Role of space management policies in campus planning


Suppose you are to plan for the building infrastructure of a university. It is likely that you may be given something like the following as broad inputs to start the planning:
  1. We are going to have so and so five engineering departments each running UG and PG programs with total students population of 5000. 
  2. Main "business" of the university will be to impart teaching instructions and conduct research/consultancy projects. As such, facilities needs to be created to accommodate these needs. 
  3. University is a residential one, i.e., students and staff live on campus.
As part of this exercise you are expected to determine what buildings should be created and of what dimensions and specs. You will be required to work out the detailed specs/requirements which will go as inputs to the architecture consultants working for you. The architects will then produce some master plan and further fine grained blueprints of the buildings to be constructed.

In this entire exercise you probably have assumed an implicit method of allocation of infrastructure to various entities within your university. In fact, this seems to be the approach that most universities take when starting a greenfield infrastructure building project for themselves.

A question that I have been mulling over lately is:
Should your real estate allocation and management policies be defined (or at least thought out) before you start developing the master plan and detailed blueprints of buildings?
From my recent (and challenging) experience with my university's infrastructure development project, I am increasingly getting convinced about the merits of having the real estate allocation and management policies thought out before you start with university's master plan and detailed blueprints for infrastructure.

My reasons for this belief are as follows. In an environment where funding agencies are squeezing the funds allocation to universities and closely monitoring the spending, a university must fully justify its expenditure on infrastructure. Universities are being gradually pushed to ensure optimal utilization of infrastructure. Traditionally, the infrastructure at most Indian universities have been built around academic departments. By and large, buildings are department oriented as opposed to function oriented. By department oriented I mean that you plan the building(s) such that all (or most) functions of a department are housed in a given building. It is a sort of monolithic arrangement per department. However, there are functions (and thus space needs and specifications) which are similar across departments. For instance, specs for faculty offices, certain type of teaching/research labs and class rooms etc. are the same regardless of which department they belong to. Now, growth and day-to-day operations of all departments is something which is normally very diverse. Moreover, a university's vision may dictate diverse operational and growth paths for different departments. I believe these two forces -- the need to have a monolithic department-oriented building(s), and the inter-department growth/operations diversity -- create a low utilization environment as far as physical infrastructure is concerned. Because the departments must provision resources to cater to peak requirements and to meet minimum operational standards, the department-oriented monolithic kind of buildings will have lower utilization. (Monolithic department-oriented arrangement of buildings has its advantages too, but in bigger scheme of things in modern times of high-speed connectivity I believe those advantages are less attractive, given the overall cost.)

Another contributing point towards my belief is about infrastructure needs for research/consultancy projects. A typical scenario in this context is: a faculty member wins a research/consultancy grant from some external agency and as part of the proposal (s)he commits certain resources from the university (of course this is not free, the university gets paid for it in some manner). Almost always the faculty member procures some equipment from project budgets and puts it in the space allocated to project. Often the space allocated to the projects never gets released back to university upon completion of the project. Before you counter argue that "this is how one creates research labs -- by bringing projects and buying equipment from that budget", let me quickly add that I'm not suggesting that all projects are "resource leaking" venues. My point is about the need to have a space management policy aligned with university's vision, so that infrastructure is built to serve that vision. And I'm of the view that such a policy should be developed before you develop your master plan and detailed blueprints of the buildings.

A somewhat crude analogy would be how one plans his/her own house: you start with the "use" or "allocation" of the house in mind. That is, before beginning you are clear about whether a portion of the house may potentially be rented out or all of it will always be kept for self use of the family only. Layout of the house is done keeping "allocation" in mind. Clarity about potential use (i.e. the "allocation" policy) saves you from doing alterations to your house later if you decide to carve out an "independent portion" for renting out.

Having a space allocation/management policy thought out early helps in setting the expectations right at the beginning. For instance, if space allocation is linked to university's vision (which should ultimately be linked to producing tangible results for the university and society at large) then departments and faculty will know that they cannot continue to hold on to prime space without producing results. In such a scheme of things a professor, for instance, who does not conduct any research or consultancy may perhaps find it difficult to hold onto the lab space that (s)he once secured.

Objective of all this is to ensure optimal utilization of infrastructure -- this is the bottom line.

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