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Macalester working on strategic space plan

In place of a campus master plan review that usually happens every decade, this year Macalester is working with Shepley Bulfinch to create a strategic space plan. Shepley Bulfinch is a Boston-based architectural firm with a background in space planning for college campuses.

The committee at Macalester working on the project includes Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton, Assistant Provost Lynn Hertz, geology professor and Department Chair Kelly McGregor, Registrar Jayne Niemi, Director of Facilities Nathan Lief, Assistant Vice President for Communications and Public Relations David Warch, Dean of Students Jim Hoppe and Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee.

“We are really trying to evaluate how we use all of the space that we already have in a systematic way to see what we can learn, to see if we can make some spaces available, to see if we need more space, and so the whole idea is to evaluate it from the bottom up,” Wheaton, who is also the chair of the committee, said.

Amanda Levesque, an architect at Shepley Bulfinch, explained in an email “we were awarded the project because our approach pairs well with the college’s goals: no agendas, no pre-formed conclusions, just a genuine desire to better understand how this campus can provide the best fit and experience for the community it serves.”

This is the first time that the college is deviating from the campus master plan to create a strategic space plan. A strategic space plan looks at the way that space is allocated and used, while a campus master plan looks at the buildings as a whole. The campus master plan looks at what buildings should go where, rather than what should go in each building.

The idea for the project began with comments from Olin-Rice faculty that their spaces were not sufficient for the number of students they were serving.
“We have a building and we have a lot more students coming to the building than we did a few years ago, both because STEM is really an interesting disciple and because there are more students, so how can we use our space more effectively,” Wheaton said.

The committee gave Shepley Bulfinch data to measure how spaces are actually being used on campus.

“We gave them the entire database from the registrar for all of the classes from the last couple of years so they can see how classrooms are assigned. We also gave them all the data from the campus activities database that says who gets assigned, who gets registered, who reserves big spaces, public spaces,” Wheaton explained.

Shepley Bulfinch also collected data from speaking with students and the exercises in which students indicated how they use space on campus. Sheply Bulfinch will compile this student feedback with the larger databases provided by the committee in order to analyze space usage on campus.

“Truly meaningful strategic space plans tap into an institution’s culture, assessing the desires and insights of as many different contributors to campus culture as possible. And of course, students are an enormous part of that culture. We had the pleasure of meeting about 200 of [the students] during our visit to campus last week,” Levesque said in her email.

Wheaton admitted “actually I haven’t logged into” the social media campaign #MacSpacePlan, one of the committee’s means of understanding students’ space needs.
“Our goal is to deliver a complete analysis of the existing state of your campus, plus the tools to help the College envision all sorts of future scenarios (‘Do we have the space to make class sizes smaller?’ ‘What are optimal hours for student dining to be open?’ ‘What if science enrollment doubles?’)” Levesque said in an email.

“You’d be surprised how even what some might consider a “small tweak” can improve a space. For example, on a recent tour of Old Main, we learned from faculty members that the building was originally designed exclusively for lecture-style classes, with the overhead projector and whiteboard both located at the front of the class,” Levesque continued.

She explained that as the departments in Old Main move towards discussion-style or mixed-style classes, this set-up inhibits that flexibility. So in that case even moving just a few whiteboards would change the possible function of a classroom.

One of the future scenarios the college needs to consider is the space in the school and church recently purchased on Summit Avenue near Dunn Brothers. Currently, the space houses the Laura Jeffries School, but in the future it will become available for Macalester to use. The college is not yet sure how that space will be used, but is hoping that this data analysis will give them ideas.

In the short term, “the big picture is that most functions [activities and uses] will stay in the buildings in which they already are,” Wheaton said. “But it gives us a chance to see if we have places where we need more space, how can we free up space or repurpose space.”

Wheaton continued to on to say “And then as a next step say ‘Do we need more space?’ I can’t really anticipate what that’s going to tell us” in the long term.
The final presentation will be given to Macalester in February 2016.

November 13, 2015

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