Campus Planning: Why a digital utility atlas is the key to knowledge succession

Campus Planning: Why a digital utility atlas is the key to knowledge succession

Schools at all levels of education have succession plans for all of the important aspects of their institutions — for their endowments, for their faculty, for their curriculum, and for their leadership. What many schools don’t have is a succession plan for the most visible, tangible part of their institution: the campus itself.

Every new project that a college, university, or private secondary school campus takes on is another chapter in the school’s history. As paper records are forgotten under piles of other information, and sources of institutional knowledge retire, that history is in danger of being lost.

Analog Facilities Planning

Construction and renovation is an everyday part of life for most colleges, universities, and even prep schools. In a recent survey of colleges and universities, more than 50 percent of respondents said their institution planned to start major renovation and modernization projects in 2018, and more than 60 percent expected to have such projects completed over the course of the year. A considerable number also had plans to build entirely new buildings during the course of the year.

But every one of those brilliant new buildings and renovated spaces must start with a plan, based on the larger master plan for the campus itself, and every new project creates another wrinkle in those plans. That means an ever-expanding collection of data and information.

“I can’t tell you how many college campuses we have visited where all of the plans for every project and every piece of infrastructure on the campus are tucked under some desk or in some file cabinet in a dusty room somewhere,” says Mike Twohig, SUE/SUM Services Manager at DGT. “There are two problems there: One, if anything should happen to those plans, the next time the school wants to enhance or expand its campus, it’s flying blind. Two, all those individual pieces of the puzzle are uncoordinated, so if you look at one utility project plan from 10 years ago, it might not reflect what was going on in that same spot 20 years earlier with a different piece of infrastructure.”

A wealth of important knowledge also lives within the minds of the facilities managers, master plumbers, electricians, groundskeepers and others for whom taking care of the campus has been their daily work.

“Every school we talk to has a ‘guy,’ whether it’s a man or a woman, but it’s the person who knows all of these crucial little details about every inch of the campus, especially when it comes to subsurface utilities,” says Twohig. “They know that there’s a water main running under the quad, and that back in 1994 it had to be repaired and a new line was installed. And that’s a great resource to have, that all-knowing person, but what happens when that person retires?”

The Need for a Digital Utility Atlas

We have been working with Pepperdine University to locate and map buried facilities and infrastructure. The school moved its main campus from its original site near downtown Los Angeles to 138 acres of southern California ranch land in 1972, and since then it has expanded into a sprawling 830-acre expanse overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The goal of our work is to create a complete three-dimensional digital map of the school’s ever-evolving campus.

Like many schools, Pepperdine’s expansion over the years has resulted in many records and plans for various parts of the campus, but there was no single comprehensive file containing all of the important data that staff and administrators need to make decisions about future improvements. We provided 3D utility locating and mapping to begin the compilation of a master digital Utility Atlas – something many schools lack but should be thinking about as they plan for the future.

Universities, colleges and prep schools must balance years of history with a vision for the future. When it comes to the physical plant, grounds and infrastructure, that vision is far more possible with the key information about the current state of the land and facilities.

How is your institution capturing and retaining the institutional knowledge of your facilities, planning and operational staff so the work can continue without disruption when they leave? A secured, updated digital Utility Atlas that shows a comprehensive picture of campus infrastructure is an ideal way to preserve that knowledge.

Planning for the future requires a healthy understanding of the past. For schools with campuses that have undergone countless improvements and changes, a comprehensive digital atlas of every inch of the campus’s physical space — including the underground utilities — is essential to successful planning and construction.