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Business Officer Magazine

Expand Your Space

Surge strategies make old facilities new and bring new spaces online quickly to accommodate growing pains and evolving program demands

By Karla Hignite

The space you use to meet temporary needs may take the form of a new, designated surge structure; an existing building that has outlived its original purpose; modular overflow units; or off-campus leased or purchased facilities. Which strategies you employ depends in part on what space is already at your disposal, how much funding is available, and what amount of square footage is needed—and how quickly.

Move In, Move On

Designated surge facilities may be most common at institutions that must accommodate significant enrollment increases or that wish to capture student market share by launching new programs quickly. Those were the primary drivers behind construction of the 67,000-square-foot Pepper Canyon Hall at the University of California, San Diego.  A 20-percent projected increase in overall enrollment for the period of 2005–2010 remains on that high trajectory through at least 2010 for undergraduates and may continue at that pace until 2015 for graduate students.

The fast-growing campus was already in sore need of classroom and lecture space, says recently retired Judith O’Boyle, UCSD’s former director of analytical studies and space planning. At a cost just shy of $20 million, the construction of Pepper Canyon Hall launched the redevelopment of the campus center, formerly dotted with a series of outdated, single-story military facilities that the university inherited. Among the first tenants of the designated surge facility was a new graduate school, the Rady School of Management, which opened two years prior to completion of the school’s permanent facility because of the space made available by Pepper Canyon Hall.

Like many institutions, UCSD met short-term space needs over the years with modular units, some of which still exist in pockets around campus. To encourage elimination of these units, the university implemented a campus policy that requires occupants to provide an “exit strategy” for seeking permanent space, says O’Boyle. For a growing number of groups, Pepper Canyon Hall will become the interim step toward that goal.

Rolling Renovations

Even where rapid growth in student population isn’t the top challenge, there is often demand for temporary locations to house faculty and administrative offices during renovations. The University of Washington is using Condon Hall, its former law school facility, to empty entire buildings at a time while it conducts a comprehensive renovation of its academic core.

UW’s main campus in Seattle is one of the oldest on the West Coast. Its beautiful but aging infrastructure includes a collection of academic buildings, many of which date to the early 1900s. With an average age of 90 years, these structures are truly core campus buildings in which 30,000 students—more than two thirds of all UW students—receive instruction each quarter, says Marilyn Cox, assistant vice provost for capital planning.

While university leaders had for years been making their case in capital budget requests for improvements to these structures, the institution was steadily falling behind on maintaining existing campus buildings, accumulating a large burden of deferred maintenance. Says Cox, “Our backlog had grown to the point that it exceeded $1 billion.” Adding to its funding dilemma, the university lacked the space needed to relocate programs and offices for necessary renovations that included seismic bracing—not something you can do in an occupied building, notes Cox.

Knowing how difficult it is to obtain state funding for renovations as opposed to funding for new expansion, Cox and her staff created UW’s critical buildings list, which included structures for which the cost of needed repairs exceeded the total costs of replacing the facilities. “To develop the critical buildings list, we used a facilities condition index approach, similar to assessing whether or not your vehicle is totaled,” explains Cox. Yet, most of the 15 “totaled” buildings were ones that that no one would ever consider demolishing because of their cultural and historic value. A campuswide committee reviewed each building against a full range of requirements, including program needs and life-safety issues, and placed these renovations in priority order.

Enter Condon Hall—literally. Cox asserts that the key enabling factor that allowed the university to even consider the path of renovation versus reconstruction is that UW had just opened its new law school, leaving Condon Hall completely vacant. “With Condon Hall, we would have the ability to empty out whole halls to do major renovation work, which would make the renovation much more cost effective than piecemeal repairs,” says Cox.

The next step was to conduct a fit plan to determine how these historic academic halls could be emptied in sequence. By assessing each building—factoring in detailed information about faculty offices, classrooms, and lecture and lab space—Cox and her staff determined that the 82,000-square-foot Condon Hall could accommodate at one time either one large building or a midsize and a small building. The resulting 13-year restoration strategy mapped the proposed rolling renovation of all 15 facilities.

“By raising this issue at a campuswide level, we could show we were not asking the state for funding to buy or build surge space, but, rather, to restore our core academic facilities,” notes Cox. UW’s Restoring the Core campaign, aimed to secure state funding, preserved the history of UW’s campus infrastructure and provided academic departments state-of-the-art facilities. The strategy worked. UW was awarded funding from the state and has been rolling forward with its renovation plan ever since.

The university’s first success—the complete renovation of Johnson Hall, which houses UW’s earth sciences and botany programs—took place on schedule and on budget. During the two years in which occupants relocated to Condon Hall, Johnson Hall was gutted and modernized. Occupants from two more buildings are currently sharing Condon Hall, and three more projects are gearing up for a move there later this year.

Pay As You Grow

Stanford University’s history with surge space includes a lab facility that the original occupants moved into but never left. “In this case, the surge was a one-way trip,” says Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain, senior director of capital planning and space management. Since that time, she continues, surge initiatives have taken place on a project-by-project basis and been paid for by individual groups—an approach that has worked fairly well in the context of Stanford’s largely decentralized culture.

This ebb-and-flow surge approach has most often been met by a series of temporary structures. A significant influx of modular units first emerged at Stanford following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, after which a number of university buildings were closed for seismic retrofit. Seismic renovations were happening at a frequent clip. “We had quite a number of modular units all over campus,” says Dyer-Chamberlain.

While not as prevalent today, the temporary units carry a downside, says Dyer-Chamberlain. “Not only are they aesthetically not up to campus standards,” she says, “but their sustainability factor is below par, since they must be heated and cooled on an individual basis.” And, while modular units may not carry the first-cost challenge of a new building, they aren’t exactly cost-effective for the long term, notes Dyer-Chamberlain. Still, they fill a square-footage need for many institutions, which, like Stanford, might not be able to justify a dedicated structure. “Our current context,” she explains, “is that our surge needs don’t show a predictable series of renovation projects. We simply haven’t been able to justify spending university funds to build a campuswide surge facility.”

Despite its decentralized operational culture, Stanford has an integrated capital plan. On an annual basis, the capital planning committee looks for trends in space needs and potential points of overlap for coordinating project funding, says Dyer-Chamberlain. Even so, one challenge she faces is that, unlike state institutions that may have a well-ordered program for specific improvements such as seismic retrofits, Stanford’s capital plan doesn’t happen in a lock-step fashion. Rather, certain improvements and their scheduling are determined based on the gifts that come in for particular projects and the plans and priorities of the various schools and functional areas.

At the same time that Stanford has resisted building a designated surge space, the university has worked toward keeping the number of modular units at bay. “Many of these will soon go away simply because it’s time to retire them,” says Dyer-Chamberlain. Stanford’s best opportunity to get close to zero temporary units may come when the university’s newly purchased satellite campus is scheduled for redevelopment, providing a significant amount of new space. The satellite location, a 15-minute drive from the main campus, will likely be used for administrative offices in order to preserve the main campus for academic programs, says Dyer-Chamberlain. “For the future, this is also where we will likely focus our surge projects.”

Vanilla: The Essence of Surge

As a space management tool, surge strategies are most effective when key concepts remain forefront in the minds of planners and occupants, says John Gormley, associate vice president of Cannon Design, Los Angeles. Above all, surge space is intended as an interim location—not a final destination. The design lesson is to think generic, whether for office or instructional spaces, says Gormley. “You don’t want to make the space so comfortable that tenants don’t want to move out.” That means providing a space that meets basic needs without going overboard—definitely no bells and whistles. In the case of a new program, says Gormley, you want accommodations that facilitate start-up but that leave occupants looking forward to a permanent home suitable for their true long-term needs.

Since the common goal for most surge spaces is to house multiple groups simultaneously from year to year, flexibility—of space and technology—is another key component to ensure that minimal resources are spent on tenant improvements, says Gormley. He helped design UCSD’s Pepper Canyon Hall. Each floor employs the same 10-foot planning module to accommodate a series of office suites that can expand or contract, depending on the incoming tenants’ space needs.

While built to serve as dedicated surge space and to facilitate UCSD’s campus center redevelopment, Pepper Canyon Hall was intended from the start to serve as a long-term facility, explains Judith O’Boyle. The idea was that as immediate surge needs lessened, the building might include some semi-permanent occupants. Because the university envisioned the space this way, its design incorporated some components that might not be present in a surge-only building. For instance, the perimeter surrounding the open floor plan includes a series of private offices throughout, although even these are uniform in size.

A primary goal for any dedicated surge construction or remodeling project is to keep costs as low as possible, but institutions must still factor in the comfort of occupants, says O’Boyle. She notes that in the case of Pepper Canyon Hall, the HVAC system is so quiet that, in some areas, the “people noise” was creating a disturbance. To offset that annoyance, the university reinvested $40,000 for sound attenuation.

Funding Function

Whether old space or new, borrowed or bought, the benefits of any surge strategy must be weighed against funding issues. For instance, a new structure allows an institution to incorporate maximum flexibility but carries higher initial costs. While an off-site location may be a great option for a landlocked institution, tenants may feel disengaged from the main campus. Modular units don’t present a high first cost, but they lack long-term viability as an ongoing surge solution.

Financing arrangements are likewise unique to each institution and strategy. New designated surge structures often require out-of-pocket funding and institutional borrowing since these projects aren’t likely to attract donors and since many states will not fund surge renovation or construction. That was the case for UCSD. The university financed construction of Pepper Canyon Hall through loans, campus reserves, and the understanding that building occupants would pay rent. As tenants turn over the space, groups taking occupancy are responsible for any improvements they want made.

Flexible, Durable, Sustainable

Adaptable space was a key theme among the entries to the first phase of The 21st Century Project, an initiative of the Association of College and University Housing Officers–International (ACUHO-I) launched in 2006 to envision the residential facility of the future. The winning entry concept from Jonathan Levi Architects, called flexDorm, incorporates stackable rooms and fold-out beds along with smart technology features that turn living areas into instruction zones. Other entries showcased moveable walls and options to further rearrange spaces. In addition to flexibility, community and sustainability were concepts present in the designs of contest finalists.

Only the Beginning
The multiphased ACUHO-I initiative, which began by asking participants to conceptualize the smallest unit—an individual dorm room—will broaden its scope in subsequent phases to encompass a residential wing or floor, an entire building, and a cluster of similar or related buildings. Among other criteria, designers are encouraged to focus on developing a balance between students’ needs for privacy versus community. The idea that space needs will change, says James Baumann, ACUHO-I director of communications and marketing, is pushing more institutions to consider how facilities can be designed for future modification. “[They must] consider,” he says, “how facilities built today and in the future can incorporate modifications to the interior so that entire buildings can not only change configuration but also change function.”

Putting Design to Work
Thinking ahead to future facilities also requires a blend of practicality and creativity, says Thomas Sonnleitner, vice chancellor of administrative services, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. Sonnleitner served on the ACUHO-I contest jury. “A primary concern for most business officers,” he says, “is to make a building as durable as possible. The way we’ve tended to structure buildings in the past has been to put up fixed walls.” Increasingly, however, facilities must incorporate flexibility. That may mean designing a durable shell that can accommodate changing the interior with greater ease. With regard to existing structures, it might mean tearing down non-load-bearing walls and creating new uses within those exterior walls, says Sonnleitner. Either way, he believes that building for maximum options is a wise way to go.

“While flexibility may require higher initial costs, it can save institutions on future costs of facilities replacement and renovations,” says Sonnlietner. His university is currently in the design phase for a $48 million, 200,000-square-foot mixed-use facility that will include classrooms and offices. “We’re trying to design a flexible layout and incorporate specific components of sustainability,” says Sonnleitner. In fact, he has witnessed a growing understanding within sustainability circles that such characteristics constitute a central aspect of environmentally friendly initiatives. “We have to begin thinking in terms of lifecycle costs,” says Sonnleitner. “When you incorporate flexible design, you extend the useful life of a building.” Even so, he notes that a key challenge for some institutions may be convincing state legislatures to put more money upfront to fund such facilities.

For more information about upcoming phases of the ACUHO–I initiative, go to or

While initial costs of a new surge facility may be high, institutions should look beyond first costs to the benefits that a new, dedicated structure can provide, including a much faster delivery of additional space, says Gormley. For instance, Pepper Canyon Hall’s planning and design were condensed from a typical five-year cycle to a mere two and a half years from initial planning to occupancy.

Like UW, some institutions can have great success taking older buildings that no longer meet programming criteria but can easily be converted into offices and classrooms. While not “free” space, Condon Hall’s vacancy allowed UW to take a building it no longer needed and, instead of tearing it down, transition it to keep it functioning as viable space. The added payoff is that Condon Hall allowed the university to consider renovation needs within a comprehensive campuswide strategy. In turn, that strategic approach helped UW capture necessary funding it otherwise lacked.

Affordable Flips

Marilyn Cox cites staying on message with UW’s campus community as key to holding the line on the cost of improvements. “It’s important to stress to occupants to think of their interim space as short term,” says Cox.

Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain concurs. The most important concept of a surge strategy is to not over-customize temporary spaces, whether for one of your key vice presidents or for your award-winning faculty, she says. “The reality is that if someone is going to occupy a space for one year, it isn’t financially prudent to spend scarce resources on expensive and special modifications.”

Those in charge of surge renovations must likewise adopt the landlord’s mind-set for managing a building, says Cox. After the law school moved to its new facility, UW invested $3 million in improvements to Condon Hall, but that included repairing elevators and addressing other facility maintenance concerns to ensure functionality regardless of occupancy. “We did not do much in the way of occupant-driven improvements,” says Cox. UW’s goal for each additional occupancy flip is to spend less than $1 million in improvements. So far, the institution is holding the line, spending only $600,000 on its second tenant turnover. An added plus has been that the law school came configured with plenty of faculty office space that could be used in as-is condition. “We were also fortunate that the building had a lot of former library space, providing an open floor plan,” says Cox. That open space has come in handy as flexible program space to accommodate a variety of needs, including everything from classrooms to geology and engineering labs that require large pieces of equipment.

Staying on message also entails keeping the campus community informed about when specific segments will be impacted. “A lot of my job is advertising,” says Cox. She has worked with the restoration architecture firm to display billboards in front of each building showing how the particular facility fits within the restoration schedule. That’s information students and parents also want to know. “Knowing this would be a long-term project, we felt it was important to consider the impact to student recruitment,” says Cox. “Major renovation projects can be off-putting to some. We want to assure students and parents that we are taking the opportunity to care for our facilities by making major improvements and to let them know we have a well-thought-out plan in place to accomplish this.”

In the end, word of mouth may be the best advertisement. In reopening Johnson Hall, faculty who were formerly skeptical that the university could complete the changes on time were thrilled with the outcome, says Cox. UW’s early success with Johnson Hall further promotes the restoration strategy’s value and allows others to be more at ease as their turns come up.

The Future of Surge

With its satellite campus’s redevelopment on the horizon, Stanford is rethinking its overall long-term surge space strategy while implementing some new approaches in the short term. Recently, a new facility on the main campus was constructed alongside the current structure so that occupants were not displaced during the interim. On a smaller scale, Dyer-Chamberlain is trying to help others entertain options for sharing space during routine renovations. “Finding solutions within the space you already have might mean doubling up, borrowing space, or scheduling a project during a break,” says Dyer-Chamberlain. “I think people often are not aware of how to rework their space, so we need to encourage others to think creatively about interim solutions.”

Failure to think outside current configurations can occur within a single department or institutionwide. “We had some modular units we needed to retire that represented about 27,000 square feet of space,” says Dyer-Chamberlain. “Instead of automatically replacing the old units with new ones, we started looking more closely at how those units were being used. With some brainstorming, we determined that we could house all of the programs elsewhere on campus in existing space simply by locating pockets of vacant space and combining various pockets to create larger suites.”

Surge Suggestions?
How is your institution addressing demands for additional program or office space? E-mail to share details.

In reality, says Gormley, institutions can only effectively anticipate space needs for 5 to 10 years out, not only because of enrollment shifts but also because of changes to technology and instruction that will continue to influence the architecture of the learning environment. “Increasingly,” he says, “flexibility will be the mantra used for all buildings—not only surge facilities—to create the ability to change over time without knowing the specific nature of those changes.” Gormley is convinced that more surge space initiatives and new surge strategies will emerge as a relief valve for institutions to handle growth and evolving space needs.

For now, existing and designated surge space is proving highly beneficial to some institutions to accomplish a variety of program and deferred maintenance priorities. Once UW’s list of critical buildings restoration is complete, Cox doesn’t see a future use for Condon Hall other than as ongoing surge space, for which it is proving to have enormous value. “If you have the opportunity to build a new facility, consider keeping your older building for surge needs,” says Cox. “In many economic and funding climates, that may be the most affordable—and the most immediate—way to solve your space crunch.”

KARLA HIGNITE, principal of KH Communication, Tacoma, Washington, is senior editor of Business Officer.