Notes prepared by:
Debi McDonald AIA, LEED AP
Robert Hicks AIA, LEED AP
The North Atlantic Regional Conference of the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP) was held in Cambridge, MA on March 4 – 6. It brought together a variety of institutions and consultants from across New York and New England, as well as attendees from further afield, including California, Utah and Newfoundland. The conference theme, “Gown, Gown, Gown, Gown & Town,” focused on the evolving relationships between institutions and their home communities.
A number of recurring themes emerged in the conference sessions that are relevant to our shared initiatives in campus planning and architecture. A selection of some of these themes follows.
Massachusetts Public Colleges and Universities:
The various agencies charged with funding, planning, designing and maintaining all of the State’s colleges and universities are concluding a collective multi-year analysis of how campus projects are identified and funded. The old system encouraged new construction over renovation and reuse, resulting in increased amounts of deferred maintenance and needed capital renewal. As in many states, there has been a reduction in the amount of state revenues earmarked for higher education. The new system establishes a more transparent process, including having campuses submit project proposals to a peer review committee for approval for funding consideration. The majority of funding will now be spent on assessment of need, renovation, reuse or replacement of existing facilities, rather than an increase in the existing campus building stock. Once a project is selected, the funding will be for the entire project, including the necessary studies, programming, design, construction and fit-up.
In order to maximize the value and utility of existing assets, and support regional campuses, new projects must align with workforce and talent development. The focus must be on student success. Campus master plans and funding requests must to be based on system wide, peer reviewed determination of need.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
“In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Kendall Square was dominated by old factories, abandoned buildings, vacant lots and chain link fences. Today is have been described as the innovative square mile on the planet.” MIT’s separate development group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) has helped Kendall Square became the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship that it is today. MIT’s research and investment activities contribute to the development of the district, and to activities that are helping redefine the urban research campus of the future. Through its Kendall Square Initiative, the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) is building a mix of commercial research buildings, student housing, and residential apartments, all with active ground floors.
Campuses should consider following the example set by MIT in partnering in local development; By being an active, long term investor and participant, MIT has helped to create an economic ecosystem supportive of the University’s mission.
Faculty / Graduate Student Housing:
The high cost of housing near many campuses potentially limits attracting graduate students and new faculty. Only a limited number of colleges and universities provide housing for faculty and graduate students, and the services provided vary widely. Brown University owns a number of houses and small multi-family buildings on or adjacent to the main campus. They provide relocation assistance and have staff in their Housing office dedicated to helping to find housing and local amenities for new faculty. There is a growing need for a wide range of graduate housing types, from studio apartments to multi-bedroom units suitable for children and in some cases grandparents.
Campus affiliated faculty and graduate student housing may become a competitive advantage for attracting incoming faculty and grad students.
Achieving Modern Institutional Objectives with Historic Buildings Through Adaptive Reuse:
Renovation, reuse, capital renewal, deferred maintenance were a common theme through many of the presentations. Even well-endowed schools are looking carefully at what to build, what to replace and what to remove.
Honoring “Old Main” and the integrity of existing context is a worthy priority but to be truly strategic, it is best done in alignment with the ongoing vision and mission of the institution.
Colleges as Downtown Developers:
Separate from the urban influence of large public and private institutions, both Colby College and Williams College have taken an active role in the redevelopment of the ‘downtown’ of their respective towns. Each school identified a need for better accommodations for visitors to the area and each has played a significant role in establishing or reinvigorating a hotel in town. In recent years, Amherst College fully renovated the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst for the same reason.
Campuses realize the key role they play in the local economy and in helping to create a better experience for students, faculty and staff as well as townspeople and visitors. We may see more collaborations between campuses and their surrounding towns to provide better amenities to support both.
Public Private Partnerships (P3s):
Although growing ever more common in other parts of the country, public private partnerships (P3s) are rare in New England. Northeastern University has entered into two P3 agreements to create new housing adjacent to campus, and UMass Boston is the first public university to use this funding / ownership mechanism, creating over 1,000 new beds on campus.
Given limited resources, P3’s will very likely become more prevalent for both student housing as well as other revenue generating projects.
Food Helps to Create Community:
Mount Holyoke College had a long tradition of separate kitchens and dining rooms in each residence hall. Each student had all their meals in their residence hall, served family style. Meals brought students together, in a familiar and somewhat intimate setting, and created a strong sense of community. Over time, this model no longer met the stated needs of the students for a greater variety of menu options, and meal times. Centralized dining options were considered but were dismissed due to the potential loss of community. After a small food service venue was included as part of a renovation to the centrally located Student Center, it was found that nearly half the students were eating the majority of their meals there. Although very popular, it was not designed to accommodate so many people and resulted in long lines. This venue’s success prompted the creation of a new Community Center that provides a single centralized food service, with varying sized dining rooms, and a full range of menu options. All students are now able to come together in community to share a meal.
Food helps create community. Meals are an important part of the overall student experience and providing healthy, diverse food options in a relaxing and support environment is critical to supporting the creation of social connections. While students want choice but don’t want to sacrifice important elements such as community and social contact.
Sustainability and Resilience:
Sustainability remains a major concern on many campuses, and has broadened to include a consideration of wellness. To achieve LEED certification, projects needed to attend to indoor air quality and occupant comfort, in addition to energy conservation. Institutions are now looking for projects to be energy neutral (making as much energy as they use) and to create a healthy environment for the occupants. Hampshire College showcased its first new building in many years, the R. W. Kern Center, a “net zero” project that complies with the Living Building Challenge.
Campus / community resiliency planning is a growing consideration. There need to be ways to identify effective ways to work together on this shared problem. Campuses cannot solve this problem alone it is best to have it addressed collaboratively with their surrounding neighbors.
Town, Gown, and Open Space:
Campuses can use collaborative approaches amongst diverse user groups to create successful social, academic, and community-building programs in open spaces on campus. Open spaces, or third spaces, can support social capital and promote well-being on campus. Properly programmed, they reduce stress and anxiety. Open spaces can be all shapes and sizes, and amenities can include: seating, food, shade, access to power, and extensions of adjacent supporting uses. Programmed activities include various levels of use: everyday amenities; core programs; weekly programs; monthly or semi-monthly programs; and special events such as Commencement.
Having open space on campus is a good start, but effective programming to ensure the spaces are appropriately utilized is even better. Programming of campus open spaces can bring small and large campus groups together, and also engage community use when feasible.
Planning for an Unpredictable Future:
Stephanie Pollack , Secretary and CEO, Mass Department of Transportation
Through complex regional problems of transportation, Ms. Pollack outlined approaches to plan for a changing future. She encouraged planners to get people to think not about “What it is”, but rather, “What it does” – a very apt reminder to all of us. It’s important to define the question. She noted that the great problem solvers are not necessarily the best at defining the problem. She outlined scenario planning in order to project the future where instead of planning for a future, to plan instead for multiple futures through an understanding of potential success and failures where future scenarios can be defined as “unanticipated” or “most likely”.