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Purdue University is not actually out of space, and you might not be either 

There’s a perception that colleges and universities are out of space. Classroom and facilities bookings suggest there’s never any open space on campus, but in today’s hybrid world, there’s a widening gap between scheduled attendance and in-person attendance. Paired with shifting work and learning styles, there’s an ever-pressing need to better understand actual occupancy on campus and improve operational and facilities management. 

“Let’s be honest, we’re not out of space,” opened Rob Wynkoop, VP of Administrative Operations at Purdue University, at his Tradeline University Facilities session. He would know; he and his team have been monitoring space utilization and occupancy on campus and comparing actual occupancy to planned occupancy, among a number of other insightful metrics. 

Let’s dive in. 

Occupancy analytics took center stage at this year’s Tradeline University Facilities conference. Everyone from architects to consultants, ivy leagues to community college leaders had occupancy metrics on the brain during the three-day event. Occupancy data is helping leaders like Wynkoop create opportunities for improving the campus experience with better utilization of space. 

Measuring Occupancy Without Monitoring Individuals 

A prominent New England college made headlines when desk sensors appeared on campus unannounced. Sensors, while effective in measuring small spaces, are considered invasive on campus and fail to uphold university standards of security and privacy protocols. It’s become an increasingly triggering technology for faculty and students alike. Other stories of sensors being tampered with or moved from one location to another bring more questions to the table than solutions. 

Wi-Fi occupancy technologies are quickly becoming the university occupancy technology of choice with their ability to anonymously cover expansive college campuses at a fraction of the cost of sensors while maintaining the colleges’ rigorous privacy and security regulations. 

Occupancy Analytics Leads to Improved Operations 

Space wars on campus are no surprise to executive leaders. Faculty search for coveted offices, classroom and lab space. Students need to find places to collaborate, build relationships, and meet for clubs and activities. There’s no end to requests for space with departments holding on tight to the reins of their space for fear of being turned away when scheduling systems register no free space. 

Purdue University has increased enrollment year over year, with 2021 marking the school’s highest enrollment and student population. This fall, Purdue will welcome its second-largest incoming class in history. With more students brings more faculty, administration, staff, and of course, a greater drain on facilities resources.

At the same time, Purdue has frozen tuition for the last 13 years, an unprecedented success, requiring continuous operational improvements. One of the ways they’ve been able to improve operations and meet campus demands is by having a firm grasp of occupancy and utilization, letting data drive facilities decisions. 

Creating campus-wide consensus

Rob Wynkoop has been leading Administrative Operations at Purdue University for a number of years. He’s walked every floor and seen the patterns of life on campus as they fluctuate throughout the semester. He also happens to be on the receiving end of space requests. Wynkoop had a strong hypothesis that there was room for massive improvement on campus, specifically within the Heavilon Hall building, a historical building in need of significant restorations. But his hunch wasn’t enough to validate taking this historical building offline. He needed to validate his observations, identify opportunities for restacking, bring department heads into the decision-making process early, and consider evolutionary changes in teaching. Here are three key takeaways from his efforts in building institutional buy-in for occupancy analytics data:

  1. Use Data to Create Constructive Conversations with Key Stakeholders – Like many campuses, space discussion dissolved quickly into territory wars without data at the helm. Wynkoop shifted the narrative with stakeholders from “unused spaces can be taken from departments” to “teaching and learning are evolving. Let’s use your spaces better”. 
  2. Tie Data Back to Business Objectives – Purdue is on a mission to continue their thirteen-year streak freezing tuition. To do this, the entire team from faculty to facilities needs to have operational excellence in mind at all times. With facilities management being a significant expense for campuses across the country, Wynkoop’s data awakened department heads to the opportunity for better space use, helping the team avoid additional lease needs. 
  3. Be Transparent About Cost Savings – To use space strategically, Purdue had to know the cost of maintaining the buildings, estimate the projected needs of the building, and understand that in order to save money in the long run, they need to make improvements in the short term. Transparency of savings within the IT department’s reappropriation of space and the Heavilon Hall divestment, helped other stakeholders see the value of measuring space. Measuring and calculating costs and savings can be effective in negotiations around repurposing space but also in helping campus leaders in winning grants or securing state fundings. 

Reinvest in Campus Spaces Students Are Using

While saving money and creating operational efficiencies are essential to Purdue’s mission, so is creating educational and social experiences that enhance today’s life on campus. The hybrid world is quickly seeping into campus life, making the need for student and graduate hubs paramount. To give graduate students a greater sense of belonging, Purdue University restacked several buildings, using Lambent Spaces occupancy data to understand opportunities for restacking to stack groups of classes from what used to be several departments into one building and creating centers of learning they call hubs. 

By restacking buildings at Purdue, they were able to meet their goals of increasing student study spaces (8x) within three buildings, putting study areas in what had previously been considered study deserts. Additionally, the creation of the Language Hubs and Graduate Hubs lead to an increase in alumni donations. 

Direct Savings from Improved Operations on Campus 

Occupancy Analytics on campus can help validate inferences and observations from walkabouts. Wynkoop discussed how measuring occupancy across campus helped the Purdue IT team to reduce the strain on their maintenance and save $760,000. Reducing the strain on departments and finding a new use for space on campus benefits both the individual departments and the organization as a whole. 

As technologies evolve, areas like computer labs which used to be utilized by students frequently need to give way to emerging ways of learning and collaborating. The data behind the reduction in IT labs validated the redesign and saved operational money year over year. 

Identifying Opportunities for Restacking 

Heavilon Hall was underutilized, but it wasn’t empty. In order to take the building offline, they had to consider how to shuffle classrooms around between remaining buildings in a way that grouped classrooms effectively for student use. Occupancy data helped the space planning and operations teams to identify underutilized space in three other buildings that had capacity to house the displaced students – capacity that wasn’t apparent from reservations systems. 

This restacking and divestment will save Purdue $26 million dollars over the next twenty years, a saving that can allow them to tackle other renovations and restoration projects downstream. To do this, they needed the swing space identified during their occupancy measuring. By investing in this restack project in the short term, they were able to recognize long-term operational savings and make smarter, data-driven decisions for the university. 

Key Takeaways from Tradeline

During the closing session, moderators asked the crowd to vote on a final topic. Almost unanimously, attendees wanted more time to discuss measuring occupancy on campus. Occupancy analytics and its related utilization metrics have been the top building intelligence and prop tech metric for the last few years, being labeled number one for space planners by CBRE. But even before the pandemic, campus planners were searching for occupancy data, starting with campus surveys (costly and quickly outdated), badge data (invasive and entry-point only data), and sensors (invasive and costly at-scale). As occupancy data continues to be an essential component of operations management, space planners will continue to seek out truthful data sources for understanding occupancy. 

To learn more about Lambent Spaces Software, contact a member of our sales team.

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