Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Master Plan Performance

Master plans seem to be the talk of the universe. It is unquestionably one of the most difficult times in higher education. Funding is being cut at the state level, deferred maintenance continues to climb, and it is becoming more difficult each year to find quality people with the necessary skill sets to replace people leaving and or retiring. Add the issues of the need for new classrooms, fundamentals such as technology for improved student engagement, flexible seating for accommodating numerous types of teaching layouts… and what about if there are changes in leadership that might derail, modify, or discontinue the master plan entirely? With all the items accumulating, choosing just one that keeps us all up at night can be a challenge. At a minimum, the master plan must be the driving force to help stay the course. If implemented correctly and judiciously it can help with this, as well as driving the necessary change the campus might just need to take on the changing landscape.

The History of Bowling Green State University (BGSU)

Established in 1910 on 1,500 acres approximately 30 miles south of Toledo, OH, BGSU’s main campus serves roughly 18,000+ students, with just over 6,000 students living on campus in residential and Greek housing. The campus comprises a building inventory of 100+ buildings, many built to last for generations. Many of the buildings—particularly the Traditions buildings, which are some of the first buildings established on campus—had not been renovated in decades and much of the infrastructure was original. Our master plan study developed in 2009-10 revealed that it would take an investment of over $500 million to eliminate BGSU’s deferred maintenance backlog and accommodate any future needs for flexible scheduling and active learning classrooms. Other considerations were increasing classroom utilization, creating the correct size classrooms, and avoiding single-use or departmental-managed classrooms.

We have taken a different approach to address many of the nagging issues such as deferred maintenance, student demographics, and predicting the new needs of students.

BGSU started with a set of bedrock principles that included providing cutting-edge facilities for students and faculty while determining the best way to reach the greatest number of students, particularly in their first and second years, when retention is so critical: 1) Prioritize learning/classroom and instructional space but also carefully improve space utilization. 2) Remove and decommission as many spaces as possible, being mindful of budgets and sustainability values in building systems and infrastructure. 3) Optimize flexibility and utilization of space, understanding that more usable space will result as renovations occur. 4) Promote doing more with less while providing unique spaces and designs that stimulate opportunities for interaction and engagement for the students, faculty, staff, and community.

Establish Planning Parameters

As the master plan started to develop we thought it was important to cultivate key planning parameters. These included:

  • Addressing the critical needs of BGSU related to one or more of the STEM areas.
  • Providing upgraded facilities to support one or more signature programs.
  • Achieving our classroom space model objectives by improving utilization and active learning principles with the help of the academic groups.
  • Establishing budgets and fundraising goals by developing toughminded decisions criteria based on financial challenges.

Ultimately, we needed to change the BGSU footprint by downsizing the building inventory based on deferred maintenance costs while updating buildings that we determined to be important to the look of campus related to the footprint and location of the building. In the end we were shrinking the campus’ overall footprint, but in doing so we were increasing the density of the campus core.

Acknowledging that it was going to be impossible to accomplish the full scope of upgrades identified, the master plan targeted six underutilized buildings for demolition. The selections were based primarily on three metrics weighted by their importance to the teaching platform: 1) the number of classrooms in a building, 2) the percentage of the overall classroom inventory, and 3) the facility condition index and campus location. Our planning model decision was to focus on four buildings in the academic core that reached the largest number of students and, in the end, improved retention and promoted increased enrollment.

So, how did we do? Be sure to check for my next article…

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Bruce A. Meyer, Ed.D., is assistant vice president of Campus Operations at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, appointed in April 2010. His team currently manages 5,000,000 square feet on a campus with over 20,000 students, faculty and staff.

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