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Business Officer Magazine

Blending Buildings & Books

Where program priorities are meshed with infrastructure needs, project planning assumes a holistic overtone. Two universities tell of tools they created that put a programmatic face on facilities maintenance.

By Karla Hignite

Most colleges and universities wage an ongoing battle of maintaining facilities while keeping pace with program infrastructure needs. Competition for funding of capital renewal and renovation versus new construction is growing worse for many institutions reliant on dwindling resources. And for institutions like WPUNJ, which does not receive any regular state funding for capital improvement or deferred maintenance, the challenge of upkeep for an aging infrastructure is even greater.

As facilities officers attempt to remain good stewards of institutional dollars, and as business officers seek healthy balances to the bottom line, greater understanding is needed by all campus constituents about the multifaceted costs of maintaining structures in support of diverse program needs. WPUNJ recently developed and implemented a campuswide planning tool to help integrate deferred maintenance needs with new and renovation construction projects. (See “WPUNJ’s Space Inventory and Master Plan Implementation Databases.”) The University of Rochester has done so as well. UR’s integrated facilities assessment is aimed at helping facilities managers and administrators at all levels assess and prioritize projects in light of program requirements and deferred maintenance needs. (See “UR’s Integrated Facilities Assessment.”)

Facilities and finance staff at both institutions say their assessment tools are invaluable not only because they aid in identifying project options, developing budgets, and providing data in support of capital campaigns, but also because they make facilities needs understandable to the larger university community. As such, the tools have become strategic communication vehicles for discussing short- and long-term institutional needs with faculty and administrators as well as with trustees, alumni, and donors.

“Most universities engage in master planning efforts. What they don’t do is figure out a way to keep the planning process ongoing,” Bolyai points out. “Rather than reinvesting time and resources at each stage of strategic planning, we are finding that the campuswide facilities-related data we have collected and now maintain make ongoing program planning much easier.”

Both institutions used a Microsoft Excel database program to develop their tools. And both universities spent ample time up front collecting and organizing a wealth of information about the size, use, and condition of each building and each space within each structure. In fact, the time commitment required to gather and organize the data is what both institutions name as the greatest challenge to developing such a tool, although neither university would return to its pre-tool days.

Collecting, Correcting, and Contextualizing Facilities Data

According to Bolyai, WPUNJ had a master plan from which it had been working, but the plan was a largely stagnant document that, from a facilities standpoint, was centered more on where to locate new construction. In addition, a separate academic strategic plan identified program priorities. “Our facilities planning was often done based on immediate resources available for particular projects and on special state-funded initiatives,” says Bolyai. “In the meantime, we leveraged available resources to chip away at deferred maintenance.” But because of significant program and enrollment growth in recent years, WPUNJ leadership recognized the need to step back and take a critical look at its overall space and the condition of campus infrastructure in light of program needs.

That required a better grasp of campuswide facilities information. And that presented a challenge, says Bob Bennett, WPUNJ’s associate vice president for capital planning, design, and construction. “While we had various lists of projects and lists of facilities information, nothing was in an organized format with any consistency of data,” says Bennett. “We also had incomplete, and in some cases conflicting, data about our various spaces.”

In conjunction with The Saratoga Associates, WPUNJ developed and implemented a comprehensive, campuswide facilities planning tool in 2003. “Creating a tool that university staff could update and manage in-house entailed first committing resources to obtaining information we lacked,” says Bennett. Michael Rudden, vice president of The Saratoga Associates, has worked extensively with WPUNJ facilities staff in updating space inventories and documenting infrastructure conditions—in most cases sending teams room by room. “The initial field survey and data entry, none of which was program driven, took about six months to complete,” says Rudden.

In a concerted effort to review infrastructure and program priorities simultaneously, WPUNJ conducted its facilities assessment in conjunction with a newly launched universitywide master planning effort, which included a process to gather input from all campus constituencies, including faculty, administrators, staff, and students. “By opening the university’s planning efforts to larger public input, we uncovered subtleties we might not have otherwise,” says Rudden. ”In one example, we learned which classrooms faculty liked best and which they did not like. We then compared these spaces. Wherever we found that a classroom no one wanted to use was in bad shape, that indicated a need to focus on that area as a priority.”

In other instances, the public input paid off financially. Prior to engaging in its master planning, the university purchased a satellite campus to relocate WPUNJ’s college of business and college of education. “Based on that move, we envisioned that significant reconfiguration of the vacant space would be required,” says Bennett. However, through WPUNJ’s public planning process, the sociology and political science departments made known their desire to occupy the vacant space, proposing only modest renovations to create the environment they wanted. “That allowed substantial savings in terms of resources not needed for major renovation,” he says.

As these examples illustrate, WPUNJ’s facilities assessment tool is allowing staff and administrators to quickly size up the extent of deferred maintenance and renovation required to update specific spaces, thereby allowing more effective allocation of resources and sequencing of projects. “Because we now better understand how we are using classrooms or buildings in general, we can better deal with new and future construction so that we aren’t building something we don’t need,” Bolyai points out.

UR’s Integrated Facilities Assessment

University of Rochester, New York: UR enrolls 4,355 full-time undergraduate and 2,875 full-time graduate students. The 10.8 million gross square feet of this multisite campus include a medical center (4.5 million square feet) with a 750-bed teaching hospital, an academic campus (4.3 million square feet), a music school, and an art gallery. The oldest university buildings were constructed in the 1920s; approximately 68 percent of the campus has been constructed since 1950. Recent projects include a new 450,000-square-foot medical research complex and a 125,000-square-foot extension of the hospital’s emergency department. In the works is construction of a 25-megawatt cogeneration facility, a 90,000-gross-square-foot biomedical engineering/optics building, and various upgrades and renovations. Average annual spending for both new and renovation capital projects is between $30 million and $40 million.

Catalyst: The challenge of maintaining facilities while keeping pace with institutional demands for new infrastructure, higher utility costs, increased government regulation, and ever-changing requirements for information technology prompted the need for a long-term view of the entire physical plant that would likewise identify and integrate specific and immediate program needs.

Goal: Develop a strategic communication tool for facilities managers and administrators at all levels to assess and prioritize projects in light of program requirements, prioritize deferred maintenance, identify project options, develop short- and long-range capital budgets, and provide background data in support of capital campaigns.

Tool description: UR’s Integrated Facilities Assessment is a series of multilevel Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that quantify infrastructure issues for each campus, including deferred maintenance, information technology, accessibility, hazardous materials, life safety, security, and code compliance. The summary matrix is linked to additional worksheets that provide detailed facility infrastructure and systems information for each building. Dollar amounts are associated with each infrastructure issue for each building regarding its condition and capacity to support current and future program needs. Data can be calculated to determine all dollars associated with a particular infrastructure issue or a particular building, a building type, or the entire campus. Total costs are divided into Phase I (years 1–5 in mid-range plan) and Phase II (years 6–15 in long-range plan) categories. UR facilities staff maintain the document, refreshing information based on facility assessments and inspections, consultant studies, and interaction with operations staff.

Contact: Richard Pifer,, or Paul Tankel,

Looking Beyond Deferred Maintenance

The importance of integrating program and facility priorities has likewise emerged at the University of Rochester. On more than one occasion, university trustees, administrators, and deans have expressed concern when presented with estimates for certain projects, says Richard Pifer, UR’s associate vice president of university facilities and services. Paul Tankel, university architect, has been in the middle of most of those discussions. Prior to the development of UR’s new tool, university leaders may have asked about the deferred maintenance for a particular building and been quoted $1 million, says Tankel. “But then when it came time for a particular project involving that building, these same individuals would be surprised by a total project cost of $4 million.”

In large part, that’s because for too long institutional facilities assessments have focused largely—or solely—on deferred maintenance, says Tankel. “Calculations for deferred maintenance only take you back to the original condition of the building and do not begin to factor in ADA requirements, code compliance, and information technology updates.” Especially for a research institution such as UR, where extremely high-tech medical equipment can require whole new air and electrical systems within a building, the need became quite clear for a way to view all these factors together and tie them to current and future program needs, says Pifer.

In 1995, UR contracted for an assessment of its medical and academic campuses and then established a deferred maintenance program to manage facility information and assist with capital planning. In 2002, the university realized the need to expand its assessment program to better evaluate the institution’s physical plant and incorporate program needs, Tankel recalls. At about that same time he began working with the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering—the principal division of UR’s academic campus—to develop a list of needs to shape its capital campaign. Given these developments, an idea that Pifer and others had previously entertained for a tool that would integrate program and facility needs quickly emerged as a priority and was placed under Tankel’s direction.

Pifer, Tankel, and other key staff agreed to a format and began populating a series of spreadsheets with information they already had, including the deferred maintenance analysis conducted in 1995. “We next focused on pulling together the missing pieces and adding information as we obtained it,” says Pifer. “What we found in the process is that most information existed in various places on campus to varying degrees of completeness.” For instance, with regard to UR’s fire systems, the fire marshal had information about particular buildings and classes of buildings, but the information was not easy to access or transfer to the database, says Pifer. The same was true for electrical conditions. “Our electricians could tell us what was needed for code compliance but could not provide specifics in connection with future program requirements,” he says. That piece of the puzzle necessitated sitting down with department chairs and the dean, asking them to forecast program needs for 2, 5, and 10 years down the road.

“Program information is probably the most difficult information to get because you have to ask pointed questions about what others want,” Tankel notes. Yet, Pifer believes that it’s the program piece that sets UR’s document apart from most other facilities documents he has seen. “By reviewing facilities with current and future program needs in mind, the split between facilities needs and institutional mission is removed so that the total need of the university can be viewed.”

Spending Time to Save Time

According to Pifer, the biggest challenge to developing and implementing such a tool is first justifying the time it will take and then convincing facilities staff to change their mind-set of considering deferred maintenance as the end goal. On a positive note, says Tankel, most institutions have a good amount of information in various forms sitting in offices spread around their campuses. “The real challenge is in coming up with a central point of contact to gather the information and develop the document, and in getting staff committed to focusing on it as a priority.”

Rudden adds that, in addition to filling in the gaps, what most institutions need is consistency in the way the data are gathered and measured. If the downside to any data-driven tool is the significant amount of time required at the outset to collect and organize the data, the upside is that once the database is established and running, updates can typically be entered by a trained facilities staff member investing less than eight hours per week—a minimal effort compared to the results the data provide, says Rudden.

And, the end product ultimately saves staff time, says Bennett. He has noticed that far less of his time is required to respond to inquiries. “What used to be a two-week process to put together a list of deferred maintenance needs for a particular building is now reduced to a matter of minutes spent sorting the relevant data fields,” Bennett points out. That kind of at-your-fingertips information is what both institutions consider one of the biggest payoffs in terms of the usefulness of their assessment tools as both a planning document and a strategic communication tool.

Flexible, Understandable Data

WPUNJ’s next phase of planning efforts is centered on developing zone plans. “The tool allows us to easily divide the master plan into zones, for which we work directly with the end users to determine project details,” Rudden says. For instance, WPUNJ’s master plan calls for centralizing enrollment functions. In addition, a new associate vice president is encouraging the development of a one-stop shop for both student financial and enrollment services. “By engaging the various departments to determine space needs and requirements, we were able to use our tool to provide a breakdown of options for colocation, including where to place shared spaces such as conference rooms,” he says. Zone plans for the student residential zone, athletic fields zone, and campuswide tree planting have already been prepared.

The tool likewise perpetuates WPUNJ’s public input process by making information accessible to all interested parties, Rudden adds. For instance, trustees can see the big picture of capital improvements for the short term and long term, broken down by project type, track, schedule, and funding source. Senior administration can verify or revise specific upcoming projects according to scope, budget, and schedules. Facilities managers can develop detailed deferred maintenance budgets and project lists based on priority, and as projects are completed and actual costs entered, updated unit cost factors can be provided. Users of specific spaces can track when they will be relocated or have their spaces renovated.

WPUNJ’s Space Inventory and Master Plan Implementation Databases

William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey: WPUNJ enrolls 11,200 undergraduate and graduate students. The multisite campus consists of 41 buildings totaling 1.72 million square feet. Seventy percent of campus buildings are 25–50 years old. In 2002, WPUNJ purchased a 50-acre, 150,000-square-foot satellite campus. Current major projects include a new student center, a 1,000-bed student residential complex, a new science building, an expanded performing arts center, and numerous site-improvement and program relocation and renovation projects.

Catalyst: Campus expansion and enrollment growth, tighter state budgets, and growing competition between institutional program requirements for new facilities projects versus deferred maintenance prompted the need for a comprehensive master planning effort and project-planning tool.

Goal: Develop a campuswide planning tool to identify and integrate growing deferred maintenance needs with new and renovation construction projects.

Tool description: WPUNJ’s itemized database of projects uses Microsoft Excel worksheets to sort and integrate campuswide building deferred maintenance and new/renovation projects. The database includes more than 1,100 deferred maintenance projects totaling $63 million and more than 200 new and renovation projects driven by programmatic improvements. Total projects represent $325 million. Projects are organized by tracks, such as residential, student center, athletic/recreation, science building, performing arts center, and academic programs. Each project entry is assigned a schedule based on priority, sequencing, and likely available funding. Priorities include: 1) life safety and code, ADA, and regulatory compliance; 2) infrastructure preservation; 3) investment return; and 4) function and aesthetics. The tool includes a detailed space inventory of the entire institution and allows users to calculate costs by project, area, or track; view funding sources and schedules; and assess the impact of cost variables such as inflation. The database is maintained by WPUNJ’s capital planning department. Various forms of the database are available to different user groups, including trustees, senior administrators, facilities managers, and space users.

Contact: Bob Bennett,, or Michael Rudden,

Proactive, Objective Priorities

“Because the information about particular projects can be extracted and presented in executive summaries—much of it graphically—the tool allows us on a global basis to clearly show the needs of the campus, whether we are talking to alumni, potential donors, or government officials,” says Bolyai. “As a communication device, the tool has a logic that people can understand because it shows how various projects dovetail.” And, he adds, because the tool addresses all campuswide projects, inidividuals realize that their projects are not being minimized.

In this regard, the tool has taken some of the pressure off in terms of how everyone views prioritization. “Everyone can see which are the lead projects and understand that their particular priority may require certain things to happen first,” Bennett says. “What is most important to us is having a tool that can be updated and used every year to realize projects based on funding. And as new opportunities arise along with new funding sources, we can move a project up a phase.”

UR’s facilities assessment has likewise blossomed into much more than a tool for tracking university program and infrastructure priorities. It has evolved into an invaluable resource for educating university leaders about facilities needs. In fact, university administrators and faculty are now employing the tool to explain and promote institutional priorities to outside stakeholders.

“As we were able to bring our integrated facilities assessment into our discussions, the knowledge of the dean and his immediate staff about their facilities began to grow,” says Pifer. “They gained a better understanding about the value of not only maintaining a facility but also of building it to a higher standard at the outset because of the implications for long-term maintenance.” In addition, the dean and others now understand the benefit of building these associated funding requirements into institutional capital campaigns, he says. When the dean recently traveled to New York City to kick off UR’s capital campaign, he took a copy of the tool and used it to articulate a vision for where the institution is headed and to tie that to specific dollar amounts.

This same kind of enlightenment is happening more frequently among faculty department heads. When Tankel spoke with the physics and chemistry department chairs, he used the tool to explain the levels of funding each department would likely need to ensure that their programs would stay competitive. “By discussing fume hoods, vacuums, and updated electrical systems in the context of the tool, we could talk about the chairs’ role in long-term program planning and how the costs of future program needs could be rolled into the master plan during the course of the next 15 years,” says Tankel.

Those outside the facilities arena typically have two reactions when program and facilities costs are discussed in context of the tool, says Pifer. One is: “That’s a big number.” The other: “But it makes sense.” According to Pifer, while the numbers presented to trustees with regard to the institution’s backlog of deferred maintenance and future program requirements can be overwhelming, it’s reassuring for trustees to see these numbers in context. “Prior to the tool, they were daunting numbers. With the tool, they are still big numbers but are manageable numbers,” he says.

Likewise, when time frames are discussed, the tool gives decision makers a means to put projects in context and provides a more balanced approach to prioritization, he continues. It also affords a new level of detail and specifics. “If someone asks a question about ADA requirements, we can refer to the tool and say we need to do this with X bathrooms and doors. Or, in terms of building code, the tool helps us explain that, with X additional people, we will need to increase air flow exchanges by X percent and that this will have X impact on utility costs,” Pifer explains. “It’s all mapped out in terms of what is needed to comply. The end result is that everyone can better understand the complexity of facilities-related decisions.”

Tankel believes the tool’s objectivity is a big plus. Too often a hidden danger exists where others may perceive that facilities staff are projecting what they think ought to be done, he says. “With one document, we now can sit at meetings and provide a holistic view with which everyone can feel they are on the same page.”

Since there is never enough money to do everything everyone wants, this kind of tool can take conversations out of a reactive mode, Pifer emphasizes. “By saying, ‘Let’s start with your program. Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do?’ you take a positive approach to quantifying program needs. This puts the program and facilities planning effort on a whole different plane and gives it a completely different tone.” The result: a cooperative understanding about the linkages between facilities and program requirements and why those ultimately must be addressed simultaneously.

Author Bio Karla Hignite is a writer and editor based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.