ATLANTA — The state entity with the largest number of buildings uses them an average of one-quarter of the work week, leaving them empty the rest of the time, a new study shows.
The University System of Georgia studied the issue at all 31 of the state’s public colleges and universities and found it could be more efficient.
“We think we need to do some improvement. We need to work with some institutions, quite frankly,” said University Chancellor Hank Huckaby in an interview with Morris News Service on Friday.
Much of the reason is most classes are offered Monday through Thursday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
As a result, changes in scheduling will be critical in optimizing space.
“I think folks will be taking more Friday classes, and early in the morning and late in the evening,” said Tom Jackson, the vice president for public affairs at the University of Georgia.
The University System is by far the state’s largest holder of building space with 70 million square feet. That’s more than the space used by the nine next-largest state agencies combined, including the prison system, technical colleges and the Georgia Building Authority that leases to most state agencies.
The county with the largest number of state buildings is Clarke, home of the University of Georgia, with 702. Fulton County, home of the state Capitol, only has 400, according to the 2012 annual report of the State Properties Commission.
Statewide, the University System has 352 leases for $300 million in annual rent, 72 percent of all the rent paid by the state. And most of the system’s classroom buildings are owned outright.
While the Properties Commission forced greater efficiencies on the building usage of most of state government starting during Gov. Sonny Perdue’s administration, the largely autonomous Board of Regents that oversees the University System only began its space-use initiative with a study completed in May.
System administrators say it is the most ambitious analysis by any state and that the groundbreaking techniques are already being copied around the country.
The rising cost of high education and declining state appropriations for it squeezes college administrators into finding greater efficiencies. That’s why the space study is being seen by many campus administrators as an added hurdle to requests for new buildings.
“It’s emphasized from the system to the campuses that we have to have a need and have the data to back that up. We’re going to be much more attentive to data,” said UGA’s Jackson.
At Georgia Regents University, its data is the basis for drafting a master building plan after the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University, according to Christen Carter, GRU director of media relations.
“One of the first steps will be to conduct a comprehensive building audit, which will be compared against projections of future space requirements,” she said. “We will evaluate academically appropriate opportunities for classes on the GRU Summerville campus and continue to look for ways to meet the needs of specialized graduate, health-sciences education on the Health Sciences campus.”
Huckaby said the systemwide study has put the brakes on several proposed building projects and made school presidents more hesitant to submit new proposals.
But it could have the opposite effect on some campuses, according to Edward B. Jolley Jr., the vice president for business and financial affairs at Savannah State University, because it exposes quality differences between classrooms at different schools.
“It helps the system understand the disparity that has built up over time,” he said.
Efforts at greater efficiency are likely to encounter resistance, Jolley notes, because professors like the flexibility of their current schedules and the convenience of having classes near their offices.
“I don’t think it will be 100 percent accepted,” he said. “You will have some people who are not pleased.”
Huckaby acknowledges that legislators, community leaders and college presidents take pride in “shiny new buildings.”
Gregory F. Aloia, the president of College of Coastal Georgia, describes his school’s new buildings as critical in recruiting students and faculty after its recent transition to a four-year college.
“You look at a lot of surveys of students and ‘What attracted you there?’ They say the quality of the physical plant,” he said.
That’s a concept Huckaby is willing to challenge until Harvard tears down its ivy-covered buildings in order to get students.
“We certainly don’t buy into that argument that shiny new buildings are what we need at every institution,” he said.