Q and A: Why Do University Buildings Cost So Much?
What is one of the most common questions facilities officers get asked?
Without a doubt, it's "why do university buildings cost so much?" A new building touches so many stakeholders—students, faculty, development, finance, marketing, student affairs, just to name a few—and everyone understandably has questions about the price tag.
So why do university buildings cost so much?
To be fair, campus construction costs are higher than the average commercial building and certainly more than residential construction costs, but those examples are what most people are more familiar with and become their filters for gauging cost. But remember that institutional buildings stay open for more hours each day and have more occupants going in and out than a typical commercial building. Everything about the building has to be optimized for academic life, from larger basements, more durable finishes and fixtures, and high efficiency equipment. And a new building also must be built to a higher aesthetic standard than something in an office park!
The very business of higher education also adds to the overall cost.
What do you mean?
A college or university is by nature a very inclusive community, and involving the whole community requires a more inclusive and longer review and approval process. Stakeholder buy-in is important, but it does require extra time and more dollars, no matter how artfully managed.
There's also a practical element: we all know that campuses are living, breathing environments. They are a home for students, a classroom for faculty, an office for administrators, and often a destination for the larger community. From a facilities perspective, that means staging and parking areas for construction workers and materials are scarce and limited hours for the loudest of projects have economic consequences.
What do you suggest to mitigate or manage the high costs?
Accurate program plans are a good place to start--doing so defines how big a project will be up front, and it can help control costly scope creep. Educating the campus community about the reasons for high costs is also critical; I recommend approaching every meeting, every email, and every memo as a way to remind or educate that audience about the care and thoughtfulness going into the project. (And the costs that go with that, of course.) That’s not to say that we shouldn’t always strive to make our buildings as economical as possible while still meeting the needs of the institution, because that is our duty and obligation.
Vice President, Consulting and Business Development