Managing Higher Education Facilities: A Q&A Recap

On August 8, experts from Sightlines, a Gordian company, answered questions during a Twitter Q&A conducted by Facility Executive.

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higher education facilitiesDo you have questions about operating and managing higher education facilities? Yesterday, August 8, experts from Sightlines, a Gordian company, answered questions during a Twitter Q&A conducted by Facility Executive. Sightlines has worked with hundreds of colleges and universities, offering facility management leaders and their teams insight on master planning, deferred maintenance, communicating with stakeholders, and more.

Below is a recap of the questions addressed during yesterday’s live Twitter event:

How does data analysis play a strategic role in higher ed facilities management?
Analyzing data provides an objective means to determine what to focus on now and for the future. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – W. Edwards Deming

In terms of capital renewal and deferred maintenance on campuses, what is the primary challenge for higher education facilities stewards?
A lack of resources is the primary challenge: loss of state funding, enrollment reductions, trying to increase alumni donations. All while expectations for highered services and amenities continue to increase. This makes it hard to address deferred maintenance.

Have the challenges changed in recent years?
Much higher expectations for services available to students outside the classroom and more complex expectations inside the classrooms. Dips from 2008-09 permanently altered the impact of resources for schools even as they return to robust levels.

Is there a way to create a common language as a foundation for improved processes and outcomes?
Mission, stewardship, renewal, success, risk, ROI — are all notions financial and academic leaders understand. The challenge is placing the work happening at planning tables or mechanical rooms and custodial closets into this strategic framework.

A common vocabulary — from boiler room to boardroom — is essential. Listing needs alone doesn’t capture the attention of people who are confronting constrained resources on every front.

Are there schools that come to mind who have overcome challenges described?
Wesleyan University has done a great deal with space utilization. They’ve optimized existing space and enhanced the student experience without adding new temporary space.

Rutgers University has a no net new policy. For any new building, at least one building comes down. Typically, small buildings and those with high backlogs are identified for divestment.

Clemson University drives efficiencies through space utilization and facilities prioritization. It has helped secure more funding and close the stewardship gap with their existing facilities

Wake Forest University shifted their investment paradigm to focus on renewal and more proactive operations. This is helping them to dramatically increase their renewal funding over 10 years.

What emerging trend or issue do you see impacting higher education facilities teams in 2019 and beyond?
We need to confront the space problem. Creating new facilities with enrollment flat or decreasing is a huge risk, impacting the future. The typical classroom is occupied less than 60% of available hours! Proper space utilization is key.

What are ways facility managers can forge effective communication with their counterparts?
Always start with the data! Disciplined info gathering that accurately represents facilities issues on campus is essential. If there is an understanding rooted in disciplined data collection and analysis, then your stakeholders will listen.

What does good benchmarking do for campus stewards?
Good benchmarking puts data in context with both peers and the institution over time, allowing for careful reflection about how the campus leaders direct their efforts and limited resources.

What are some questions to ask about data analysis?
Great question. We recently published a blog related to this topic. [See this link for] … 10 essential benchmarking questions to ask about data analysis.

How can you make the benchmarking analysis actionable?
Connect the data-driven campus story to the community’s mission and strategic objectives. Then make informed choices about how to direct resources. Stakeholders can rally around investment priorities that address both existing concerns and future vision.