Introduction and Overview
Campus master plans guide the physical development needed to support the mission and strategic plan.
An Overview. The strategic plan builds on institution mission to express its broadest vision and needed resources. The university uses the strategic plan to develop long-range plans, including a physical master plan, which reflects the mission, strategic plan, and academic and enrollment objectives; sets goals (e.g., via the site plan, buildings, landscaping); analyzes buildings, open spaces, circulation systems, utilities, and environmental elements; provides guiding principles for physical changes; identifies implementation strategies with detailed planning, cost and funding analyses, architectural programming, and building and facility design and construction; and identifies measures to track outcomes and needed adjustments.
Sustainable Master Planning. Rather than a two- dimensional future campus map (former master plan), the new master plan is an adaptable ongoing process, integrated with other long-term plans (e.g., strategic plan) and guiding decisions, even if unexpected situations (e.g., increasing public awareness of climate change) require dynamic planning. The strategic plan and physical master plan have a recursive relation.
Purposes. Master plans are the overarching expression of the university physical environment, with an implementation program to achieve desired conditions. Master plans are used for many internal and external purposes (e.g., marketing, physical development, building and landscape design, capital raising, partnerships, town-gown relations, operating efficiency, space use, state or board approvals).
Timing. Many campuses hold regular reviews (e.g., every 2 to 5 years) to gauge progress and adjust to program changes. A major new master planning process is needed to respond to leadership changes, strategic plan revisions, increasing enrollments, campus land expansion, or new regulatory requirements.
Master Plan by Any Other Name. Physical master plans have many names (e.g., physical development, facilities master, master facilities, long-range development, and comprehensive campus plans). Some plans with a specific focus also are called master plans (e.g., bicycle, utilities, or landscape master plans).
Institutional Mission and Master Planning
The physical campus is central to university’s identity and directly affects the student experience on campus and alumni as well. A common challenge is adding a new district or buildings to an existing site plan.
Integrated Strategic Planning. A strategic approach informs planning for campuses with long histories and those on new sites. Strategic planning starts with the campus mission and involves a self-assessment, such as a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis. The university organizational and reporting structure historically has not supported integrated planning. Academic planning often occurs from the bottom up, with enrollment planning and management rooted in strategy but focusing on annual recruitment cycles and internal processes (e.g., student majors, degree progress). Capital planning often follows a 5-year cycle, enabling feasibility analysis, architectural programing, and fundraising. Thus, coordination must occur at the or senior leader level. At the end of the 1900s, strategic planning began providing a framework for integrated analysis and action.
Mission and Physical Design. Universities can change their missions as they evolve over time, but founding conditions are often paramount. These different origins (e.g., commitment to research, small classes, undergraduate residential community, access for the local community) affect not only the symbolic architecture on campus but also resources for building and landscaping. Campus physical development also is influenced by land forms, climate, and surrounding development.
The setting affects the nature and intensity of love-hate community-university (town-gown) relationships. Little consistency marks how local communities and universities interact legally, but public universities (and sometimes other higher education institutions) are typically exempt from property and income taxes. Many private universities are subject to local zoning and building codes; in some states, public universities must comply with federal and state regulations but are exempt from local codes. Universities are distinct from other large institutions, with more irregular hours and activity patterns, highly visible clientele from outside the immediate vicinity, governance structure that differs significantly from local government, active internal consultation with little accountability to the community, and economic and political power. They can appear independent of, and unresponsive to, the local community.
Master Planning Process
Generalized Approach. The ongoing master plan process employs continual reviews, reacts to changes, integrates with strategic planning, and is not too technical or complicated. It is programmatically driven, but academic and research programs often cannot project needs beyond 3 to 5 years, while facilities plans cover at least 10 to 20 years. Overlapping steps cover common tasks in campus master plan preparation. (1) Purposes and expectations include senior leader commitment and identification of major purposes, tasks, assignments, time frames, and feedback. (2) Outreach and participation depend on a sometimes formally required outreach program to identify, inform, and interact with stakeholders and involve a steering committee to review policy and obtain stakeholder support. (3) Background analysis entails assessment of issues, academic programs and enrollment, existing physical conditions and trends for spaces and buildings, environmental opportunities and constraints, and community context. (4) Design framework and master plan elements focus on guiding principles, draft plans, and provisions to mitigate social and environmental impacts. (5) Adoption, implementation, and updates encompass public reviews, feedback-based plan modifications, and implementation and monitoring.
Leadership, Outreach, and Stakeholders Without strong leadership, a master plan lacks focus, credibility, and value, but the wider campus must embrace the planning process. Universities often develop an outreach campaign to identify stakeholders, engage them in planning, and communicate results.
Strategies depend on whether the university reaches out openly or anticipates criticism, managing opposition while building support. How the master plan fits into university governance is key. An existing or new steering committee can work with planners in an advisory role, represent university and local constituencies, and operate by consensus, usually with a chair (and majority of members) from the university community. The planning staff and a few members of the steering committee typically direct operational planning. The planning staff informs state, regional, and federal agencies to anticipate political and regulatory issues and briefs local officials and special interest groups. If needed, the planning staff engages the campus and local town more broadly to identify issues; establish a vision, goals, and principles; develop and compare alternative approaches; and assess the plan and its impacts . Such involvement can be achieved through open meetings, short-term task forces, interactive websites and computer simulations, and workshops.
Sound master plans always depend on an understanding of the institution’s past and its current situation.
Issue Analysis. Important issues include actual and projected programmatic changes as well as derivative issues (e.g., water or sewer capacity limitations, reconciliation of master plans with community plans, philosophical or political contexts, technical analyses).
Enrollment Patterns and Academic Trends. Historical trends (e.g., enrollment, faculty, staff, on-campus residents) are often correlated to facilities and infrastructure capacities and used to develop reasonable extrapolations of growth alternatives, taking into account new directions in academic programs, mission, emerging needs, student demographics, and permanent residential community.
Existing Physical Conditions and Trends. Planners must inventory buildings, uses and capacities, conditions, and suitability for current and future needs. Data gathering can include conditions analysis (e.g., energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, solar exposure, seismic safety, accessibility), using geographic information systems as needed; inventory and capacity analysis of academic buildings, support facilities, and infrastructure (e.g., utilities, circulation, open spaces); and a separate circulation study, usually performed by traffic engineers to establish baseline conditions and existing capacities.
Environmental Opportunities and Constraints. An inventory of environmental conditions and effects (e.g., climate, weather; topography; soils; waterways, drainage; biota; noise; air quality, pollution; light; natural, historical, scientific resources) can be required for an environmental impact assessment and (if early in the process) can inform the master plan. A common approach maps environmental variables that limit development (e.g., steep slopes, sensitive species habitat) to identify places suitable for various uses.
Community Contexts. Planners should consider university impact on nearby jobs and housing markets, circulation systems, and public services and facilities (e.g., based on data from the U.S. Census, local governments, regional planning agencies, local and regional transportation agencies, school districts). Background information includes permits and approvals, regional plans, and school history and culture.
Design Framework and Typical Master Plan Elements
The master plan is an ongoing and iterative process that typically covers several major topics; a set of guiding principles underlies the plan.
Design Framework. The master plan is based on (or creates) the campus design framework—physical characteristics and related principles that reflect a unique identity among buildings, open spaces, and environment (e.g., Harvard yards, Illinois quadrangles, Arizona State palm-lined walkways, Washington open spaces aligned to Mt. Rainier, Cincinnati signature architecture) based on features such as open space, vista, iconic buildings, architecture, palette, landscape, circulation, topography, building density, or scale and massing.
Plan Elements and Principles. This section summarizes sample topics often relevant to a master plan (and associated planning principles): (1) land use and site plan (e.g., environmental suitability, land use balance, compatible uses, proximity or clustered uses, compactness, fostering of intellectual activities, and consistency within a district or zone); (2) open spaces (e.g., suitability, synergies with as-built environment, comfortable and safe refuges, informal recreation and socializing, outdoor teaching and learning, resource stewardship, visual continuity and aesthetics, sustainability); (3) academic and research building design, siting, and orientation (e.g., student-centered and user-friendly spaces, flexible spaces, sense of place and respect for context, efficiency and redevelopment, mixed uses, sustainability, design guidelines); (4) residential communities (e.g., housing types, nearby support services, affordable quality and financial feasibility, external community impact); (5) recreation and athletics (e.g., multipurpose or specialized use, intercollegiate athletic standards, location, proximity to users); (6) circulation and mobility (e.g., multiple transportation modes, parking and vehicle trip reduction, bicycle use, pedestrian systems, compatibility of circulation systems, service and emergency access, wayfinding, beautification, safety); (7) support and ancillary activities, services, and facilities (e.g., array, of types of services; diversity of needs and accessibility; demand management; coordination; flexibility); and (8) public facilities and utilities (e.g., dependability, balance of cost and environmental impact, resource capacity and conservation, location, sustainable planning and design).
Some Special Twenty-First Century Issues Changing Students, New Pedagogies, and Space Needs. A growing body of evidence shows students now learn differently, prompting new approaches (e.g., team problem solving, hands-on learning, virtual teaching) that continue to evolve. Most schools have physical spaces, facilities, and infrastructures of varying age and design; some deal with legislative or administrative space allocation formulas that are out of date. (1) New technologies (e.g., virtual classrooms, distance learning, perhaps holographic teachers soon), often invented at universities, offer partial solutions.
Facilities planners must monitor changes and design flexibility into spaces and infrastructure. (2) Safety in physical layout design (e.g., defensible spaces, lighting, emergency call boxes, security for special equipment) has become more important given terrorism and incidents of deadly campus violence. (3) Life-cycle management reduces operational costs and deferred maintenance problems, integrating initial capital costs with long-term operational needs, a key master planning priority despite constraints (e.g., separate funding for capital and operational needs; competing future academic user needs; escalating costs). (4) Large-scale events are often hosted for the campus community and visitors, so the master plan addresses indoor and outdoor venues, access roads, parking, and public transportation. (5) Sustainability development and operations are a high priority given cost and reliability concerns about resources (e.g., energy, water).
California State University is an example of incorporating sustainability into the master planning process (e.g., energy conservation; circulation; living, working, and learning communities; on-campus resource protection; water quality; recycling and solid waste; noise; light).
Formats and Audiences
Master plans have many names and formats, depending on use, detail, and audiences (and, in many cases, format requirements from the state, university, board, or other governing body). Formal plans often have summaries or supplements in other formats (e.g., electronic media for student and faculty audiences; maps and illustrations for fundraising). Most master plans are available in multiple formats.
Implementation, Updates, and Monitoring An unimplemented plan is merely an exercise that is usually resource intensive and of limited value.
Usual Implementation Activities. Implementation entails detailed planning, leaving even more detailed follow-up work for some tasks (e.g., circulation systems, utilities extensions); building and facility construction; preservation of open spaces and future expansion areas; application of master plan principles in decision making; and phasing, sequencing, and critical paths.
Implementation Programs. (1) Action plans are part of the master plan strategy for implementation. They identify action items, responsible parties, early cost estimates, likely funding source, and general schedule (milestones optional). Action items (perhaps with relative priorities) are compiled to create the implementation strategy framework. (2) Funding and budgeting (e.g., capital improvement program, financial planning for physical plant and operations) are based on the master plan.
Flexibility and Updates. Master plan flexibility comes in part from periodic assessments and adjustments (e.g., responses to programmatic changes), whether minor or major (comprehensive review, including principles and framework). At times, update schedules are dictated by law; otherwise, timing varies.
Monitoring and Reporting. Plan implementation (and enrollment and capacity) should be regularly monitored, perhaps annually or biennially, using action plan data if available. Many institutions issue public progress reports (sometimes required by law or policy) to master plan stakeholders.