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Tapping Technology for Space Management

When Appalachian State University in Boone, NC went through a leadership change several years ago, the new chancellor and provost looked around and realized that much of school's physical assets were not being properly managed. They hired an outside consultancy to confirm their assertions, and then set out to do something about it.

"They saw that we had dozens of people managing human resources, and dozens more overseeing fiscal resources," said Art Rex, the university's director of space management and planning, "but there was no one managing our most valuable asset: space."

And with that, the new leadership created the director of space management and planning position. "I am the lightning rod for space on campus," said Rex, a 28-year Appalachian State University veteran whose previous roles include full-time geography teacher and head soccer coach.

In his current position since 2006, Rex said he immediately turned to technology to help him get a handle on the school's physical space management. After considering a handful of options, he selected CollegeNET's Series25 software, a program that helps schools make informed space construction, renovation, and closure decisions. Based in Portland, OR, CollegeNET develops and markets a number of Web-delivered systems and services that are used by 1,300 colleges and universities worldwide.

Rex said CollegeNET's Web-based delivery system was a key selling point, as was the fast implementation time associated with on-demand software (versus purchase-and-install options). "One of the worst things that can happen with any enterprise-wide system is not getting a good return on investment, and quickly," explained Rex. "With this system, we were able to get our data entered and reports generated very fast."

But not before reviewing and cleaning up all of the data to ensure that the most accurate information was entered into the new system. "We did a campus-wide database cleanup of the space codes for our classrooms, laboratories, offices, and outreach space," said Rex. "Through the years there had been a lot of changes to that information, and we wanted to make sure that the system only contained the most accurate data."

From there, Rex tracked down the latest architectural drawings for all campus buildings. That task is still a work in progress, he said, noting that about one-third of the college's structures are currently entered into the system. "When we have these drawings, it means I can identify spaces without having to go out and physically look at them again," said Rex. "I can get the square footage and available space and determine if it's a good match for what we're looking to do."

The school also uses the space management software to increase room utilization rates while decreasing the amount of time required to book space; distribute ad hoc booking capabilities across campus so that schedulers, service providers, and sponsors have a single environment through which to manage workflow around upcoming events; and geographically analyze space to better evaluate renovation and construction projects.

Having that information at his fingertips helps the school formulate its plans for renovation and/or new construction, and better manage the funding and prioritization of such projects. "The General Administration looks at classroom and lab utilization, and whether we are using those spaces effectively," said Rex, "before figuring out whether they want to give our school money to build a new facility."

CollegeNET also helps the school make more informed choices and assists the institution in meeting its goal of 65 percent seat utilization in all of its classrooms. With every one of its rooms classified and recorded in the system, the school can also detect whether a classroom is at or near capacity and in need of more space.

A professor who was expecting 40 students for a particular class, for example, but who winds up with 48 instead, can call on Rex's department to figure out a quick solution to the resultant overcapacity problem. "We search the database for quick and dirty information on which classrooms can seat 50 or more students," said Rex, "determine when they're available for use, and get the teachers and students into a more appropriate space."

Getting teachers onboard with the campus-wide system was challenging for Appalachian State University, where--as is the case with many colleges--ownership of space is often claimed by the departments that use it. "We had to work through a cultural shift to get everyone thinking of the space as being 'university' space, not department space," explained Rex, whose team took an educational approach to helping professors realize the value of a campus-wide system, rather than manual, disparate approaches to space management.

"We just worked with everyone, showing them the spreadsheets and reports that weren't previously available," said Rex, who also emphasized the benefits and results that the college was realizing by using the Web-based system. "Because the data is consistent and the reports accurate," said Rex, "we don't have people putting classes on loading docks or anything like that."

CollegeNET has also helped Appalachian State University save on energy costs, particularly during the winter months. "We've become more energy conscious, and able to let the physical plant know when to 'turn down the thermostat' and save money," said Rex. Future classroom construction will also be "greener," thanks to the space management system, which allows the school to build rooms to accommodate specific class sizes.

With a new College of Education under construction, Appalachian State University is using its space management system to figure out exactly how many classrooms it will need, what size the rooms are required to be, and any specialized features that will be included. "We've already run Schedule25 (class placement optimizer), even though the building hasn't been constructed yet," said Rex, "to see how everything will fit in the building, and how much room we'll have for growth."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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