Friday, September 2, 2016


The topic of space management in higher education has long been a pain point in the world of academia. While it’s a commonly accepted belief that a school’s facilities contribute greatly to the institution’s value, rising building, operating and maintenance costs have left educational leaders divided about how much of an institution’s budget should be spent on managing its facilities.
I recently re-discovered a wonderful APAA article from a few years ago about this very topic. The piece was published in 2012 as part of the organization’s Thought Leaders series, and it offers valuable insight into the ways in which campus space is both “an asset and a burden.” Despite the fact that this article is already four years old, I was struck by how relevant it still is for those of us in the field of Facilities Management, so I thought I’d write a post here detailing my 3 favorite APAA Best Practices for Effective Space Management.

1. “Establish Metrics to Better Measure How Space is Being Used.” According to APAA thought leaders, it is crucially important that educational institutions gather as much data as possible about the quality and usage of the spaces on their campuses. This way, a large sample of data can be taken into consideration when managing current operations and planning for any future changes. To accomplish this goal, APAA advocates investing in a comprehensive, sophisticated inventory system that can be customized to suit the needs of your specific institution, as they believe that the standard NCES codes are too simplistic and too based in the past. APAA also strongly suggests tracking spaces in as many different ways as possible, explaining that “research space can be tracked by square foot, by student, by faculty member, by productivity (e.g., number of research papers produced per square foot of lab space), and by revenue (e.g., grant dollars received per square foot),” and that you won’t know which data proves most useful until you’ve collected all of it.

2. “Create Effective Organizational Structures.” APAA’s thought leaders point to a lack of standardized organizational structures regarding space usage as a large problem that can be solved with relative ease. Whereas most campuses use ad-hoc or department-specific methods to assign and manage space, the better alternative is to take stock of the holistic needs of the institution and then create organizational structures to implement across the board. If everyone is on the same page regarding policies, then small details and gaps in systems can be addressed immediately, instead of being allowed to fall through the cracks.

3. “Design Spaces That Are Easy to Manage.”
When building a new structure or renovating a pre-existing one, consider the ways in which you can design one space that can be adapted to function in a number of different capacities. For example, APAA suggests installing flexible space dividers and wall partitions that can be moved and altered on a temporary basis to suit the current need for that space. They also advocate purchasing furniture that can be easily moved for the same reason. Taking into account the different ways you may need to use a new space in the future will help you design one space that serves the purpose of numerous spaces for a mere fraction of the cost.

These three pieces of advice only represent the tip of the space-management iceberg, but they offer a solid foundation on which you can build. It is my belief that heeding APAA’s advice will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in your institution’s long-term costs and an increase in the productivity and efficiency of every member of your school’s community. As always, please feel free to reach out to me via the contact tab on this blog if you have more insight into this topic or any questions you’d like me to answer – and good luck!

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