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Adjusting to growth: A growing student population also means facility changes

Boise State officially has 22,678 students enrolled for the 2012 fall semester and it raises the question of how the university’s building and classroom utilization is supporting this growing student population.

“The university has experienced a significant growth spurt recently with the opening of eight new major buildings in the last four years, encompassing well over a half of a million square feet of living, classroom, laboratory, office, event and common areas,” said Frank Zang, director of Communications and Marketing, in an email.

According to Mike Moon, interim director of Facilities Operations and Maintenance, there are 86 general classrooms on campus which can seat a total of 5,063 students. Additionally, there are approximately 32 department-controlled classrooms.

“The education building is well utilized and there are a great amount of resources,” said Rachel Rodgers, a senior bilingual education major. But she believes other classes such as her education math and sciences methods classes have too many students and “are in too small of a classroom so we all feel cramped.”

An example of how the university has responded to the need for better facilities is the newest academic facility on campus, the Micron Business and Economics Building.

Patrick Shannon, dean of the College of Business and Economics said, since the old business building, which opened in 1970, was built to meet the needs at the time without future growth considerations, the college had outgrown the building both in terms of today’s technology and capacity.

“Last spring over 25 percent of our classes had to be taught outside the building,” Shannon said.

The new building has significantly increased seat capacity and Shannon said there are 951 seats available at any one time.

Now all business classes can be taught in the new building and there is even excess capacity on the first floor which is allowing other colleges to use the space for their classes.

A question that seems to arise whenever talking about the new business building is what is being done with the old.

“The long-term usage plans are still to be determined as space planners evaluate the overall needs of the campus community,” Zang said. “Feasibility studies are being conducted to determine the possibility of consolidating academic departments in the building.”

Currently, the building is being used for general is being used for general classrooms, the Graduate College, computer labs for IT, biology labs and peer advising office space for the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs.

When asked how much growth the campus can sustain, Interim Associate Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities Jared Everett said, “We have done some peer-reviews that show that from a square-footage standpoint, we have seen other universities that have been able to handle up to 30,000 students with the same gross amount of square-footage.”

However, Everett brought up an issue that arises when comparing student enrollment across universities.

“When you get into the details, student enrollment means a lot of things to a lot of different universities. So if a university our same size has 30,000 students, well how many of those students are online students? How many of those students are taking extended-study courses being taught off campus? So, we need to further review that,” Everett said.

When asked how she feels about facility space on campus, Katie English, a junior majoring in English, said, “I know that the art students are losing their space. Art is all about space, so it is important for them to have room.”

A way Everett believes the university can gain higher efficiency as the university continues to grow is, “To look at more online classes, more hybrid classes, or we’re going to have to look at having more robust weekend offerings, or we’re going to have to extend those offerings to where there is more early morning classes, more late at night classes.”

He also noted at peak hours during the week which he estimates are mid-morning to early afternoon, Monday through Thursday, “classroom facilities on campus are near if not 100 percent

To learn more about the campus’ intended growth, Everett suggested looking at the campus master plan which, “is a study that shows where the university is going to grow, what types of facilities they will be and where we think those facilities will be sited,” available online here.

According to Everett, master plans usually have a life expectancy of ten years and the current plan was completed in 2005 with minor modifications in 2008, “so the plan is getting a bit dated, but we do believe many components of it are still fairly relevant.”

“Several years ago the university had just over three million square feet of campus spaces. We are now at 4.3 million. The square footage on campus has grown about a third just in the last seven years. To grow your campus 33 percent in ten percent of the university’s history is quite remarkable,” Everett said.

However, Everett did go on to add, the aggressive rate of growth being experienced is difficult to sustain in a short-term period.

He does anticipate the addition of other substantial buildings on campus but in the next ten years he doesn’t anticipate we will continue to have buildings like the previous ten years.

When asked about the outlook for parking expansion based on the growth of the student population Everett said although garages have been master-planned, “none of those are in active design mode.”

A critical aspect of facility expansion is, of course, the funding.

Public universities like Boise State are dependent upon a few different sources of income such as tuition, state appropriation, private gifts and grants, and according to Everett there has been a constant decline in state support.

“The state support for Boise State University has not kept up with the demand and the growth that we have,” Everette said.

As a result, the university has been dependent upon donations from businesses like Micron and Norco and individuals like the Stueckle family in order to fund facility expansion.