A Framework for Thinking More Strategically about Capital Allocation01 August 2018 / by Pete Zuraw (author) / Guilford
Too often administrators are lacking in a clear picture of their overall facility needs, making it a challenge to prioritize facilities investments. For small campuses in particular, making decisions based on the latest, rather than most pressing, need can stretch resources too far and lead to potentially disastrous results.
One tool that can prove particularly valuable to these campus decision-makers is the building portfolio. This framework can help administrators understand how each area across their campuses drives institutional goals, making it much easier to prioritize capital projects.
Creating a Framework
Colleges and universities around the country are facing stiff new competition for resources from online schools and vocational schools, not to mention a declining pool of potential applicants. As a result, it’s more important than ever that these institutions, particularly the smallest among them, spend their money strategically. Through a building portfolio framework, administrators gain a system of prioritizing investments and matching capital allocation to their school’s overreaching goals.
A building portfolio, much like a financial portfolio, provides a method of segmenting assets into different categories to determine where to best invest resources. Through this framework, administrators gain clarity into how each asset fits into the institution’s overall goals. With this understanding, developing the right investment plan becomes more manageable, and decision-making becomes more outcome-based.
Organizing the Portfolio
So how do you create a building portfolio? The first step is a reliable assessment of campus conditions that identifies current deficiencies and defines needs. The next step is to understand institutional goals by meeting with campus stakeholders from across all areas of the institution. The goals identified through these discussions will ultimately serve as the “why” behind every facilities investment.
When administrators can connect specific facilities needs to these goals, they gain invaluable insight into how operations and maintenance spending impacts the school’s mission.
Balancing Campus Needs
Creating the framework, however, is simply the first step. With this framework in place, administrators can begin to understand how to organize facilities and prioritize projects within their portfolio. With a clear view of the broad picture, it’s possible to identify which areas are in most need of investment and pinpoint those systems that might see the greatest improvement and identify the most effective strategies for investing.
A portfolio should strike a balance between programmatic and technical projects, alternating among academic and student life demands as well as facilities’ needs. Leaning too far toward any one area can cost colleges their effectiveness.
In some cases, this framework will make priorities very clear. For example, if the “why” behind a project is “for the safety of students and/or staff,” then that project is likely to take the lead. Once these life safety needs are met, administrators may turn to projects that meet goals such as increasing enrollment levels. From there they can pinpoint projects from within this balanced portfolio that are likely to meet this need—building new research space or modernizing a technology center, perhaps.
Through a balanced building portfolio, administrators can create a clear pathway for achieving goals that meet varying campus priorities. This strategic approach simplifies the tough process of aligning capital, and stretching available resources, to meet all institutional priorities.
About Pete Zuraw
A graduate of Lehigh University, Pete joined Sightlines after serving 11 years as assistant vice president of facilities management at Wellesley College where he led a 150-person organization and was responsible for the management of a 400-acre campus that is home to one of America’s leading private liberal arts colleges.
Previously, Pete was director of facilities and operations at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, director of facilities services at Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation in Washington, DC, and assistant director of facilities at Vermont College of Norwich University in Montpelier, VT.