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East Tennessee State University's main campus is 350 acres.

ETSU Takes Campus Space Planning to the Next Level

East Tennessee State University relied on unbiased data from Lambent Spaces to identify significant savings related to building utilization.

Mason Bowen, ETSU’s Director of Emergency Operations, presented at Tradeline’s Space Strategies 2023 in October.

Occupancy analytics data helped cross-functional stakeholders on campus take action around space requests, reservations, and budgets.

There are three things ETSU’s Mason Bowen knew he needed in order to capture reliable building utilization data across East Tennessee State University.

He needed a drastic improvement over static, point-in-time reporting. He needed unbiased data, to avoid misreporting and misrepresentation of space needs – and he needed to avoid making an enemy of his IT team.

“A good way to get in trouble with IT is to go to them and request the installation of 500 sensors, said Bowen, who relies on occupancy analytics from Lambent Spaces, a no-hardware solution. “That’s just not going to fly.”

How to Let Space Data Drive Campus Space Planning

Once Bowen saw the power of actionable occupancy data, he said, he was humbled. “It’s hard to pay for something that’s not used,” Bowen said. “It’s hard, and it’s humbling.”

Bowen’s Director of Emergency Operations title means he oversees the campus real estate portfolio for things like building capacity, utilization, and overall student experience. He addressed his Higher Education peers at Tradeline’s Space Strategies 2023 October event as a Lambent Spaces customer. Alongside Lambent Sales Director Sue Bork, Mason outlined his Lambent Spaces deployment at two landmark campus buildings – the D.B. Culp Student Center and the Charles C. Sherrod Library, in a presentation titled “How to let data drive space planning decisions and validate utilization.”

Bowen’s team wanted continuous occupancy reports to see how building utilization compared to expected usage and capacity. “What we realized is – it’s really hard to collect data. Good data. Solid data. Reliable data,” Mason acknowledged. “I wanted to take the guesswork out.

ETSU deployed Lambent Spaces, a SaaS platform that relies on Wi-Fi to deliver anonymous occupancy trends over time.

Remote Work Means New Questions for Higher Ed

Bowen also hit on the Higher Education topic that so many colleges are grappling with; post-pandemic hybrid or remote work is hitting college space planners hard. For innovative institutions like ETSU, it’s an opportunity to reduce operational costs or find new sources of revenue by repurposing and reallocating space.

In pursuit of more efficient space management, Bowen posed a series of critical questions, some having to do with remote work.

  1. Do we have enough of the right types of space to meet the needs of the university? The shift to remote work and learning necessitates a reevaluation of the types of spaces required to cater to students and staff.
  2. Does the space we have meet the student’s needs? Understanding the evolving needs of students is crucial in adapting spaces to deliver an enhanced experience.
  3. What other areas of activities do we need? Identifying additional activities that can be accommodated in existing spaces ensures optimal utilization.
  4. Are office spaces being used? With the rise of remote work, the need for traditional office spaces may decrease, leading to questions about their utilization.
  5. Can we be more energy efficient? Efficient space utilization can lead to energy savings, contributing to sustainability goals.
  6. Can we staff more appropriately? Aligning staffing levels with space usage can optimize resources and reduce costs.
  7. Do cleaning schedules and services match utilization? Aligning cleaning services with space utilization ensures efficient maintenance.
  8. Can we adjust recycle bin pick-up, paper drop-off, etc.? Adapting services like recycling to match space usage can lead to cost savings and sustainability benefits.

Hidden ROI in Campus Building Utilization Rates

The Culp Center is 266,307 square feet spread over three floors. It underwent an extensive $45 million dollar renovation, completed in 2020, which expanded the landmark building by 20,000 square feet of building space plus and outdoor plaza. Meeting facilities, banquet ballrooms, a dining area, a bookstore, and a post office are all part of the building’s vibrant life.  At the Culp Center, and the university’s Sherrod Library, Bowen reviewed occupancy data to:

  • Reduce operational costs by adjusting hours of utilization for staffing and scheduling.
  • Discover new rental opportunities with a full view of available and booked spaces.
  • Validate reservations with Lambent Spaces reports to see actual v. reserved occupancy trends over time.
  • Increase student and visitor satisfaction by designing flexible, swing, and collaborative spaces.

For Bowen, the idea of improving utilization and user experience in buildings is an exciting mission. “Static data shows me where people accessed the space. It doesn’t tell me how they’re using the space, what they do with the space – or how I can improve the space.”

You can learn more about occupancy analytics for space planning and improved utilization rates at or reach out today to

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