Archive Notes - November 2010

Recently, architects from the firm of Burt, Hill unveiled a new facilities master plan for our campus.  This master plan will serve as a guide for us as we look to both build new buildings and renovate our existing ones.  Since the Master plan was presented to the campus, there has been a great deal of uncertainty about what the implications of it are on our existing programs.  In order to best answer this, it is illustrative to take a short look at the process used to develop the master plan. 

The facilities master planning process was funded and directed by the SUNY Construction Fund.  The Construction Fund, as it prepares for a new 5-year plan to submit to the Legislature for funding, wants to have an accurate picture of two things.  First of all, it wished to know as precisely as possible, the level of deferred critical maintenance on each campus.  Second, it wished to know what new construction projects might be presented by campuses over the next fifteen years.  In order to answer these questions, a facilities master planning process was initiated within SUNY.  We are one of the first campuses to be studied.  It is important to remember that the funds which the campus receives for critical maintenance and new construction are completely separate from our operating budget and may only be spent on critical maintenance and construction, and the expenditure is supervised by the Construction Fund.

The Construction Fund provided the architects with a template for the campus study.  This included the creation of a steering committee, which consisted of representatives from every division of the College, and an executive committee, which on this campus was the Administrative Cabinet, and now the President’s Council. The process also called for broad consultation and data collection.  Early in the process, the fall of 2009, scores of focus groups, consisting of faculty, staff, students, and community members were interviewed using a template developed by the architects and the Construction Fund. There were also surveys sent out to provide additional information. The architects worked with the steering and executive committees in developing the key parameters of the study.  For our campus, we wanted to know if we could accommodate 5,000 students using our current inventory of buildings. We wanted to know if there was sufficient space on campus to also provide for swing or surge space when we would renovate buildings such as Satterlee or Dunn Hall.  Swing or surge spaces are spaces where programs and departments can be relocated while a construction project is underway.  We wanted to know about the quality of our facilities, as well as the quantity.  Lastly, we hoped for guidance about possible future development of our exterior spaces, Lehman Park, and NATCO Park (located to the east of the Crane complex across outer Main Street).  Obviously we are sensitive to the environmental impact of our physical plant, we need to be concerned about whether or not any of this can be funded, and we want the entire master plan to be consonant with the goals and aspirations of the campus.

The facilities master plan provides answers to these questions, and suggestions about how the campus might develop over the next fifteen years. It does not require us to pursue any of these projects. It is suggestive not proscriptive. As we move forward, we will need to evaluate programmatically each proposal if and when it becomes feasible. It is easiest to describe this process in terms of a concrete example. Many years ago, the administration and faculty leaders decided that we needed either to totally renovate the University Theater and associated spaces, or build a new performing arts building. When I arrived on campus, we created a program study in which the stakeholders, faculty from Theatre and Dance, other faculty members, students, and administrators worked with an architect to create a feasibility study. When that was concluded we knew essentially what programmatic components might be housed in such a building and approximately how much it might cost to build. Armed with this, we were then able to negotiate with the Construction Fund and the State Legislature to get the project funded through the capital initiative program. Again, we need to be mindful that construction funds can only be used for construction and not diverted to our operating budget. Once we had the funds, we created a new steering committee made up of stakeholders in the new building, to actually work with architects to design the building. The steering committee consisted of many faculty members from Theatre and Dance, was co-chaired by a member of that department. The final users of the building were queried extensively during the design process. Similarly, we have just concluded a program study regarding the renovation or replacement of the Barrington Student Union. That project is our highest priority.

The facilities master plan does not relieve us of the need to continue to conduct program studies before we propose a major renovation or new construction. As a result, the projects suggested by the master plan will still need to be evaluated in terms of the programmatic needs of the campus, by the faculty and staff of the relevant departments and programs. We can accept or reject any of the proposals in the master plan. 

In conclusion, I want to thank all of the many members of campus community who contributed to this important first step in envisioning the campus of the future. It has reinforced our commitment to providing our students with a superior learning environment. The facilities master plan gives us guidance as to broad areas of critical need, provides important information related to potential growth, swing space and overall capacities, and it suggests a general approach that seeks to align campus priorities with practical realities, environmental considerations, and the needs of those who live and work within the campus. Within its general framework, we will have ample opportunity to explore extensively with all stakeholders the particular implications of any future initiative on which, as funding becomes available, we are able to move forward. I am pleased by the interest which the master plan has generated among so many members of our campus family and look forward to working with all of you as we continue to create the SUNY Potsdam for the next 200 years.