Building Controls, Design and Construction, Energy Management and Lighting, Green Building, Grounds Management, Heating and Cooling, Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

Revitalizing Campus Spaces: Sustainable Initiatives and Educational Oasis

The University of Richmond’s Eco-Corridor, an 18-acre restoration, was an old road, previously ignored, a “place of possibility,” said Rob Andrejewski, the university’s director of sustainability. Opened in 2020, the project includes an extensive stream restoration, the planting of 25,000 grasses, shrubs, and trees, invasive species removal, new trails, plus picnic tables, a learning lab, and outdoor classrooms.

University facilities team members sought advice about ideas for addressing erosion and stormwater management. Ideas for the site continue to be developed with the involvement of stakeholders on and off campus.

A collaboration between the university’s sustainability and landscape departments, the Eco-Corridor has had a great deal of administrative support from the university and is included in the Campus Master Plan as an example of taking a formerly unusable space and turning it into urban oasis—a place for learning and extending goodwill into the community of Richmond, Va.

Universities and colleges are showing initiatives that benefit a growing group of audiences—current and future students, alumni, campus leadership, potential donors, and the community. The definition of learning is loosening from taking the environment outside of classrooms, into non-traditional spaces. At the same time, college and university facilities teams are expanding the vision of a facility, including the roles and responsibilities of facilities teams, who play an integral role in creating conducive learning environments.

Innovative learning centers are springing up across the country; bringing new ideas for design, sustainability, and energy efficiency; and helping the next generation learn more about taking care of people and the planet.

Raymond Orr is the associate vice president of facilities at Pacific Lutheran University, and his team has done a fantastic job reimagining and renovating their aging infrastructure into modern and LEED standard buildings. The campus has also changed classrooms from the older lecture style to a new flexible layout that matches many different pedagogies and provides for ADA accessibility. 

Colleges and universities are also revisiting housing to address the needs of students with and without families. At Stanford University, the head of graduate housing is involved in renovations for the families section, as well as a high-rise building that is dedicated to shared apartments for graduate housing.

“Both types of students have different needs and wants,” said Xochitl Sanchez, housing facilities supervisor at Stanford University. “Those who are single in a shared apartment are mostly expecting a place where they can comfortably sleep, with working plumbing, electricity, and Wi-Fi to get through their day. Students with families expect those same amenities and transparency about what’s happening around the community because they have children.”

In Colorado, a major research center for sustainable building technology has been founded at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Building Energy Smart Technologies (BEST) Center is a new, five-year, multi-university initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to advance sustainable building projects including HVAC, manufacturing, smart glazing for windows, building controls, insulation, and solar installations.

Meanwhile in the Midwest, innovative schools are blossoming, according to Bradley Fisher from Henricksen, a commercial furniture and architectural products dealership based outside of Chicago, Ill., that does quite a bit of work at K-12 and higher education institutions across the country.

“School, college, and university projects are a long-term investment of public dollars,” said Fisher. “These projects must be thoughtfully planned, designed, and executed to transition from a beautiful concept to a well-managed and supportive educational facility for educators, their students, and the community.”

The Beloit College Powerhouse Building in Beloit, Wis., is an example of an adaptive reuse of a decommissioned powerplant and the expansion of a fieldhouse. The building was designed to enhance student experiences and their well-being, including a dynamic environment for a range of student activities from studying to meeting to relaxing or exercising. Incorporating such details helps facilities teams improve the student/staff experience.

“Opening in the spring 2020 semester posed challenges to the execution of our vision. It also ended up being a blessing to have a large, airy building that can circulate 100% fresh air every 24 hours,” said Tara Girard, associate dean for recreation, wellness, and engagement at Beloit College. “The building is such an anachronistic blend of new technology and old features, from the original terracotta tiles floors and brick walls to our cutting-edge ‘river-thermal’ system. We are occasionally battling both the challenge of the unknown with our new features and how to remedy issues due to aging, such as a leaky roof and unexpected entrance and exit conventions, with conforming an old building to current codes,”

She added, “When our former dean of students was leading the project, she invited students into the building and asked them to put Post-it Notes on the cool stuff that they thought we should keep. That is how the decisions were made regarding which industrial elements to preserve and refurbish and which to remove from the building. The coal hoppers, instrument panels, and giant intake pipes were some of the retained elements.”

It will be interesting to see how facilities managers adapt and deal with equipment maintenance, maintaining an accurate asset database and student safety.

“Schools and colleges are in a challenging situation when it comes to maintaining legacy equipment alongside new technology,” said Samantha Howell, sales director at EMCOR Services Fagan. “FMs must have the knowledge to work on things like pneumatic controls but also be able to utilize controls software to do basic diagnostics on new HVAC equipment.”

She added, “The people who have experience on the older equipment have a hard time grasping the new technology, and the people with less experience gravitate to the technology but have no idea how to work on older types of equipment. This becomes even harder when you have a building that has three phases of construction, three types of HVAC systems, and three types of controls.”

Everyone benefits from these innovative and modern campus buildings. Students and teachers walking into cool schools appreciate having quiet places to study and the comfort of efficient heating and cooling. Parents and staff appreciate heightened security and safety. Facilities managers have more control and data to make better decisions about managing the building.

The community benefits from having a modern structure in the neighborhood, including increased security and an overall feeling that district and campus leaders are committed to not just education, but a greener future.

Jack Rubinger is the marketing content writer for ARC Facilities. He can be reached at

For more industry insights from ARC Facilities, make sure to attend the FREE webinar “Safety First: Prioritizing Emergency Preparedness in Facility Management Operations” on Wednesday, June 19. Details and registration are available here.

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