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Setting Expectations for a Campus Master Plan

Setting Expectations for a Campus Master Plan

A campus master plan should function as a roadmap for making decisions.

At its foundation, a campus master plan set a vision for the physical development of the campus. However, a plan can build upon the basic site plan ideas and general goals and capitalize on detailed analysis, inform specific strategies, and create a solid implementation plan that considers all aspects of campus development and operations.

As an education institution explores creating or updating a master plan, it is important to think carefully about what elements should be incorporated so that the plan truly functions as a roadmap for making decisions–- physical, functional and financial. Some master plans incorporate a broad range of analyses, while others are focused on specific elements. It is important to select the right partner to develop the master plan, and to understand which tools will serve a campus best when decisions are made about the future.

What to Expect from a Master Campus Planner

How does a school select the right partner for itscampus plans? While experience and quality of work are indicators, the strength of the commitment to the institution to work in collaboration to develop a process tailored to thecampus culture is every bit as important. The investment that the master planning team is willing to make to get to know the campus, not just the physical aspect, but the faculty, staff, students and community, is a quality not to be underestimated. The most content-rich master plans are developed by teams that have ingrained themselves in the institution’s culture and taken the time to understand the uniqueness that is theirs.

One of the most important conversations that should occur at the beginning of the process is to identify and/or verify the master planning tools that will be most valuable to the campus. Whether a physical development plan for campus, parking and transportation-focused initiatives, academic and enrollment models, financial strategies or something else, the final toolkit that is the master plan should be defined from the beginning.

The Master Plan: Evolving with A Campus’ Growth

As an institution embarks on the journey of master planning, it often is looking to solve specific issues or opportunities. The impact of factors such as enrollment fluctuation, technology and online learning opportunities, funding challenges and competition from other institutions are common influences. However, the individual campus response to these factors is not. Identifying the attitude that the institution takes toward each of these factors impacts the strategy used to address it.

Master planning is an opportunity for an institution to look inward at campus and operations, and to turn the focus outward and examine the potential to grow relationships with the community and partners.

When the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) embarked on its first master plan since 1972, it was ambitious in addressing a multitude of issues through a robust 20-month master planning process. Although the existing campus was analyzed and given a thorough examination, the university spent an equal amount of time and energy focusing on prospects beyond the traditional campus boundaries. The master plan team facilitated a series of workshops with key stakeholders from the university and the community aimed at identifying “opportunity sites” for growth to other locations within the urban context. The identification of these sites was often times fueled by partnership opportunities that provided new potential for growth for both the university and private industry.

Identifying Development Opportunities and Assessing Assets

Financial considerations play a large role in the implementation of a master plan. As education institutions are subject to increasingly tight annual budgets, funding for new buildings and physical improvements are limited. In response, campuses are exploring non-traditional methods of developing and funding projects.

Partnerships with private industry are one way to accomplish goals. These partnerships often are fueled by a mutual vision for research advancement, frequently with grants, or because of an opportunity to make an impact on the local economy through partnership. Another method that many public institutions have implemented is the establishment of a real-estate foundation that can expedite project development through innovative project delivery methods.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the UWM Real Estate Foundation has successfully developed two residence halls near campus and is in the process of developing a research park at one of the opportunity sites that was identified during master planning. Through a partnership between the university and the local municipality, the project received a federal grant and is in the process of developing a research accelerator building at the site.

Within the campus, examination of the existing physical assets also can uncover the potential for creative solutions. Existing buildings have inherent worth, and a thorough examination to determine what that value added is to the campus goes a long way toward maximizing efficient use of funds and resources. Detailed building assessment can identify appropriate incremental improvements, such as building system upgrades, which can improve building performance and reduce operating costs. The assessment can also indicate which facilities have outlived their useful life, and provide data to support the decision to cease investment in a facility that is on life support.

Sustainability and Your Master Plan

Sustainability refers not only to the physical health and performance of the campus buildings and infrastructure, but also to the operational and financial decisions that the institution makes. Expect themaster plan team to evaluate sustainability initiatives for a campus. Consideration of the local ecosystem provides many cues toward appropriate strategies.

The College of the Desert’s new Palm Springs West Valley Campus is focused on regional strategies as it develops its campus master plan. The campus is setting groundbreaking sustainability goals using an plan that results in outcomes beyond net-zero energy usage where the campus will produce more energy than it consumes. The plan emphasizes energy production, conservation and efficiency, waste recovery and biomimicry in partnership with green industries and educational initiatives. The campus plan considers the site’s unique ecology and natural resources to create a national model for sustainable research and teaching that supports the local economy and educational needs in western Coachella Valley.

Finally, it is important to consider the sustainability of the master plan document itself. Education institutions make a significant investment when they choose to develop or update a master plan, and that investment should last beyond the initial pomp and circumstance that occurs when a master plan is first completed. To ensure that it continues to add value to an institution, inherent flexibility in the plan is critical, as well as a focus on developing implementation tools that can help guide decisions as time goes by.

Without the right tools to aid in decisionmaking, a master plan is merely a document fixed at a point in time. The combination of the physical, functional and financial aspects of a plan give it solid foundation from which implementation can occur.

Strigens, AICP, LEED AP is an architect and urban planner at HGA Architects and Engineers, Milwaukee. She can be reached at [email protected].

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