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When Planning Offices, Remember: Give Faculty Members a Window

Minneapolis — Ira Fink, a well-known planning consultant, talked about using office space smartly on Monday at the Society for College and University Planning. In a packed room, he went over some of the history of space standards, which seem to be derived from 100-year-old studies of high-school classrooms.

Labs and research areas are big space eaters, he said, in part because they are owned by departments. And they are protected spaces, not always used well. You can get a sense of how often a room is used, he said, by walking in, looking for a newspaper, and checking the date. He once walked into a room and found a newspaper that was 10 years old.

Offices are also big space users—from what I’ve seen, they can consume up to a quarter of space on a campus. He showed pictures of faculty offices and noted that paper, whether piled on the desks or stashed in file cabinets, takes up a lot of that space. There must be better ways to store paper, he said, ways that might allow colleges to make their office space more efficient.

Someone asked about his policy for windows in offices. “I think the rule of thumb is put a window in every faculty office,” he said, and the audience laughed. But that doesn’t always happen, he added more seriously. “People like to look outside. … This is not about buildings, this is about people. Faculty are the capital of the university, and you need to treat them with some diligence, and say, We respect you. Part of this respect is that we’ll give you a good office space.”

Some campuses are in a “zero-sum game” for space, Mr. Fink said—they are trying not to add space. The University of Illinois, which has struggled with a terrible state economy and deferred-maintenance needs, is one such institution. The University of Michigan and Stanford University are trying to get a handle on space by charging for it, he said. Algonquin College, in Ontario, is another institution that has constrained growth, as The Chronicle has reported.

A deeper consideration of energy use is “the newest thing that is going to happen in space” planning, Mr. Fink said. Buildings should be well metered, to consider all kinds of utility uses, and colleges should consider how space affects energy costs, he said. They should also find ways to separate high-energy-use spaces (like labs, where air is flushed and replenished several times an hour) from low-use spaces. “You can think about partitioning your buildings to put the high-energy use on one side and the low-energy use on another side.”

He ended with some words of encouragement: “You’re in a high-payoff business—you can save your campuses lots of money.” But planners need to be patient and to understand how all the numbers work—construction numbers, efficiency numbers, square-footage numbers. “You need to be convincing to your decision makers,” he said, “and then you need to know that no matter what you do, the impact is going to be slow and incremental, unless you are in a new campus or a high-growth area.”

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