We develop master plans for colleges and universities. Invariably, the issue of the effective use of existing space becomes a discussion as we explore the spatial requirements, types, and condition of the existing facilities. When discussing utilization, we come across a problem rooted in how measures of utilization are made. In British Columbia, the Ministry of Advanced Education required the institutions to submit information. As a result, utilizations are calculated based on FTE figures and yield some interesting numbers. The calculations indicate utilizations in excess of 100%.
We measure utilization using calculations that are based primarily on the capacity in student stations.
A classroom with 32 seats has 32 student stations. If that room is used from 8 AM to 8 PM, the capacity – referred to as Student Contact Hours – available to the institution is 11 times 32 (assuming the lunch hour is not scheduled) or 352 student contact hours for a single classroom. However, the formulation is an overall number. Were the room filled with only 12 students for those 11 hours, the capacity USED is only 132 SSH’s or 37.5% of available capacity.
In the real world, the room OCCUPANCY varies through the day with some portion or all of the available capacity used. So how do we get a sense of the actual utilization through the day and through the week?
Our approach is to create an occupancy schedule that records, on a room by room basis, the scheduled time compared to occupied time. Because we cannot measure occupancy directly – say for example having “people sensors” in the room providing such data  – we use the closest proxy: the enrollment in the course that is scheduled into the particular room. The basic assumption is that the student will show up for class unless they are ill or otherwise indisposed. This unknown variable introduces some degree of error, but is not significant enough to invalidate the basic data.
We record room-by-room, for each hour of the day, for each day of the week, and for each week throughout the semester. The results are calculated and displayed through a Tableau dashboard. The program provides access to the individual performance of any room or it can provide the average performance of all rooms across all buildings. These can be chosen from sliders on the tableau dashboards.
How Is This Useful?
Facility management and space management can both benefit from this detailed view of room use. The types of rooms with the highest use are often chosen by faculty because the room has some special feature, are the right size and shape, or have copious amounts of daylight. This analysis will yield a cross section of the room sizes most often booked and can provide data that would allow the development of a better inventory of available rooms.
Capturing the underutilization of space allows a better understanding of available capacity that is data driven and not anecdotal. It allows facility and space planners to focus on barriers to greater use and correct those deficiencies. This approach is much more effective in eliminating the utilization bottlenecks that result from unequal room demand.
What Is the Utilization Target?
We are often asked what the target for utilization should be. We have two measures that we use: room utilization and seat utilization. Both measures have practical limits when it comes to the scheduling of required course sections into the available space. Let’s say at this point that 100% utilization is not possible; courses vary in length of time and days of the week and putting it all together is a complex task. Most institutions have scheduling software that is designed to optimize the assignment of space. The practical limit we see is 75% room utilization and 75% seat utilization.
The closer the room size matches the class size, the better the utilization which is why this information is essential to planning. It is often the case that requests are made for large rooms only to find that once built, the utilization of those larger theatres is dismally low. In general, the recent trends throughout Post-Secondary institutions is to smaller class sizes, with much more bookable group and collaborative work spaces.
What Is Required to do an Analysis?
Once Thinkspace is commissioned to do a utilization study, we will provide a template to record the data and to record the requested information. The study is usually a combination of spatial data from the facilities representatives and the allocation of courses to space from the booking software. We “clean” that data looking for duplicates or anomalies in the data set. Once complete, we run this information through a series of macros in a very large and complex Excel spreadsheet that does a room-by-room analysis across the entire inventory of scheduled space.
For further information on Utilization Analysis contact us at [email protected].
 We have experimented with the use of sensors that can gather real time data. The barrier here is the cost related to their use. In one case at the University of Alberta, the DDC room system that controls air based on occupancy provided a reliable data stream with times attached.