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First impressions: climbing enrollments, increased retention and lifelong connection are linked to the quality of the campus' facilities.

It's no secret that most prospective students and their families farm a strong positive or negative impression of a campus within a few minutes of their first visit--a crucial juncture in any college or university destiny.

"That impression is so critical," says University Business Editorial Director Katherine Grayson, "that we constantly hear stories of the lengths to which institutions will go to improve campus and facility perceptions." Grayson remembers the case of a struggling Pennsylvania college that completely revamped its recruiting practices and tuition discount plan--with the sole intent of pouring additional revenue into campus facilities improvements and amenity upgrades. "The president of that college told me that prospective students and their families were arriving on campus and not even getting out of their cars. How can you sell programs and faculty when you can't even get families to the front door?"

Urban Uplift

Of course, not every institution requires from-the-ground-up master planning revision. Most, however, can benefit greatly from assistance that takes the physical plant and grounds to new levels of quality. This kind of change can start with a strategic reassessment of any of the following: plant operations and maintenance, dining destinations, construction, grounds planning, custodial operations, energy management, technical services, and more.

After all, notes George Washington University's Walter Gray, Managing Director of Facilities Management, "It's a heck of a lot easier to reinforce a good first impression than it is to overcome a bad one."

Gray knows a little bit about putting on a good face. When he joined GW's facilities department a decade ago, the 18 block Washington, DC, campus was, to put it gently, undistinguished. "It's fair to say that when someone visited the campus back then, they might not have been impressed," he says. The urban campus was plagued by many of the issues endemic to city settings: street crime, tired neighborhoods, and in the case of George Washington University, drab building facades that were inconsistent in architectural style.

To remedy the situation, Gray and his facilities team were charged with creating a facilities portion of the GW master plan--the comprehensive plan that clearly imagined a world-class university in the international city of Washington. Included in the plan were the creation of new open spaces, "vest-pocket" parks, and two outdoor campus meeting spots. Building facilities were targeted for rehabilitation, and three new ornamental entrance gates would be added, helping to define the Mid-Campus Quad and welcome campus members and visitors to a spruced-up and reconfigured campus.

"We knew 10 years ago what we needed to do so that people would want to be a part of this great institution, and we knew how to do it," Gray recalls. "That included enhancing the urban space so it would have a distinct, positive identity; bringing in landscaping, as well as cleaning and defining the campus buildings. But we needed our facilities plan to be part of the big picture--the master vision--in order to succeed."

ARAMARK Facilities Services was retained to implement the master plan. Now, says Gray, GW's 8,500 undergrads (spread across the DC and Virginia campuses) have more than enough academic and recreational space for everything they might want to accomplish during their four years.

Gray maintains that much of the change is the result of recommendations from the ARAMARK Facilities Services team. The landscaping that was brought in, and the building facades that were cleaned and redefined, give the campus a consistent look. "There's much more greenery after we tree-lined the streets and laid plots of grass in front of building facades," says Gray, who adds that the campus now is welcoming for the community and visitors from around the country and the world. "The group's focus was to help our urban campus become more people-friendly, not just student-friendly. Back ten years ago," he laughs, "Washington citizens might not have known they were in the middle of a campus."

Today, everywhere visitors turn, consistent landscaping, building facades, and signage reinforce George Washington's world-class campus in the heart of the nation's capital.

Facilities: Looking Inside

"Outward appearances are only one of several key factors for attracting the brightest students, first-class faculty and renowned researchers," notes Maurice Hollman, Associate Senior Vice President, Facilities Management Services at University of Southern California (USC). "Over the past ten years USC has raised academic standards, recruited top-notch teachers, scholars and researchers, streamlined internal bureaucratic processes and invested more than a billion dollars in new construction, major renovations and upgrades to its physical plant at both campuses including an ongoing program of classroom renovation and instructional technology upgrades. As a result, we're now attracting the best and the brightest and are recognised nationally as a top-tier university. Campus appearance is undoubtedly a major contributing factor supporting our reputational transformation and the quality of interior space is of critical importance to the mission of education and research."

The Facilities Department at USC has instituted an extensive Quality Control (QC) process that "works to keep our spaces in first-hire condition and completes the loop on our process," says Henry Lacher, Director of Buildings and Grounds. Briefly, the process includes:

* Understanding the space and custodial schedules based on task-and-frequency management

* Improving cleaning standards and procedures

* Investing in training programs

* Conducting ongoing Quality Control inspections

"Our philosophy has remained constant," adds Lacher, "but we've improved our execution. Our partner, ARAMARK Facilities Services (AFS), has helped us develop performance benchmarks that we constantly monitor and have become the foundation of our QC program."

The Overarching Mission

"We start our facilities plans with an understanding of our underlying commitment to our student community and the constituents who serve them," according to Baylor University's Rick L. Creel, Assistant Vice President for Operations and Facilities, "and apply those principles to how we maintain the atmosphere of Baylor's 735-acre campus, with its predominantly Georgian-styled buildings. The in tent is to protect and harmonize. This beautiful campus makes a powerful statement about the university. It invites people to visit and enjoy Baylor and Waco, as well as attending school here."

Creel links the university's physical condition directly with Baylor's ability to compete with dozens of other top schools for everything from students to faculty to corporate clients. "A university's impact has far-reaching consequences to relationships with various campus stakeholders that go well beyond the student body," adds University Business' Grayson. "The playing field for sending the right message ranges from a campus' attractiveness to the cleanliness of the academic and residential buildings to the excitement of the dining halls."

Impressions That Last

How the campus community perceives a college or university can mean the difference between declining enrollments and transfers, or growing enrollments and retention. The hallmark of a great facilities organization is its ability to deliver effective facility planning and operations while simultaneously leaving lasting and positive impressions.
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Title Annotation:Facilities
Publication:University Business
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:1130
Previous Article:Changing times call for changing solutions; developing a university's larger vision is not just an academic question.
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