Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a freelance writer and editor who has been a frequent contributor to APPA publications for several years. Based in Rochester, New York, she can be reached at

Today's facilities managers whose responsibilities include managing residence halls on college campuses face a daunting range of challenges.

According to Gary Thompson, assistant director for facilities for the Department of University Housing at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, North Carolina, the "laundry list" generally includes:

Different schools give these sweeping issues different priority. Here are some insights into what is happening at APPA-member campuses around the country.

Ongoing Concerns

Most of the issues facing facilities managers in the campus residential-life niche are familiar and recurring.

"The classic issue or challenge we face each year, both in our specific department and in residence life in general, is to have the halls ready by the time our students expect to move in," says Joan Schmidt, president of the Association of College & University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) and associate director of Residence Life at the Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. "Summer is the only time for our maintenance crews or outside contractors to do any type of renovation work. That is also the time the majority of our painting, carpeting, tiling, plumbing, and carpentry issues are completed. Keeping in mind that we have more than a $2 million summer conference program we have to work around to get this work done, and it becomes even more of a time issue. With older buildings, we simply have to continue our mechanical renovations to make them acceptable for our student population."

Central Michigan's "rather large" summer conference program is, says Schmidt, "a wonderful retention tool for our campus" but makes it difficult to schedule work.

The most common key issues for Gary Thompson include providing new housing for increased enrollments; renovating the existing inventory of buildings-"the majority of our campuses face an overwhelming capital need"; and the growing necessity of doing work when buildings are used year-round. "We have to do more work while our buildings are occupied nowadays," he says. "Campus residences are becoming like airports or hospitals-they're never closed."

The financial aspects of having residential space go "offline"-closed temporarily for repair, maintenance, or renovation-creates challenges, as does the need to develop critical partnerships on campus. "'Partnership' has become a catchword, but it is something we all have come to understand as vital," Thompson says.

Thompson expects to face continuing challenges in constructing new facilities for an increased student population, dealing with a $100-million-plus deferred capital need, and continuing to do more work while residential buildings are occupied.

Capital renewal and deferred maintenance, changing student needs and preferences, and maintaining campus residential facilities used to house conferences rank as the three most challenging aspects of this niche for APPA President Gary Reynolds, P.E., director of facilities services at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "The classic issue is deferred maintenance and capital renewal," he says. Responding to what he calls the "social living" requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ever-more stringent safety guidelines also add to the challenge of managing campus housing.

Reynolds' institution houses 1,900 students in about 75 buildings and 2 million gross square feet of space. The Residential Life Department at The Colorado College has its own handyman, and a fund for capital improvements and maintenance, but Reynolds' department has the licensed plumber or electrician to do that specialized work and carries out the larger responsibilities, such as maintenance and capital construction.

"We have to use the capital asset most effectively and efficiently, which covers several of the main issues we all face," he notes. Thus, it makes sense for a college or university to use its residential facilities to house conferences during summer terms or intersessions, as long as everyone realizes that "then we can't get in to do maintenance and the kinds of things we can't take care of all year when the buildings are in use as student residences."

Getting renovations and remodeling done on time and managing that can yield to an overfill or underfill of residential space on campus, are key recurring issues for Pat Kearney, executive director of housing for the University of California/Davis, whose institution often is viewed as an example of successful privatization in campus housing construction. "We're having a fairly good year," says Kearney. "In the previous year, the construction market was so hot that contractors couldn't find people to do the work, so everything was down to the last minute."

Kearney's department is the contract administrator for third-party developers, serving 6,000 students (out of a student population of 26,000) in about 130 buildings. She sees many of the recurring issues for campus housing as having positive aspects-"they mean things are going well," she says. Major concerns include scheduling maintenance around constant use of the buildings and responding to a trend toward academic partnerships with residence halls, "which are important to many people in the community, so you have to have good interaction." Her campus has opened advising centers in residence halls for first-year students and faculty now are involved with special programs such as a floor for students who want to become teachers, making the residential space more heavily used in many more ways.

At Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, one aspect of managing campus housing facilities is understanding the nature of the student bodys' home environments, most of which are towns smaller than the university campus itself. "Many of our students come from towns where living with 600 people is simply too much," says Bob Huss, director of residential life at OSU. The university houses about 5,500 students, has added more than 10 buildings in the past year, and has about 20 for family housing. They have a total of about 50 buildings, ranging in style and scope from the traditional 14-story residence hall for several hundred students, to a small four-plex of two-bedroom apartments.

The campus has made a point of "starting new buildings before they were needed," says Huss. Capital renewal and deferred maintenance, from both financial and work planning aspects, lead his key issues.

New Issues in the New Year

While most issues involving managing campus residential life are familiar, a few new ones have cropped up this past year. For Gary Reynolds, one new challenge is adapting to the needs of a student who is hypersensitive to chemicals and other environmental elements. "Most of us have been wrestling with ADA requirements for the past ten years, but generally they are no longer new issues," he says.

"Students with special needs, such as those with allergies needing better air-conditioning service, are a challenge this year," Gary Thompson says. And students are getting savvy about using health conditions to get better living conditions: "They've figured out that saying you have an allergy means you're more likely to get a room with modern air conditioning."

Fire safety is of greater concern at some institutions this year, due to the Seton Hall fire and other events that brought public attention to that issue, according to Reynolds. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, some institutions may face new concerns about safety in general and protecting students in wheelchairs in particular.

Joan Schmidt of Central Michigan finds that new and continuing issues concern "fire safety, and the heightened rules and regulations we must adhere to in our residential facilities. Our campus, as most, is studying the effects of new and/or proposed legislation and the budgets that will be needed to implement them," she says. Michigan higher education institutions also are dealing with "a state code concern with door closures on our residence-hall room-entrance doors. By December 2001, all doors in the state-supported institutions must have installed door closures that swing shut, so the doors do not remain open on their own," she says. "Obviously, this has been an expensive venture, as well as one of concern for residence life professionals who are encouraging a feeling of community on campus. Students want to keep their doors open so they can get to know the people who live around them, but propping doors is not supposed to happen."

Looking ahead, Schmidt expects to face a few new issues. "We are in the process of designing and building three new residence halls that will connect to four of our present halls," she says.

Schmidt also is hearing about issues elsewhere that she is lucky not to face at her institution: "Many schools, particularly in the south, are dealing with a tremendous problem with mold in apartments and residence halls on their campuses," she says. "They can't seem to get ahead of the problem and are spending countless hours trying to solve the issue."

In fact, the problem with mold infestation in residential settings has been the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story and a "Rex Morgan, M.D." comic strip story line. At the University of Arizona, discovering allergy-triggering mold in a dorm room was the last straw for one residence hall that already was approaching the end of its useful life. The building, originally a retirement home for the Knights of Columbus that had served as married-student housing for many years, already had been slated to be torn down within three years because the cost of repair and modernization was greater than practicable. It would have cost about $2.5 million to check and clear all 358 units for mold, according to Arizona's Julia Rosen; the mold simply moved the demolition plans up to 2000. Plans for a replacement are in progress.

There was a silver lining to the mold issue, though. "Now we have a good response to water events," Rosen says. "We have training and can make an immediate response. We work jointly with risk management, facilities managers, and our insurance carrier to handle any incidents that might trigger mold."

It is not yet a problem for Central Michigan, but Schmidt also expects major electrical problems to evolve on campus. "Students bringing in computers, televisions, printers, scanners, micro/refrigerators, video games, and so on, will continue to exhaust our electrical systems," she predicts. "We also are building classrooms that are mediated in our residential colleges, which are an additional drain on electrical usage."

New buildings create their own special challenges, Huss finds. At OSU, "adjusting to new buildings is a new issue-there's always something that was missed in construction, so we're constantly finding and fixing little things."

Thompson as well finds that old buildings are making the new year somewhat challenging-"the inventory of aging buildings means more need for repairs and maintenance." The trend to changing standards of use-academic partnerships, using residential space year-round, etc.-also are increasing his department's workload.

What Students Want

Student preferences not only play a large role in the nature of campus housing, but have been changing dramatically in recent years, giving facilities managers new demands to fulfill.

"I have seen student preferences changing over the years a great deal," says Schmidt. "Some of the things they are now requesting include private bedrooms, thermostats they can control, more space for all their 'stuff,' and lots more electrical outlets. We are incorporating all of these changes and suggestions in our new residence hall facilities."

Reynolds has seen similar trends: "In the last decade, we also have seen changing expectations of students in terms of what they expect from campus residences," he says.

In response, The Colorado College was just finishing and moving in the first students into a new apartment-style living environment for the fall 2001 session. That, Reynolds says, is only one example of a "relatively new phenomenon" reflecting the fact that "schools today are trying to provide various housing options, from dorms to apartment-style space to theme residences, such as old mansions converted into dorm space, as well as new houses we built for students with shared interests in areas such as languages, the arts, and environmental sciences."

That last option is one that campuses are seeing more and more, Reynolds notes, "especially at smaller schools," where the trend is toward creating "a blended academic/learning environment, like an academic village." Such activities and trends affect facilities managers in higher education by increasing the need to both renovate existing space and build new residential space, he notes.

At Rhodes College in Tennessee, residential life has a brand-new look. "East Village is the newest addition to the Rhodes residential experience," says Brian Foshee, director of physical plant. "Built in the Rhodes traditional Collegiate Gothic style, the new facility gives residents a balance of private apartments and gathering places for study, discussion,and social functions."

"The decision to construct the East Village was based on three factors: increased demand for on-campus housing; student desire to live in an apartment-style setting; and confirmation of these factors through research and development of a residential master plan," says Foshee. The $13.2-million project was financed through the sale of revenue bonds and completed in 14 months by a Memphis construction company.

The 74,000-square-foot, three-story complex has 200 beds in 50 fully furnished apartments, and targets upperclass students as its residents. Each apartment houses four students; 40 apartments have four single bedrooms in each unit, while 10 apartments have two double bedrooms in each unit. Each unit has a living room with a dining area and a kitchen with sink, refrigerator, electric stove, microwave, and built-in cabinets. Cable, telephone, and Internet services are provided, both in the private bedrooms and in the living room; for security, there is card access at all entry doors. Common areas include a seminar room; lodge with fireplace; areas for study, meetings, or socializing; and an outdoor terrace. There are also two laundry rooms in the complex. The school provides full maintenance, with housekeeping services for common areas and public restrooms. Four resident assistants will live in East Village to assist with any student concerns and coordinate social events for residents.

The increasing popularity of smaller campus housing facilities can work to the advantage of an institution. At OSU, "we found that students would pay more and line up to get into the smaller buildings, even if they were farthest from the library and thus not in desirable locations on campus," says Huss. As a result, "one goal of our current president is to put at least two of those high-rises to the ground," Huss notes.

For Huss, recurring issues include general cleanliness "keeping up with keeping stuff clean, because Oklahoma's red dirt gets into everything." Vandalism also can be a challenge-"it feels like a personal insult," he says of student damage to campus property such as furnishings and decor. "We've gone full-circle from fabric-covered furniture to very plain back to fabric, but it creates real challenges in upkeep and repair." In the face of long summers with extremely dry, hot weather, he is constantly trying to get support for keeping the grounds around residential buildings looking as good as the space surrounding the president's office and other prestigious, high-visibility areas of the campus. "Elevators are always problematic," Huss adds.

Relations with the regular physical plant and facilities assessment are two areas that are not closely connected but are constant concerns, he says. One overriding issue is the difference in the impact of similar maintenance requests or repairs when they occur in residential versus academic space. "A light being out in a classroom is very different than a light being out in a residential room," he says. "You can take a little time to replace the light in the classroom, but it is absolutely critical that the light in the residential room be functional. There are very different priorities (in managing residential space), and these are challenges that our facilities people have to make clear."

Worth noting is Pat Kearney's recognition that student expectations demand good communications. "We believe in alerting parents and students ahead of time to any potential problems," she says. When construction looked like it might still be going on when a semester began, "we put pictures of our progress on a website so they could see where things stood. We had a good response to that-knowing there might be minor delays reduces any potential anger over arriving and finding things still in progress."

Where You Gonna Go?

Where do APPA members go for help and advice in dealing with the changing nature of campus residential life? Above and beyond APPA, there is a variety of help available. Cited most often by members was ACUHO-I. "The cross-country network begins with ACUHO-I, and it has a strategic alliance with APPA," says Thompson.

Reynolds also mentioned the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), the Council of Higher Education Management Associations (CHEMA), and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). "We look to other CHEMA members for resources, and APPA is looking to build relationships with these other organizations to create a vision of service and networking at a higher level."

Internal resources also are important, although often overlooked. "We have a good working relationship with the physical facilities department," says Kearney. "When time was getting tight and workers were at a premium, I went there and created an arrangement so our contractor could pay overtime for finish work, which allowed us to open a new residence hall on time."

Thompson also suggests looking inward first. "Look for campus resources," he says. "Good relations with other departments are critical to our success in managing residential buildings on campus."

Schmidt also believes in using "the expertise of our in-house building maintenance workers, as well as the good folks in Facilities Management," she says. "We have a strong relationship with other ACUHO-I colleagues whom we can turn to when we have a problem or we find out that they had encountered something similar. In addition, many ACUHO-I members take advantage of APPA programs and printed information, as well as ACUHO-I's Talking Stick magazine; entire issues have been devoted to maintenance concerns."

While "different associations provide different things" in the way of resources and advice, Reynolds says that a global view of the campus residential environment is key to effective use of campus residential assets. "I urge all APPA members to know what's going on in residential life, especially in ACUHO-I, such as the programmatic things we need to do to make residential life worth living," he says. "We need to understand the trends and implications. We need to understand the entire education environment."

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