In the mid-1990s, the University initiated long-term strategic planning for its facilities. It has issued two facilities plans, the first for 1998–2007 and the second for 2007–18. There are slight changes in emphasis between the two, but the core principles or strategies have remained the same. They include, most importantly, that:

  • academic priorities guide capital expenditure;
  • preservation and renovation have precedence over new construction;
  • instructional spaces need to be modernized/renewed;
  • student housing, support services, and recreation/athletic spaces and other facilities relevant to student recruitment and retention have high priorities; and
  • rental properties are used within clearly defined guidelines.

By focusing on these priorities and on the goals of its comprehensive facilities plans, the University has been highly successful in implementing its capital development strategies, which iin turn helped to accelerate improvements in the overall quality of its academic programs.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

Both plans insist on fiscal discipline and offer realistic estimates of costs and resources, both rely on fine-grained analysis of existing buildings by outside experts to identify problems and opportunities, and both establish clear priorities and a careful sequencing of projects to support ongoing academic endeavors. For various reasons—including costs, difficulties of construction in an urban environment, and the need to minimize disruption of academic activities—the plans are built around detailed long-term timetables, but they also must address emergent opportunities and academic initiatives within the academic and student support priorities established by the plans. Such changes can occur only within anticipated fiscal constraints.

Because of the clear principles and goals articulated in the plans, there was significant expansion in the projects announced in the first plan. Increased capital support from the commonwealth, savings in borrowing costs, and increased revenues from research and auxiliary services supported a significant expansion in projected construction and renovation while actually reducing debt service pressures on the operating budget (see the University of Pittsburgh Facilities Plan, fiscal year 2007–18).

A facilities planning committee appointed by the Chancellor; chaired by the Provost and the executive vice chancellor; and drawn from administration staff, faculty, and students, reviewed the materials developed by outside consultants and recommended the plan for the Chancellor’s ultimate submission to the Board of Trustees. Significant revisions or additions to the plans are reviewed by the higher administration and both University Senate and trustee committees.

Examples of Assessment Used to Improve Infrastructure

Following are some specific examples of the use of assessment as a tool in the planning and decision-making process and examples of how the results from certain types of assessments continue to be used, analyzed, and updated. Although there are numerous examples where the use of assessment in facility planning has been a very helpful tool, there are some that better illustrate how assessment is used for continuous improvement and how the use has created a culture of assessment within a specific area.

In 2004, the University engaged Affiliated Building Services (ABS) to perform a study of its housing department maintenance organization and operating methods to identify areas for performance improvements and cost savings. Information was obtained over several months using various methods, including interviews, observations, and a review of operating records. Using its professional experience, ABS was able to analyze and assess the information gathered, compare it with facility management practices and methods employed successfully elsewhere, and arrive at a set of conclusions and recommendations.

The study led to a total change in management philosophy and a new organizational structure that continue to be successfully employed. The operating philosophy is focused on accountability and active measurement and management of performance. A state-of-the-art computerized maintenance management software system was justified and implemented to manage work and assets.

Service standards are now clearly defined, and key performance indicators such as response time, staff productivity, preventive maintenance, and customer satisfaction are reviewed on a regular basis and measured and rated against specific targets. Work orders are now prioritized, and management can schedule and allocate resources more efficiently.

Significantly, feedback and evaluation are now part of the overall culture. The housing department surveys students submitting wor krequests and employees. Housing also surveys residents and former residents about quality-of-life matters to assist with planning renovations and future buildings.

This process, which is defined by continuous assessment, has resulted in very strong customer satisfaction and improved employee morale. It also has resulted in well-maintained and clean facilities that are much improved and would yield very different results from those resulting from the 1999 Comprehensive Facilities Assessment. (See the ABS Operation and Maintenance Study along with various ongoing survey results in Appendix B5.)

To cite another example, in 2007, the University retained Sebesta Blomberg to assess the adequacy of the lower campus chilled water systems and make recommendations for system improvements. Prior to the assessment, it was believed that additional chiller capacity and larger distribution system piping would be required to meet existing campus needs and to provide capacity for future expansion. This was a very expensive and complicated utility enhancement and upgrade that required greater analysis.

Through hydraulic system modeling, Sebesta Blomberg determined that the University’s chilled water production capacity and distribution system piping were adequate. The system distribution problems came primarily from inadequate temperature differential in the various building systems. The study recommended improvements to building pumps, valves, and control sequences, which were much less expensive than installing additional chillers.

The positive recommendations based upon this initial assessment led to an expansion of the scope. The professionals were asked to generate a plan for implementing the necessary improvements in campus buildings to support better operation of the chilled water distribution systems. Priority was given to those modifications that would provide the greatest improvement to system performance. These improvements were estimated to cost only a fraction of the cost of installing additional chiller capacity, thus avoiding significant capital expense. An additional benefit was that the annual energy savings through the implementation of the modifications were projected to be on the order of 1 million kilowatt hours per year. Recommendations resulting from this assessment and study will continue to be implemented in the future.

Improving and Defining a SustainableAssessment Practice

The University has effectively used assessment as a tool in its facility planning for a number of years. The use of assessment is apparent in the formal facility planning documents, both past and present, and their implementation in a sustained process that can be seen all the way through to activities and initiatives that are currently under way.