Q&A: Is campus feeling the squeeze for space?

John Etchemendy

John Etchemendy

Stanford Report recently interviewed Provost John Etchemendy and Director of Capital Planning Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain about the availability of space on campus.

SR: Are we in the midst of a space crisis on campus?

JE: Yes. Centrally, the university does not have any unallocated space to speak of. We have, maybe, three unallocated offices in temporary modular buildings.

MDC: There are also a handful of surge cubicles, and we may have a few other offices here and there. But, simply stated, we have no vacancy rate, and certainly no contiguous office space. We probably have a backlog of about a dozen space requests.

JE: It is an odd crisis because there is unoccupied space on campus. Our policy is to allocate space to schools and departments and allow them to decide how to use that space. It would be impossible for a central office to take charge of day-to-day assignment of space. The trick is, however, figuring out how to use unoccupied space while allowing for the future needs of schools, departments and other units. Most departments that have a free office plan to hire a faculty member in the next year or so. In the meantime, the office sits vacant and can't be allocated elsewhere. The challenge is twofold: We don't have any extra space. And the space we do have is not efficiently used.

SR: Are we considering policy changes as a result?

JE: There are two major changes needed. One is using more off-site space. We've already started doing that. A few years ago, we decided not to build additional library space on campus because of General Use Permit [GUP] constraints. But our library continues to grow. So we built a new facility in Livermore to preserve GUP square footage for people. The School of Medicine, as another example, has used off-site locations for laboratory and office space, including Medical Development. The university recently purchased a 46-acre campus, including eight existing buildings in the Mid-Point Technology Park in Redwood City. We will eventually use a portion of the campus to house administrative offices that can function efficiently at a distance. In addition, Stanford Hospital and Clinics will be purchasing the four towers that used to be


e's headquarters for clinics and administrative offices.

We are also considering changing space allocation policies by introducing a space charge. You can imagine a system in which we charge rent for every square foot of building space. Then we would allocate to units a certain amount of general funds to pay for the space they need to house their people and programs. These two numbers might not coincide. Say you had a $120,000 allocated in rent, but occupied $130,000 worth of space. In such a system, departments would have an incentive to allow their inefficiently used space to be used—perhaps temporarily—by other units. We'd end up with an internal market for space that would, in theory, make the allocation of space more efficient without requiring central control.

SR: How will we decide who moves off campus?

JE: Units have to be on campus if they have daily, face-to-face contact with students and faculty or daily face-to-face contact with those who have close contact with students and faculty.

SR: Is a move imminent?

MDC: It'll take several years, except for the data center. There is a wonderful data center at Mid-Point, and IT Services had been thinking about the need for another emergency communication hub. A group of IT people could move to the data center as early as late '06.

SR: What is causing our space problem? For instance, how much of a constraint have the GUP provisions become?

JE: Long term, the GUP will constrain our use of space. It is hard to say how much of the current crisis is attributable to the GUP. We aren't anywhere near the end of our GUP 2 million-square-feet growth limit. Some of the problem is attributable to programmatic growth. Program growth creates demand for space over and above the actual head count of staff. If you create a new program, you may have the same number of faculty and students—and a few more staff—but you still need a director's office, common space, perhaps a seminar room. For a new program to function well and have a sense of identity, it needs space of its own. When we offer new programs, especially interdepartmental programs, there has to be space allocated.

So some of the crisis comes from delivering an enhanced experience for students. The Old Union is a good example. We are remodeling Old Union and converting it back to a student union to allow more student activity space, which is desperately needed. That means all the administrative units there have to be housed somewhere. We remodeled Bakewell for admission and financial aid. But we still have to find space for the registrar and student financial services offices. So here is an example where there are no new students, staff or faculty, but a pressing need for new space to enhance the educational experience. The new Recreation Center is another example of this.

But another piece is the real growth in research activity. As faculty propose and undertake more research and receive funding from the government, those projects usually involve additional postdocs or research staff—new people who have to be housed.

Finally, another piece is the growth of the Medical School. Much of this growth is driven by increased clinical demand. As the community requires more services, the number of faculty physicians needed to provide those services increases.

SR: Moving administrative functions off campus is actually very common among our peer institutions, isn't it?

JE: Yes. We are just now forced to do things most of our peers did 10, 20 or 50 years ago. We have been very fortunate to have maintained a single campus for this long. Take Harvard, for example. Its business school is located across the Charles River and its medical school is distributed around Boston. Few universities our size are located on compact, contiguous campuses.

MDC: Yale is in a similar position. Brown is totally landlocked.

SR: We've been talking mostly about administrative functions. Is there also a shortage of lab and classroom space?

JE: There is certainly a shortage of lab space, some of which has to do with a surge in research activity. A lot of it has to do with aging facilities that are inadequate for modern scientific research. There are two problems with classrooms, neither of which comes from a shortage of seats. One problem is that, over the years, the daily schedule has contracted. Fewer classes are taught at 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. The popular time slot is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. So you have to accommodate all the classes we offer during that reduced slot. The other problem is that teaching has changed. In many cases, the style of classroom we need is different from 20, 30 or 40 years ago. That is particularly true at the Business School.

SR: It seems a contradiction that we have more than 12 million gross square feet of space university-wide, have built new facilities and have still more on the drawing board—and yet are short of space. How can that be?

JE: Think of our medical research infrastructure. If you go back 20 to 25 years, virtually the entire lab space at the Medical School was located in the Stone complex. Currently, the Stone complex is aging, and it is very difficult to bring those labs up to standard. So some of what you see is us moving scientists out of unusable lab space.

MDC: Science has changed and created a need for new buildings and new labs. Quite a few of the buildings in the capital plan are replacing buildings that have outlived their usefulness. Herrin Hall will come down and a new biology building built. The new engineering center in the SEQ2 will replace Terman. There will be a replacement for Ginzton and HEPL.

SR: In 2003, a new set of university-wide space guidelines were developed under the auspices of Capital Planning. How have those guidelines helped in easing space?

MDC: It is the most clearly helpful when you have to design a new building. It provides a sense of equity and consistency. But we have also done some very successful utilization studies based on the guidelines. A good example is the School of Earth Sciences, where they were having trouble accommodating students in the new Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. They had to borrow space in Encina. By reconfiguring student space, we were able to help them fit the students into the school, which is far better for collaboration and access to faculty.

Our studies have suggested that we have more space than we think. We just need to repurpose it wisely. And Capital Planning can and does help. In fact, we are switching in Capital Planning to an open office space environment to facilitate our team-based approach. Across campus, there can certainly be more office sharing, more cubicle environments, fewer second offices and more strategic use of storage space.