don’t rush the process.

Remember, too, that with any organization or plan, things change. People move on and priorities evolve. At USM LAC, for example, three years into the process, expected funding for a lab’s expansion was diverted elsewhere. Construction of a new entrance to the main lobby moved off the radar; student services functions became a higher priority; and the expansion of the library morphed into a minor renovation of the existing space.

Despite these revisions and reassignments, the college’s vision and mission remain as the underpinnings of a solid planning process. By keeping these concepts in place for the long run, we will turn our identified priorities into practical solutions—on a preconceived timetable and within a designated budget. Ultimately, we will continue to provide value to our students and our community.

PAMELA ROY is director of finance and JAN PHILLIPS is director of the LearningWorks at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College; ROBERT C. KLINEDINST JR. leads the higher education design studio at Harriman Architects and Engineers, Auburn, Maine.