University infrastructure building | Some experiences part 2

In one of my earlier posts I jotted down few of my thoughts based on personal experience regarding planning activities related to a university infrastructure creation project. Here I'm jotting down some of the low-level points which, though may seem quite "common-sense", often get ignored during the detailed design and planning.

  1. Utilisation of facilities: When identifying the requirements for various facilities (e.g. lecture/seminar/meeting rooms, certain type of labs and offices etc.) you should base the numbers on expected utilisation of these facilities. For instance, if your are creating a lecture hall complex building then you should consider the timetable and past course enrolment data (and future projection of it) that reflects your university's academic programs. Chances of creating a good academic infrastructure significantly improve if you decide the number and sizes of various lecture halls etc. based on such information. Similarly, the number of other shareable facilities such as meeting rooms etc. should be determined based on the expected utilisation.
  2. Specifications for the facilities: This is an area which has the biggest impact on a project's overall cost and completion time. Often the facilities are either way over-provisioned or they are totally inadequate for the purpose. If possible you should develop the specifications with the help of genuine professionals from a domain. At the very least you must get the specs reviewed with a domain expert. For instance, developing the specs for a fabrication lab is not the same as identifying specs for the individual equipment that will go into such a lab. For designing the entire lab as a facility you need domain experts with experience of having built such labs. Whereas a faculty member may be able to offer you the specifications for individual lab equipment, he/she may not be the best resource to design the entire lab. I hope you get the point :)
  3. Resource consolidation iteration: Always plan one review iteration where the objective should to be identify any unnecessary duplication/excess of assets that you are creating. This should be done by keeping the utilisation of such assets in mind. For example, you may not want to have dedicated teaching/research labs for every course/subject which your curriculum may require. This is because every such lab is generally not offered in every consecutive academic session, and in a given session the lab may not run on every day of the week.
  4. Limit the categories of assets/facilities: If possible try to keep different categories within various asset types to a minimum possible. Examples are: type of housing units, lecture halls, meeting rooms, offices etc. In the long run it will be better if the facilities are built as generic and are not too specific to exclude the possibilities for any alternate use. Having fewer categories simplifies maintenance and minimises operational/administrative overheads. Data from existing institutes show that a smaller number of facilities are used most of the time (80-20 rule applies). 
  5. Monitor and continue to monitor closely: Key to having a good final product is close and continuous monitoring by you (i.e. the customer) at every stage. You may hire the services of external professionals (avoid academicians masquerading as 'practitioners' if you can) for the monitoring of deliverables such as architecture design, structural design, HVAC, data network etc. Finally, no matter how good the plans look on paper, you must check things on ground.
Unfortunately, in the early phase of infrastructure development project at my university we were not able to properly incorporate most of the above points.

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