When there’s too much and not enough

In 2014, St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota had too much, and not enough. Like many institutions of higher education, SCSU found itself with too much aging infrastructure competing for limited deferred maintenance dollars, too much capital wrapped up in facilities that didn’t meet current and future needs, and – maybe surprisingly – just too much real estate.

At the same time, there were not enough of the types of spaces actually needed to meet student and campus demands. Right-sizing was needed at all levels: departmentally, within the various university functions, and campus wide.

Complicating the desire for right sizing was not enough enrollment revenue to justify and pay for existing deferred maintenance, let alone new construction; and not enough clear rationale for new facilities when, clearly, there were existing spaces being under-utilized.

It was time for SCSU to update its Comprehensive Facilities Plan (CFP). SCSU and the Minnesota State (MinnState) system office engaged RDG Planning & Design to update the university’s Comprehensive Facilities Plan, with the additional assistance of the Sextant Group (technology and pedagogy consultant) and Anderson Strickler (campus housing and real estate consultant).

The central question asked by the CFP process, according to RDG Project Manager Jonathan Martin, was: What spaces are needed for the instruction we provide now, and intend to provide in the coming years? And, as follow-on questions:

  • How do we currently use the spaces we have on campus?
  • Which spaces are in poor condition, and what would it cost to replace/repair/renovate them?
  • How does the campus community perceive the different spaces/buildings?
  • What opportunities does each space/building offer?

“The real task,” said Martin, “was to look at each space with a focus on how to use it best to meet students’ needs, regardless of how it had been used before. And then, to use the Plan to ensure that all spaces are designed to function well for their intended uses.”

It was important to dig deep into available data to learn what how the existing spaces on campus were really being used. RDG professionals were able to help SCSU leaders see how to connect the dots. “Data alone doesn’t give you the answers. But if you have clear strategic priorities that are well organized, then data helps you understand what to do, and in what order,” said Jay Weingarten, RDG Project Architect. “Not all data was equally valuable, but some yielded gold mines of information that drove planning.”

Keys to the planning effort were the commitment to provide transparency throughout the process, to cast a wide net in order to achieve a truly comprehensive Plan, and to involve as many people as possible who might be impacted by the Plan.

“The idea of being truly comprehensive is something most people overlook,” said Phil Moessner, SCSU’s Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management. “A lot of campuses will sit down to write a CFP and only think about the academic and administrative support buildings. But a campus is bigger than that. The plan ought to be comprehensive enough to take into account the whole campus, not just microcosms. If you look at all the areas collectively rather than as silos, it’s really helpful. I think our CFP did that really well.”

“RDG kept us thinking about what will serve students best, what will serve our community best,” said Tammy McGee, then-Vice President of Finance at SCSU and the primary driver of the CFP update. RDG wasn’t the cheapest, but they were by far the greatest value. Just the value of how they laid out and worked with the analytics exceeded what we paid for them. They set up a structure and laid out deadlines so we could stay on track. And they gave us hope and perspective by showing us the positive ways to look at decisions like taking buildings down.”

In a time of too much and not enough, SCSU and its consultant partners found a way to get just the right Comprehensive Facilities Plan.

“After people, facilities are the most valuable university asset,” said Jonathan Martin. “This was a sophisticated institutional approach to facilities management that aligned function with use on the most fundamental level and kept student needs as the front-and-center focus.”

See an extended account of the SCSU Comprehensive Facilities Planning Process here.

 

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