What a Difference 3% Makes

Learn how carefully managing the university's infrastructure helps keep a balanced budget

College campuses are typically busy places, buzzing with activity amid the hustle and bustle of students, faculty and staff making their way to classes and campus offices throughout the days, weeks and years. Over time, the landscape changes, a modernized room here, a new building there. But do you ever stop to think about what is really involved in maintaining and updating a college campus? Who decides what changes need to be made in order to keep up with a university’s ever-evolving needs?

The extensive detail that goes into efficiently maintaining a modern campus may surprise you. And, when you learn how the planning experts at Kent State University handle this important task, you will be equally impressed.

Facilities Management and the Evaluation of Campus Resources 

Kent State’s Facilities Planning and Operations is responsible for maintaining and supporting the campus infrastructure and facilitating the development of programs in the areas of energy management and sustainability. The Office of the University Architect, the Office of Sustainability and University Facilities Management all reside under the Facilities Planning and Operations umbrella.

Aligned with Kent State’s culture of “respect and purpose in all we do,” the Facilities Planning and Operations team takes the utilization of campus resources very seriously. As higher education evolves to meet changing demographic needs, so does the physical layout of a college campus. The facilities management team is tasked with evaluating which areas of campus are being underutilized or are inefficient, and which may need a few more resources. 

“We do a very good job of benchmarking our expenditures in facilities management against other similar peer institutions – not necessarily Ohio institutions, but institutions of a similar size and a similar infrastructure,” said Doug Pearson, Ph.D., associate vice president for Facilities Planning and Operations. “That helps us guide our work from a high level.”

Reductions Needed to Deliver Balanced University Budgets

As noted in Kent State President Todd Diacon’s Feb. 13 edition of Talking With Todd, reductions will be made across all divisions and departments as part of a larger four-year plan to keep the university’s budget balanced amidst major changes for public institutions of higher education.

The changes, Diacon said, are necessitated by several factors, including enrollment decline, anticipated flat state financial support for the foreseeable future and inflation, all of which are taking place in the context of a demographic shift that has left a shortage of traditional-aged undergraduate learners in Ohio. The same challenges confront nearly all other public universities and private schools in the state.

As a result, each department and division at Kent State is tasked with reducing expenses, including Facilities Planning and Operations.

“Even though our enrollments were the same in 2009 and 2014 on the Kent Campus, in that same period, we increased, we added 788,000 square feet of space. That’s 25% more space for the same number of students,” Diacon said. “So, we’re going to have to consolidate into fewer buildings, and then we’re going to figure out how to finance the tearing down of buildings.”

infographic showing the cost to keep Kent State buildings running

The Efficient Management of Physical Space

If you’ve spent much time on the Kent Campus over the past couple of years, you may have been keeping tabs on the construction of Crawford Hall, the new building for the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship. When the project is completed and the college moves into its new building, which is expected to happen sometime in the summer, the college’s former home, the Business Administration Building, will be demolished. According to a needs assessment, the current building has a shortage of at least 37,000 square feet.

This is just one of several projects that Kent State’s Facilities Planning and Operations is focused on right now as it works to meet a strategic objective to reduce the university’s gross square footage at all campuses combined by 3% by 2025.

To manage the university’s physical space efficiently, Pearson and his team work off a benchmark that calculates the total cost per square foot for every square foot on all Kent State properties. This includes everything from utility bills and repairs to the salaries of building custodians. Pearson explains that it costs about $6.94 per square foot to run each square foot of Kent Campus space. That means with the new Crawford Hall – coming in at 150,000 square feet – it will cost just over $1 million annually to run the building after it’s occupied.

“The theory is, if we build new square footage, we need to demolish similar square footage,” Pearson said. “In addition, we need to address being good stewards of the property. Are there buildings that are underutilized that we could possibly mothball?”

Pearson explains that to “mothball” means to vacate a building but keep it at a minimum temperature so the building could be reoccupied at a future date. “Shuttering,” he explained, is cutting the utilities, boarding the windows and preparing a building for demolition.

infographic explaining facilities terms mothball and shuttering

“Right now, we know that when the new Crawford Hall is complete and the college moves into it, we will be shuttering the old business building and preparing it for demolition,” he said. “Part of our planning with the state of Ohio was to lobby them for demolition monies. In other words, we came up with the money ourselves to build the new building, [but] to maintain our efficiencies and keep our budget lower, we are asking the state to come up with funds to help us demolish old buildings. We’re still waiting to hear on that money.”

According to Pearson, the cost to demolish the old Business Administration Building is approximately $3 million. 

Plans for Verder Hall, Research 1 Building and Surplus Store

According to Pearson, the university also has had a long-term plan to shutter Verder Hall. That plan was sidelined when the pandemic hit, as the residence hall was utilized for students while they quarantined. Then, this past fall, the university saw a dramatic influx in housing applications, and the residence hall was put back into action, helping to ensure the university could meet the anticipated demand for on-campus housing. There was one problem, however. As an older building, Verder Hall does not offer air conditioning.

Verder Hall at Kent State University
Verder Hall is one of three buildings owned by Kent State that are slated for demolition.


“There was a plan five years ago to put $8 million into it and put air conditioning into it, but now with the long-term projections for declining enrollment and the matching projections for declining housing, we think it’s the best business decision to demolish Verder Hall and not put a bunch of money into an old residence hall,” Pearson said. “The little room with two beds in it, that’s not the model anymore. So, trying to keep putting money into an old-style residence hall doesn’t make much sense.”

Verder Hall will be demolished, and the space will be turned into a parking lot to support increased enrollment and activity around the new Crawford Hall. Another building on the list to be demolished or mothballed includes the Research 1 Building along East Summit Street. The university also will get a bit of a bonus in its efforts to reduce the campus footprint by way of the East Main Street construction project, during which the city will cover the cost of demolition for a university property that will be impacted by the project – the current location of the University Surplus Store, on the corner of Willow and Main Street.



POSTED: Friday, April 26, 2024 12:35 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2024 10:59 AM
Amy Antenora