Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Buildings Are Worth the Investment

In 2007, the Washington Post featured a story about a musician wearing a baseball cap who picked-up his violin and took his position next to the trash cans during rush hour in a DC Metro station.  He played for roughly 43 minutes and made just over $30 in tips. End of story?  Nope. Read on.

A 2022 article (and source of the photo) that recounted the event noted that people passing him on their way to work likely didn’t notice that the violinist was playing some of the most difficult classical music from Bach, Massenet, Schubert and Ponce.

Neither did they notice (save one, apparently) that the subway station musician or “busker” was the famous virtuoso Joshua Bell, who regularly sold out theaters for concerts with symphony orchestras around the world, playing a violin worth more than $3 million.  The article continues:

Some people see it as a sorrowful tale of all the people who just walked by – of a world too busy, too preoccupied, too un-curious, or even simply disinterested in the best that classical music has to offer.

We’re not so sure.

Perhaps, it just is what it is. For those precious 40-something minutes there was music being made among us and for us; as it is every day – whether it be from a Joshua Bell, a future Joshua Bell, or a not-quite Joshua Bell (but who loves music just the same).

Many at the time also thought it a valuable reminder about the musical talent of buskers and informal performers, who are around us most days.

That may be true. But I like the take on this story provided by an anonymous Facebook post that offered the following lesson to be learned from Joshua Bell’s experiment:

The experiment proved that the extraordinary in an ordinary environment does not shine and is so often overlooked and undervalued.  There are brilliantly talented people everywhere who aren’t receiving the recognition and reward they deserve. But once they arm themselves with value and confidence and remove themselves from an environment that isn’t serving them, they thrive and grow.

This may seem a strange story to post in a blog related to campus buildings. But I think the phrase

“the extraordinary in an ordinary environment does not shine”

could also apply to the role that high quality facilities plays in creating an environment that fosters and showcases excellence among students, faculty and staff.  Attractive, well-maintained campus facilities provide the comfortable surroundings and functional support that allow the talent and hard work of their occupants thrive.  Never underestimate the value of that support and its worth to the success of the university as a whole.  Buildings are worth the investment!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Preventing Frozen Pipes in Buildings

Last December, a number of university buildings in Maryland suffered severe damage due to frozen pipes that broke and filled occupied spaces with water.  In some cases fire suppression systems were rendered inoperable.  The cause was a combination of very low temperatures, a loss of power (and thus heating) in some buildings, and the general age and condition of the plumbing systems. The photo (left) was sent to me by a campus facility manager.

Most students and faculty were on their holiday break at the time, but the damage at some institutions has been long-lasting and will impact the use of facilities long into the remainder of the 2022-23 school year.  Repair costs have ranged well into the $millions and institutions are looking toward ways to avoid these problems in the future.

In a recent article subtitled Frozen Pipe Damage, the Real Estate brokerage Re-Shield provides some prevention suggestions for facility managers:

Cold temperatures don’t have to pose as significant a problem as some think. Commercial property owners can take precautions to avoid frozen pipes and the damage they cause, including:

·         Drain and shut off pipes that aren’t used during cold months.
·         Keep temperatures at 40 degrees or above in all areas of the building.
·         Insulate pipes in unheated spaces, including sprinkler system pipes.
·         Maintain heating systems to ensure continued usage.
·         Monitor antifreeze concentration in sprinkler systems.
·         Conduct routine checks of fire pumps, sprinkler system equipment, and building plumbing.

Preventing cold weather issues is far more convenient and cost-efficient than cleaning up a mess. At the least, it’s best to be ready for a storm before it hits.

Chubb Insurance provides additional advice, including preparation of building equipment and roofs, as well as your employees, such as:

  • Ensure all doors, windows, skylights, ventilators, and shafts are weather-tight to prevent cold air from entering any part of the building. Check areas of recent construction.
  • Maintain a list of contractors, equipment/parts suppliers that can respond to building freeze-up problems.
  • Maintain a list of employees with contact numbers to be utilized in the event work is canceled or delayed. Identify employees who can assist with recovery efforts.
  • Inspect all emergency power sources such as generators to assure proper operation.
  • Inspect emergency heating systems to assure proper operation.
  • Ensure that idle cooling equipment such as cooling coils, chillers, and compressors are drained and/or installed in areas with heat. Cooling equipment operating year-round must have operating and de-icing procedures implemented to prevent freeze-ups and ice damage.
  • Shield equipment and inventory that is located directly below susceptible frozen pipes with water-resistant coverings. 
  • Keep snow and ice clear from access ways, control valves, fire hydrants, hose cabinets, smoke/heat vents, water motor goings, and fire department connections.  
  • During the storm, initiate a periodic roof inspection program to monitor the conditions on the roof and drains.  
  • Remove ice from skylights and around large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment units, as well as facades, penthouses, and parapets. 
  • Remove ice buildup along the eaves/troughs and edge of the roof line.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Cost Management and Best Value in Planning, Programming and Pre-Design

Obviously, the best time to assure the best value for a new construction project is well before shovels hit the ground. But where are those opportunities for achieving that value? We recently prepared a presentation based on our Maryland experience to demonstrate the various ways projects are tested, adjusted, and scrutinized to make sure they're both effective and efficient.  I apologize in advance for the numerous Maryland acronyms.  Here's a synopsis:


Most projects ultimately seen by the Board as part of the USM Capital Program follow a similar track to their inclusion in the CIP.  While this diagram is highly simplified as a linear process from left to right, the reality is that it can be extremely organic and involve multiple inputs, iterations, participation exercises, and opportunities for feedback. 

There are several steps taken, including a variety of inputs and checks along the way from a general need expressed by a campus department to a funded project in design.  Inputs and checks are both based in policies and best practices (top) as well as quantitative checks against financial and other data (bottom).

We’ll discuss this diagram in more detail below, but you’ll note that some of these steps occur at the campus level.  Others occur at the Board level, and then the State level; and, ultimately, the members of the project team (USM project managers and architects/engineers working with campus representatives) become heavily involved. 

In every case, the project concept is evaluated and revised to achieve the best value—maximizing the effectiveness of the solution while minimizing the impact of cost.


Needs expressed by a college or department rise through the campus process first as intended solutions or ideas for addressing that need.  What follows is very generalized, but the first major check is against the campus Strategic Plan, a document intended to:

  • Detail the mission and goals of the institution
  • Form the basis for the role of the institution moving forward
  • Act as a guide for other planning activities, like (in this case) Facilities Master Plan

For example, an idea or proposal for new research space for a particular department on campus would be weighed against statements in the Strategic Plan about building research capacity. 

Once a potential solution is deemed to be consistent with the Strategic Plan, the input of potential users of the proposed new (or renovated) facility is sought to help develop the concept further for consideration by the campus in general.   The project concept is evaluated in the context of

  • Benchmarks or similar projects
    • Commonly used technique for assessing validity of proposals
    • DBM considers comparisons when approving facility programs (types of space, sizes, cost, etc.)
  • The Facilities Master Plan
  • Existing space already available
  • General space guidelines for the type of facility being considered
  • Financial resources available to the campus and/or the possibility of State funding

This process can take several years and iterations to fully develop and, following input from campus facilities planners and (per our USM Capital Budget Instructions) a check of the proposed cost from the Service Center, the “concept” becomes a formal capital request that is considered by the institution’s president to be included as part of the prioritized list of project requests submitted annually for consideration by the Chancellor and Board of Regents for funding (and or submission to the State CIP).


Requests submitted to the USM Office come as priority lists of projects. There are two separate lists, one for State funding consideration (in the Governor’s CIP) and one for consideration in the System-Funded Construction Program (SFCP).  For simplicity, we’ll discuss primarily the process for State requests, but I’ll make note of any specific steps related primarily to the SFCP.

The first test of the project requests is one the State requires: weighing the proposal against available resources.  On the State side, this means paring down many priority requests that come from the institutions to a small number that are either already in the Governor’s CIP or would be considered the logical “next” priority needs for State funding consideration.  (On the System-funded side, this is where the affordability of a particular request—given an institution’s resources and the fiscal health of its auxiliary operations—is used to reduce a larger list of proposals down to a smaller list of projects that will move forward in the process.

At this point, the project Facility Program becomes critical to the process. If it hasn’t been prepared and submitted already, a formal Facility Program is required (by law) for the project to continue in the State funding process.  (Formal programs are not required for SFCP or auxiliary-funded projects, but a similar document can be extremely informative and is strongly recommended.)  The process of developing a Facility Program follows a prescribed process with several required topics and sections. 

Program writers (typically a campus Facilities Officer and/or an outside architectural firm), working with extensive groups of campus representatives to flesh out the details of a project and weigh a large amount of data.  These data are presented in the program document to:

  • Provide a description for designers (broad space relationships and detailed space requirements)
  • Help justify the project proposal for funding to decision-makers
  • Identifying facilities problem to be resolved
  • Highlight the consequences of not correcting problem (impacts on operation or service delivery)
  • Provide strong quantitative data support of the proposal (e.g., performance measures, guidelines, standards, revenue), both historical and projected
  • Review alternative scenarios and comparative data with other projects
  • Demonstrate validity and justification for recommended proposal

The development of a project program and its subsequent review process by the USM and the State (Department of Budget & Management) can take as long as one to two years or more. The State, in fact, has strict deadlines for submission of a program that occur well ahead of any funding consideration in the State CIP.  It is during this process that the project concept undergoes the most intense scrutiny toward the development of a final project scope that is fully justified and provides the best value.

Key data points used in developing a project program and reviewing it for approval include:

  • Enrollment and Strategic Plan data
  • Approved State Space Guidelines for various space categories
  • Metrics of space availability, utilization, and occupancy, including space surplus and deficiency reports (based on the State space guidelines, see note below)
  • Estimated replacement and renovation costs for campus space, and estimated deferred maintenance backlog

Note about Space Guidelines.  In planning buildings, institutions evaluate their space needs in certain categories (e.g., classroom and teaching labs for a new science building) and propose a new facility that accommodates their projected needs in those areas, as well as providing other desired amenities for students and faculty.  The limiting factor in terms of overall size is often what is deemed "affordable" to the State, but DBM also compares space guidelines data to be sure any new space is justified.  So what are these guidelines? And how are they used?

There are a variety of formulas established by the State for various segments of higher education to calculate the space an institution "should" have (in a number of categories), based on standard guidelines. There are 30 different categories of space guidelines.  The calculations can be somewhat complex, and the standards vary by type and size of institution, but here are some simplified examples:

    General Classrooms   1.11 to 1.71 NASF* per WSCH*
    Teaching Labs      4 to 7 NASF per (Lab) WSCH
    Research Labs      650 to 1,000 NASF per Module for PhD and Research Programs
    Faculty Offices      1.66 NASF per FTE Faculty or Staff
        *NASF=Net Assignable Square Feet; WSCH=Weekly Student Contact Hour

The guidelines are reviewed and revised periodically. The most recent change focused on research space.  The State recently announced they’ll soon begin a new review, this time focused on helping prepare institutions for the quick pivot in use of facilities should it be necessary to address a future pandemic-like situation.

Each year institutions prepare comprehensive reports through the Space Guidelines Application Program (SGAP) and submit updated calculations for various space types, as well as an updated inventory of space (by category).  These reports are, in turn, provided to MHEC, DBM and DLS.  The USM Office also prepares a two-page summary that includes actual inventory and projected inventory in major academic categories, and an estimate of "surplus" or "deficit" (current and projected) based on the accepted guidelines.

Links and examples are provided in the REFERENCES section below.  Copies of sample SGAP Reports, SGAP preparation Instructions, and annual Space Inventory Summaries can be obtained from the USM Office of Capital Planning upon request.

Once a facility program is approved, the project can then be considered for the Governor’s CIP.  The process of selecting which few projects will be recommended for State funding is the Board-driven “USM Capital Budgeting Process” with which the Board is familiar.  The annual process culminates in the approval of a new five-year capital request to the State (CIP) and a five year System-Funded Construction Program (SFCP).

Once funded for design and following the award of a design contract, the project team (including the architect/engineer and the user group) complete a specialized review of the scope of the project called a Program Verification.  Typically, the process involves a series of meetings to review room diagrams and project requirements outlined in the program, discussing the function of spaces, and confirming the information contained in the original program. The process can also involve confirming that space allocations contained within the existing program are adequate and seem to meet the needs of each space.

Information regarding the estimated project cost and scope is shared with DBM after the completion of each design phase.  This ensures that the intended (and budgeted) scope of the project has not changed since the project was funded.

Once the first estimates are prepared during the design process (and perhaps multiple times during the process), the potential construction cost of the project as it is designed is compared with the available budget.  Should there be insufficient funding to do the intended work, the project team (again, with the user group) will undertake a Value Engineering process to adjust the scope/budget of the project by suggesting changes in materials, methods, or project scope to bring the cost within budget.




Note: Links are immediately available via the websites listed. 

Documents are available from the USM Office of Capital Planning.

Link:  USM Strategic Plan

Document Available:  Benchmarking Similar Projects
Example of a comparison chart showing costs for USM projects against similar projects at other institutions

Link: Facilities Master Plan Guide

Link: Example of campus-specific space policies--College Park’s Classroom Master Plan

Link: Available Resources (Reference Governor’s CIP)

Link: Facilities Program Required for State Funding

Link: State Facilities Programming Guide (listing detailed requirements)

Link: Example--Facility Program for Iribe Building (College Park); space data starts page 229

Documents Available related to Annual Reporting of Space Data

    Annual Space Utilization and Occupancy Report
    Annual Space Surplus/Deficit Report
    Annual Replacement and Renovation Cost Comparisons
    Annual Deferred Maintenance and Backlog Reporting

Link: MHEC Space Guidelines Study and Confirmation

Link: Key space metrics for USM Institutions

Link: Revised Research Space Guidelines for Maryland Higher Education

Link: Statewide Study of Higher Education Funding (see pages 37-42 for capital recommendations)

Link: USM Capital Budgeting Process

Document Available: Program Verification
Example—USMSM Program Verification Report

Document Available: Value Engineering Report
Example from USM Project

Document Available: Bid Report with Alternates
Example from USM Project

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Brief Diversion for 9/11

A construction web page linked an interesting article about the origins of traditional "topping out" ceremonies from a 2013 issue of Slate magazine (also the source of the photo).  Having witnessed the placement of trees and other secular and religious symbols on the top of buildings in at least two different countries, I was fascinated by the universal similarity of the tradition that seems to have sprung up spontaneously from a number of different sources and has remained, according to the article, almost unchanged into our modern era.

According to the article, "the purpose of the ceremony—at least for shining skyscrapers—is usually couched in comfortably post-pagan terms: a celebration of a so-far safe construction site, an expression of hope for the secure completion of the structure, and a kind of secular blessing for the building and its future inhabitants."

The article includes a number of photos from the topping out ceremony during the construction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.  Seeing these photos today was a sobering reminder of the events of 19 years ago and the hope embodied in the topping out ceremony that was lost that day.  It's worth sharing today to remember those who perished and to extend anew the hope that we can, through traditions like these, find a way to come together as a human civilization and avoid such tragedies in the future.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

A Call to Action: Resilient Building Design for the Post-COVID Era

The optimal configuration and functional characteristics of buildings have changed forever. Even if the current Coronavirus pandemic can be safely and effectively mitigated with a vaccine and/or therapeutic drugs, there will be a “next time.”  Like the permanent security protocols for travel that were instituted following the tragedy of 9/11, we cannot ignore the lessons of the last few months, nor can we assume we’ll ever really be able to go back to the way things were before 2020. 

Facilities planning is in the midst of a paradigm shift.  We should embrace this change and steer capital resources to those projects and renovation solutions that provide the most flexible and functional facilities into the future.  Projects that address deferred maintenance problems will continue to be a priority.  New (especially replacement) facilities and renovation work will also continue.  A comprehensive change in the overall way we approach the design of these projects, however, is needed.  And that change will have to be universal.  After all, unlike most natural events that jeopardize only local or regional communities, the current pandemic has impacted the entire World.       

We have seismic codes that dictate the construction of buildings to withstand earthquakes.  We also have engineering design and site restrictions for construction in flood zones.  In the same way, it will be necessary to fundamentally change the way we design new and retrofit educational and work spaces with sufficient flexibility to preserve maximum operational effectiveness during times of “normal” health and during a pandemic. 

To this end, projects in design and those programmed in the budget pipeline should be reevaluated in light of what we now know about the potential spread of a serious communicable disease through human interaction in buildings. We don’t yet know everything about how best to address this problem through design, nor is it likely we’ll have a whole new set of proven standards in the near term.  But we can’t allow spending to continue toward construction of buildings that could be partially unusable upon completion.  Yet this is what will happen if we don’t consider the reality of the future. 

Taliesin-based architect Aaron Betsky penned an opinion piece in the AIA’s Architect Magazine (also source of photo above) earlier this summer saying:

Designers should mobilize, I believe, to respond to these issues. At the most immediate level, we need to figure out how to develop materials and forms that are safer for common use, that don’t require the endless application of disinfectant, and that aren’t manufactured using petroleum-based or metal products. If that’s impossible in practice, then we need to design objects, from operating buttons to tabletops, that can withstand social use with limited cross-infection. Gesture-based controls might be one high-tech solution, but if gas stations and fast food restaurants can kluge together plastic guards, can’t designers do something better?

We need a post-air conditioning world: well-ventilated and open spaces that replace the hermetically sealed environments in which so many of us work, live, and play. The spaces we occupy together need to be designed so we can do exactly that—be together—while minimizing disease transmission. We realize now more than ever that offices, restaurant, public spaces, and cultural and sport venues are, above all else, social spaces that define us through our collective actions, interactions, and affinities. We cannot redesign them to separate us but must shape them to bring us together as safely as possible. We now know that some us can work from home, but isolation is not the answer. We need more, not less, physical conference rooms and hang-out spaces, more places of interaction and density. The means of bringing us together need to be safer, cheaper, and more accessible.


Architects and space planners are beginning to discuss general guidelines by which we can begin to evaluate architectural programs and building plans.  For higher education, some of these may include:

·        Large lecture spaces and open meeting areas.  For existing buildings, this means the use of large facilities with fixed seating by a much smaller occupancy for social distancing.  For new facilities, the use of moveable chairs or desks (in lieu of fixed seating) could allow for larger student numbers in “normal” times that could be easily converted as needed.  Large auditoriums and theaters may have to be re-imagined to maintain the same type of flexibility.  Large scale lectures or other mass gatherings may have to be done remotely as a matter of practice.

·        General classrooms.  Moveable partitions could provide the use of moderate size classrooms for use as smaller class and conference rooms during “normal” times, while the same spaces (without partitions) could accommodate a more moderate, physically distant population.  Placement of barriers and shields would not impede normal operations.  Design could include the technology to incorporate remotely located students or recorded lectures.

·        General building configuration and operation.  New facilities could be designed with multiple entrances and exits, as well as wider corridors and other accommodations for safe and effective flow of students, faculty and staff.  Common areas that provide collaboration opportunities during “normal” times could double as expanded circulation space when needed (much like HOV lanes on the highway). HVAC standards will have to be reevaluated, in light of the need for better ventilation, filtration and airflow.  Facilities to accommodate improved sanitization, cleaning and PPE availability (as needed) will be important.

·        Campus spaces of other types, including teaching laboratories, research labs, and auxiliary or athletic functions, would require similar consideration for ongoing safety and flexibility. 

These are but a handful of the kinds of suggestions that could provide needed flexibility for university facilities of the future.  As guidelines and commendations related to the transmission of disease in buildings evolves, likewise plans for new buildings should be reevaluated and modified as necessary to preserve the best possible outcome.


1.     Begin with a broad conversation involving interested facilities planners and other campus stakeholders.

2.     Pursue a variety of potential changes and guidelines in more detail; and, as you identify specific recommendations that may affect approved space guidelines, involve your funding partners and oversight agencies.

3.     The topic should be added to facility programs for future projects and to the scope of facilities master plan updates.

4.      A parallel process would look carefully at the scope of construction projects (both those in design and those in the capital queue).

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

COVID Series: Beyond Cleaning and Distancing

Universities worldwide are either in the midst of welcoming students, faculty and staff back to campus or planning for their eventual return.  We’ve been scrambling ourselves to address the critically needed changes to facilities like signage, separation screens, strategic placement of sanitizing supplies and HVAC modifications.  Operational changes, personnel schedules, testing and illness evaluation regimens, and a host of restrictions and suggested behavioral changes are being made.  Even so, most classes are being held remotely.  Institutions are learning as they go, borrowing the best ideas (and discarding those that aren’t) from other campuses.  The “welcome back” documents I’ve seen published by schools and businesses are lengthy.  The impact of the COVID-19 reality is significant. 


Campus safety has always been paramount in every decision we’ve made. But this new era brings this priority to the next level.  So what does COVID mean in terms of existing buildings?  Forbes magazine recently published a list of ten college space and function adaptations that they expect to be the “new normal” for all of us moving forward.  They include:

1.      Large lecture halls and open spaces will become “mid-size” classrooms for lecture-style classes. Universities have found reductions of up to 80% are needed (i.e., a 100-person classroom now accommodates 20 students) to maintain the recommended 6-ft. social distancing.

2.      All classrooms, of all sizes, will be modified to provide (a) options for physical barriers between instructors and the class, (b) signage and/or floor markers indicating required spacing of student seats, and (c) technology needed to accommodate remotely located students (synchronous learning) and/or recording of lectures (asynchronous learning).

3.      Some conference rooms, teaching labs, and other shared spaces expected to see reduced usage will be converted into small classrooms or multimedia studios for class production.

4.      Buildings will have designated entrance and exit doors rather than allowing all doors to be used for both. Guidelines and signage will be used to direct personnel flow (direction of movement) in all buildings. Hand sanitizing stations (and PPE stations where appropriate) will be placed on all floors of all buildings.

5.      Dining halls will significantly reduce seating occupancies, relying instead on more take-away service. To accommodate variety in meals available, dining services may move to pre-ordering meals by a daily menu app. Self-serve food stations will be eliminated. Some cafeteria-style service may be possible but only with addition of barriers between food service workers and students. Indoor and outdoor spaces elsewhere on campus may need to be added for students to eat their take-away meals.

6.      Recreational spaces (gyms, courts, pools, workout spaces, playing fields) will be strictly controlled for access. Students will sign-up for times via an app.

7.      Residence hall density will be significantly reduced. All rooms will be transformed to single occupancy. Common areas either be converted to additional single rooms or restricted for use. Common bathrooms will have restrictions on occupancy. In essence cutting the on-campus housing by half, colleges will be forced to explore off-campus options (hotels, apartments) or consider the use of temporary housing units. Those institutions that typically offer housing for students in their first two years will only guarantee housing for first-year students. Off-campus housing apartments will be marketed at a premium and the available housing stock will quickly be tapped out.

8.      Greek houses and other social houses under the university’s jurisdiction will either be forced to close or have severe restrictions for occupancy/use be placed upon them. Off-campus or unofficial Greek or social houses may continue to exist with limited or no restrictions, providing a nexus of unsanctioned activities that attract large numbers on weekend evenings.

9.      Student centers will see dramatic restructuring of their programming, usage, and spaces. Maintained will be open areas for studying (with social distancing), coffee and light food services (take-away), and student services offices. Eliminated will be large dining or event spaces, dense retail (e.g., bookstores), restaurants and pubs, theaters, etc. Some spaces may be able to be repurposed as classrooms or even student housing. Major student gatherings and events will be held virtually or not at all.

10.   Varsity athletics facilities will remain in use subject to decisions by the NCAA and individual athletic conferences. However games will be played with very limited (or no) spectators in attendance. Teams (athletes, coaches, staff, medical, and supporting personnel) event/facility management personnel, and media personnel will be subject to strict testing protocols. Indoor sports will be particularly impacted by attendance restrictions. Virtual fan experiences will be created for online audiences."

 Students at Duke University (from Duke's Instagram Page)


While it’s almost impossible to imagine right now, what of the “post-COVID” era?  What do we expect well into the future? How do we plan for what comes next?  Physical distancing for safety fills available space quickly; and will impact what kinds of space we can best utilize (e.g., open concept, efficient HVAC, enhanced flexibility). 

One thing we know for sure is that the physical assets of our institutions will continue to require ongoing modification, protection, and repair.  Reduced campus occupancies in the near term may actually facilitate renovation in occupied buildings.  And yet the need for new facilities to support critical facilities like health care and research will continue.  These critical functions have a direct positive impact on the populace.  Investment in construction itself also helps sustain economic recovery.

A series of blog posts produced by Gensler outlines a variety of impacts the pandemic will have on the future of the built environment.  A post related to highereducation asks the question:  “In the long-term, what can we learn from this experience that we can carry forward to future-proof our campuses?” They suggest a paradigm shift, arguing that “this crisis (is) a catalyst for change.”  They cite an observation that seems to becoming mainstream:  “Schools won’t return to the status quo. Everything — from building design and curriculum to operations and maintenance — may need to adapt to a new normal.”  Some suggest it could be that way forever.  We can’t assume the next pandemic (or similarly dire circumstance) will wait another 100 years.

The office furniture giant Steelcase shared a research piece titled “Designing Post-COVID Learning Spaces.”  Never before has the value of physical interaction in business and education meant more, now that such interaction is not possible.  The Steelcase article notes:

As we look toward the future, learning spaces will be reinvented to enhance the benefits that face-to-face educational experiences can offer. Pedagogies and calendars will consider which activities are best online and in person, and our spaces will need to reflect those new priorities. There will be greater emphasis on safely supporting social and spontaneous learning in addition to finding new ways to enhance a scholarly atmosphere and energy in the physical environment that can’t be replicated online….

This means educational space planning paradigms of the past, driven by density and cost, need to shift. Flexible and fluid spaces will better support the adaptability expected of educators and students. And enhanced blended learning connections will bring online and physical experiences together to create an elevated sense of community.

Many parents and student supporters have come to realize the tremendous value of great educators and educational systems during the pandemic. Learning institutions that have been most successful have had a robust blended learning platform, student-led educational experiences and have created a community of support for all students. 

Those who try to hold too tightly to the past may fail to excel as they try to navigate what’s next. In the future, schools and campuses will be more important than ever.

Exactly how that new campus looks and what we will need to do in order to build it and operate it safely will be the subject of future entries.