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Space Use Task Force

Space-Use Planning at Beloit College

As a residential liberal arts college, it is incumbent on us to pay particularly close attention to how Beloit College’s physical spaces best support our mission and business. Daily, we are made acutely aware how the physical environment in which we work and live promotes or frustrates efforts to achieve our goals. Of course, we are always tweaking our use of facilities and grounds so that we are better able to do our individual work and hence serve the college’s mission more effectively. Yet too much of this tweaking happens as a result of a facility crisis or a technological need. It is reactive rather than proactive. To the extent this tweaking is driven by individual or departmental conceptual objectives, it is often relatively narrow in focus.  It solves problems or achieves outcomes typically identified at the local level and not the institutional level. And, importantly, our perspectives are narrowed and our imaginations hobbled by the tightly constrained resources that govern short-run planning.

None of this is surprising, but it does heighten the importance of stepping back, as an institution, from the hundreds of micro-decisions that are being made annually about facility adjustments and look at our physical situation from a much broader and more expansive perch. It points us in the important direction of devoting real time, energy, and talent towards a deeper understanding of ways our physical space can better promote the mission and business of the college from an overarching college-wide, long-term perspective.

Having (1) established a long-run budgetary process that seeks to increase substantially the funds available for the maintenance and enhancement of our physical facilities; (2) completed the “first phase” of the facilities master plan; (3) ended one fundraising campaign and started to develop the case for future development efforts; it is a very good time to establish a process for advancing a thoughtful approach to facility and grounds issues that we aspire to address over the next 5-10 years.

In my opinion, this approach needs to weave together the complicated questions of how we take best advantage of the existing square footage on campus, what this means for a prioritized renovation and reuse plan, and what, if any, new construction should we be planning for?

Of course, this planning exercise will require a team of people to provide campus leadership. Towards this end, it is my intent to name an ad hoc committee, the Commission on Space Use Planning (CSUP), to provide this leadership. Provost and Dean of the College Ann Davies has agreed to chair CSUP. The other members of the Commission include Christina Klawitter, Scott Lyngaas, Chuck Lewis, Bruce Hamilton, Ruth Vater, and Ari Jacobs'12.

 

Charge to the Committee

The role of the CSUP is to develop within the college an understanding of potential uses of our physical plant that best promote the mission and business of the college and to prompt a clearer understanding of what we need to know to make intelligent space-use planning decisions going forward. In other words, the CSUP’s work will be successful to the extent that it prepares us well for a subsequent step of hiring an architect/consultant to add a much different layer of expertise moving us to a fully-blown operational plan.

More specifically, CSUP should provide responses to the following questions:

  1. What space-use options realistically should be considered for Beloit College’s buildings and grounds and how do these options support the mission and business of the college?
  2. What spaces should the college seriously consider adding or subtracting to best support its mission and business?
  3. What factors need to be better understood that would allow us to effectively evaluate the relative merits of these options and how they should be prioritized?

The expectation is that the committee’s work will be informed by the broader Beloit College community. Hence, the committee will establish a process that is well understood and that seeks feedback from community early and often.

 

Some Parameters

  • Members of CSUP are being chosen not as representatives of different constituencies, but as valued community members whose varied lived experiences on the campus, combined with their commitment to the college as a whole, and their highly respected judgment, makes their collective wisdom extremely valuable.
  • To the extent that CSUP needs to address budgetary realities, they should use the long-run budgetary model that ASP has seen and discussed.
  • We should expect to plan on a long run average size of the student body of 1225. Having said this, the number of students on campus in the fall semester has historically been significantly higher than the spring semester. From a housing and classroom capacity standpoint, the peak-load number of students is at least as important as the average number of students in planning for facility needs. While we aspire to reduce the variance in enrollment, it is probably wise to plan on a student capacity of 1275 students.
  • Emphasis should be on quality renewals of existing spaces - not necessarily for existing uses - rather than the development of new square footage. While I think it is likely there will be a small number of exceptions to this, the budgetary realities will not allow for many.
  • It is conventional for space-use planning efforts to start with the needs of individual departments, programs, and individuals and end with planning for common spaces. The result, in my opinion, is that common spaces often are the “residual” after the desires of departments and programs are met.  I would argue that we reverse this process, or at least that discussions about common spaces be integrated more fully into the dialogue about dedicated departmental/programmatic spaces.

 

Timetable

It is expected that the CSUP will deliver a summary document to the President by March 1.