Renovate and Reuse: Higher Education's New Mantra: Implementing a Strategy with Academic, Economic, and Other Benefits

By Viccica, Paul; Brown, Robert | University Business, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Renovate and Reuse: Higher Education's New Mantra: Implementing a Strategy with Academic, Economic, and Other Benefits


Viccica, Paul, Brown, Robert, University Business


OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES, colleges and universities have engaged in a kind of facilities arms race to build new, state-of-the-art dormitories, dining halls, classrooms, athletic complexes, and fine arts centers. Higher ed institutions face enormous competitive pressures to build buildings that rival what's on their peers' campuses. For many, cutting-edge means new. But as endowments have shrunk and donations to fund capital projects have dramatically slowed due to the economic downturn, more and more colleges lack the financial resources to continue to participate in this competitive drive to build brand new buildings.

Renovating existing buildings might just be the new "new" for colleges and universities. Renovating or updating systems and technology in existing facilities for the same use, reconfiguring buildings for entirely new functions, and building new or replacing old inefficient additions to existing structures can yield enormous benefits--benefits which may even surpass those of new construction. Those gains can include increased utilization of the campus core, control of scope and program creep, greater efficiency, reduced costs, enhanced sustainability, and improved town-gown relations.

OF ACADEMICS, ECONOMICS, AND NEIGHBORS

On most U.S. campuses, especially older ones, the central campus core represents the iconic image of their college or university. The campus core is often considered sacrosanct by alumni and trustees and any potential change to the core is typically met with resistance and fear of altering the "brand."

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For this reason, most new construction takes place on the outskirts of college campuses where there is often underutilized or open property. When expansion of space is considered, buildings that make up the core campus are typically perceived as too architecturally restrictive to be adapted to new uses, even though they may have outlived their intended usefulness or evolved to house functions that may not be the optimal use of valuable space at the heart of the campus.

A strategy emphasizing the renovation and reuse of these important buildings can enhance the functionality of the core campus while maintaining the character of the buildings and identity of the college. Creating new uses for older buildings can help integrate an increasingly diverse body of students by bringing them into the center of the campus, as opposed to new buildings, which may radiate students out to the edges of campuses. Renovations are also opportunities to enhance space utilization and create better quality space by introducing new technologies and creating smart classrooms.

At Wellesley College (Mass.), Pendleton Hall was renovated from an underutilized and technology-poor general classroom building to a state-of-the-art learning center housing seven academic departments. The result has been more cross-disciplinary teaching and shared symposia in the center of campus.

New building construction translates into fresh usable space on campus and often engenders a "blue sky" approach, encouraging each department to push expansion and creation of new programs, sometimes independent of the institutional directive or student/faculty needs. Renovation and reuse tends to create a different dynamic. Inherent limits on space can help tamp down expectations and curb departmental "wish lists" down to "needs now lists." At Middlebury College (Vt.), the renovation of the beloved 1927 Start Library into the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies resulted in a highly collaborative effort by all departments involved to allocate limited space.

Renovation and reuse not only makes sense from an academic perspective but from an economic one as well. At Miami University (Ohio), officials are looking to make substantial improvements to existing residential and dining facilities over a 20-year period to increase the diversity of housing arrangements, attract new students, and keep more students on campus, thus helping Miami capture monies that might otherwise have been spent off campus. …

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