Sightlines Report Highlights Construction Growth on College Campuses

GUILFORD, Conn. — School construction spending isn’t always the priority at college campuses, especially as facilities management budgets continue to dwindle. However, a new report from Guilford-based Sightlines, a Gordian company that provides analysis for higher education institutions, begs to differ.

The 2017 “State of Facilities in Higher Education” report released in late January showed that several North American colleges and universities are moving forward with the high-risk strategy of building new campus facilities in an effort to keep up with student enrollment. The report stated that there was more than 10 percent growth in campus space from 2007 to 2016, outpacing enrollment growth of just 8 percent during the same time frame.

“In light of the facilities management challenges facing higher education institutions — notably large segments of aging building stock and flattening if not declining enrollment trends — it’s extraordinary to see that many higher education decision-makers are choosing to add new buildings to their campuses,” said Mark Schiff, president of Sightlines, in a statement. “While our research indicates that institutions are taking steps to invest more strategically in facilities resources, the vast majority continue to underestimate the renewal needs of deteriorating spaces while pushing high-risk investments into new facilities.”

Sightlines’ fifth annual report highlighted that this is the fourth consecutive year that space growth has outpaced enrollment growth on North American college campuses. The study includes data from 366 higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada, with an overall enrollment of 3.1 million students and 1.5 billion square feet of campus space.

Other highlights from the 2017 report included the following:

  • Campus facilities operations budgets have failed to keep up with inflation, creating stress on service levels. The report found that average campus facilities operating budgets rose from $5.51 in 2007 to $5.94 in 2016, a nearly 8 percent increase.
  • A huge wave of campus facilities construction in the 1960s, which accommodated the surge in Baby Boomers, is reaching the end of its usefulness in the next decade, creating significant stress on institutions as to what to do with those buildings. This wave of aging buildings now represents 40 percent of the space on campuses.
  • Another large wave of campus facilities construction in the 1990s-2000s will require massive maintenance outlays in the next decade, presenting a significant capital demand on institutions. This wave of further enrollment growth and expanding program demands represents another 30 percent of campus space.
  • Many institutions are recognizing the expanding need for facilities maintenance resources and, since the downturn of 2008-09, have been increasing maintenance budgets to tackle the challenge. In fact, even in the face of tremendous space growth to match enrollment growth, facilities funding at research institutions is up 14 percent.
  • Oddly, institutions don’t extend this maintenance expansion trend to their landscape programs. In spite of the fact that landscaping is a relatively inexpensive place to invest operating dollars, grounds coverage areas have actually decreased 3-4 percent over the past decade.