University aims to downsize

The University is evaluating buildings based on historical designation and critical need.

Brian Edwards

Future University of Minnesota students may have a smaller campus to navigate, as the Board of Regents prepares to scale back the square footage of the school.
The board is working to trim office sizes and create more collaborative spaces. The plan to reduce the size of the University — which was included in the school’s six-year plan — is part of a broader effort by the regents to cut costs while addressing the maintenance needs of buildings.
After salaries, facilities maintenance on campus is the second-largest expenditure for the University, said Regent Thomas Devine. 
“When you have a 14 [foot]-by-14-[foot] office and it’s only used 20 hours a week, is it really necessary to heat it and use up the space?” he said.
Devine said reassessing how classrooms and office spaces are designed is another way regents are trying to reduce square footage.
Evolving technology has aided the board’s plan because graduate students and professors have become less interested in offices because they have everything they need on a computer, he said. 
To reduce the sprawl of the University, Devine said the school could also decommission buildings on campus and not renew leases in privately-owned buildings.
Additionally, he said classrooms that serve multiple types of students, like those in Bruininks Hall, are a template for future building renovations.
“We are leaving no stone unturned,” Devine said. 
The board doesn’t have a specific square footage goal. Regent David McMillan said University space concerns mean multiple solutions are required. 
While the school wants to cut down on its footprint, some places, like engineering buildings at University of Minnesota-Duluth, are overfilled and require more immediate attention and additional space.
“Serving student needs is absolutely vital,” McMillian said. “Even with things we decide to tear down, hopefully we do the best we can for students.”
To find the most efficient and cost-effective way to renovate or decommission buildings, Facilities Management is compiling information on critical-need buildings, historical designation and code compliance in order to provide an impression of facility needs, said Mike Berthelsen, associate vice president for Facilities Management.
“Is the building meeting its current function?” he said. “Or how can it be adapted to do so?”
Berthelsen said critical-need buildings are facilities that need improvements — such as new windows or a new roof — within the next 10 years.
He said those needed improvements aren’t safety hazards, but they are problems that could prevent a space from being used for its designated purpose, such as leaky windows causing a classroom to be uncomfortably cold.
Once completed, Berthelsen said the information will be distributed to individual colleges and departments to allow them to better plan for the needs of their buildings. The first draft of the plan should be completed by June, he said.