To the untrained eye, a college campus can seem to offer limitless space. Everywhere you look there’s an empty classroom, an unoccupied study nook, or a spare table waiting for someone to sit at it. But just because that space is vacant now doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way for long. To anyone familiar with campus operations, there’s tremendous forethought that goes into space planning for schools. Though space is available in abundance, that doesn’t make it any less of a precious commodity.

Space planning for colleges is what makes it possible for multiple classrooms to house different lectures at different times. It’s what ensures there’s always a spare study table in the union building. Careful space planning is the reason a 20-person sociology class meets in an amphitheater classroom that seats 60. And while not every spatial decision makes sense to students and staff, they’re often part of a grand plan that involves dozens of moving parts and pieces. The goal is to ensure that every learner feels accommodated.

What is space planning for schools, colleges and universities?

Space planning involves designating a space for a particular use. That could mean setting it up for a specific purpose, ensuring it’s available at a certain time, or making it available to a particular group. The core focus of space planning is to ensure the effective and efficient use of a space by the people and purpose it’s intended for.

Below the surface definition, space planning can become extremely complex and nuanced. On a college campus, it could mean anything from outfitting space with the right technology, to making sure spaces are reservable at optimal times. In the broader sense, space planning also means making sure a particular space fits the context of what’s happening around it—not just within it.

Examples of space planning on campuses

Space planning in schools happens at several levels. In a macro sense, shared facilities are open for general use—this means everything from the student union to the library. More specifically, there are classrooms and lecture halls that have specific purposes, but may not serve the same purpose all of the time. Finally, specialized spaces on campus such as labs or research facilities aren’t generally accessible, but still require forethought to plan.

  • General spaces need forethought to accessibility and adaptability. There’s a larger degree of variability in these areas because they’re often inherently multi-purposed. Space planning involves making use of square footage in the most natural way and coordinating accommodations to meet the expectations of those in attendance.
  • Classrooms are subject to space planning in the sense of pairing facilities with demand. For example, you can’t put a class of 50 in a room that only seats 30. It’s also important to consider special features of a room such as A/V equipment, stadium-style seating, a lab-style environment, and more.
  • Specialty spaces generally set a precedent for need. These spaces offer very little opportunity to change because they’re anchored by their design, such as a computer lab or a cafeteria. Space planning around these areas typically involves making them more accessible through techniques such as scheduling or access control.

Within each of these groups there’s a world of unique space types—from study nooks to workshops, labs to dorm rooms. Regardless of space type, it’s important for facility managers to have a plan for who will use the space, how they’ll use it, when they’ll use it, and what the criteria are for governing it.

The benefits of space planning for schools

The chief benefit of space planning for schools is an obvious one: the ability to accommodate learners in any education environment. From large lectures to intimate labs, presentations to guest speakers, marrying form and function into space planning strategy makes for more immersive learning opportunities.

Space planning also gives campus managers a handle on utilization and opportunities to improve it. If there are instances to reduce congestion, improve accessibility, or orchestrate shorter commutes for staff and students, space planning will bring them to the surface. When every space has a purpose, it becomes easier to understand that space in the context of its utilization.

Finally, space planning software is a cornerstone of campus management as a whole. There’s merit in coordinating where classes will take place, at what time, and how many people will attend. It paints a broader picture of the ebb and flow of traffic on campus and helps schedulers orchestrate classes conducive to the broader workings on campus.

Tying space planning with campus operations

To plan space use and availability accordingly, you need to know what you’re planning for. This is where space planning becomes a collaborative effort among campus ops personnel. There’s a concerted effort to coordinate space and schedule, and to do so in a way that’s conducive to accessibility by everyone involved.

It doesn’t make sense for students to trek back and forth with no time between classes, only to wait outside a room that’s occupied right up to the minute before their class begins. Likewise, it’s unwise to schedule certain types of classes in certain spaces that may not accommodate them. Form and function need to agree, which is why facility personnel and campus operations managers need synergy. Space and people need to come together.

While some students will inevitably need to sprint across campus occasionally and a few rooms might get a little crowded, what matters is that the campus as a whole runs like a well-oiled machine for a majority of people, the majority of the time.

Keep reading: Facilities Management Software for Schools