CUNY Refines Space Standards

CUNY's Chief of Planning, Canadian Krista Cook, brings degrees in Urban Geography and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia. Here she offers a précis of recent efforts to improve University space use.

In determining the size of any capital project the University undertakes, CUNY planners use space standards as guidelines. They provide a rationale for the requests this office receives for new and renovated buildings, assure that allocations among competing requests are made wisely, promote order and predictability in the long process between feasibility study and ribbon-cutting, and give the Board of Trustees a fair method for judging and approving projects.

The ultimate question space standards help us answer, however, is very simple: What amount of space around a given student in a given learning site is appropriate? To answer this question, we live in the inanimate world of NASF and the very animated world of FTES.

NASF refers to Net Assignable Square Feet, the crucial number for any educational structure. This figure is essentially what is left over after all non-usable and supporting space (space taken up by walls, mechanical and air-circulation systems, janitors' closets, corridors and the like) is deducted from a building's GSF (Gross Square Feet). NASF, in short, is the space where learning happens, and guidelines for deploying NASF have been well defined in recent years. For example, a lecture hall standard is 12 NASF per student. This provides space for a tablet-arm chair for the student and teaching space at the front of the seating array. This can be compared to 20 NASF per seat in seminar rooms, where students may convene in a more open configuration. The grands jet's and pirouettes of a dance class demand considerably more room; Terpsichore rates 100 NASF per student.

Space standards are in place in most states with large higher education systems, notably California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin. Nationally, CUNY standards are middle-of-the-road. Those in Texas and New Hampshire are the most lenient, with California claiming the strictest standards. There can be wide variation in NASF, too. A student in an open-seating classroom at CUNY gets 16 NASF, one in California gets 15, and a student in Florida's community colleges can stretch out in 25 NASF.

CUNY's current space use standards can be briefly summarized: for lecture classes at community colleges it is classroom use of 30 hours per week at 80% capacity; for lecture classes at senior colleges, 30 hours per week at 60%; and in laboratory classes generally it is 24 hours per week at 80%. These figures vary from system to system. In Vancouver, British Columbia, where I worked before coming to CUNY, standards are very strict, requiring classroom use of 32 hours a week at 100% capacity and demanding that laboratories to be used 24 hours a week at 100%.

Just as surely as rubber must meet the road, NASF must meet FTES, or Full-Time Equivalent Students, for a CUNY building to go up. FTES is the unit of measure of student population in any edifice under consideration. Space standards are based on the number of FTES at a campus in a base year and a projected year. A campus will provide FTES numbers to the planning office, where we factor in the various space requirements of each discipline taught there. We have also calculated standards for non-instructional spaces like student unions, counseling offices, and library facilities.

Consider the striking example of Medgar Evers College, which has been making do with 155,000 NASF in two buildings but has doubled its FTES since 1989. According to CUNY standards, a total of 621,000 NASF is needed to serve the CollegeUs projected student population. This need for a four-fold increase in space was addressed when the Trustees approved an amended Master Plan for the College last fall. We keep a space inventory database for each campus that is updated yearly. After considerable mathematical work done in spreadsheets, we arrive at a Space Needed Per CUNY Standards number. Deducting Existing Space gives us a campusU total additional needs. From this point we move on to hammering out priorities, site acquisition, and architectural consultation.

In using this system, we hope to bring fairness to CUNYUs capital construction process during this period of severe funding constraints.