Space planning for research facilities at University of Adelaide

As universities continue to operate with reduced funding, the focus is shifting towards making the most of existing infrastructure. University of Adelaide recently embarked on a space review for its research facilities, to find out how buildings, labs and equipment could be more efficiently used to support the needs of multi-disciplinary research teams.

Ahead of Research Facilities Design & Development 2016, Harald Baulis, Manager of Space Planning at the University of Adelaide, discusses how his team conducted the review to enable more co-location of equipment and research space.

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Harald Baulis, Manager of Space Planning at the University of Adelaide

We created new space benchmark standards after a highly focused review of all our space was carried out.

Like most tertiary institutions at the moment, University of Adelaide is focused on making better use of existing infrastructure against a tighter budget, evaluating the future direction of the university.

With our study, the prime focus has been on laboratory space and associated research space, approximately 50,000m2.

It’s a serious amount of space, and anecdotally speaking, there are a lot of labs that aren’t used very effectively. Hence, the need for a comprehensive evaluation.

We’d reviewed all the labs in all the fields of health sciences, sciences and engineering – from dry lab to serious wet labs.

We began the review by engaging high level management and the faculty deans, who supported the process and recognised the value. From there, we set up a steering committee that could agree on the direction and define what would be covered. Additionally, within each faculty several sub-committees were established to help with feedback.

We subsequently performed walk-arounds of all the lab facilities, looking at condition and lab utilisation. Several detailed data sheets were developed for each lab, from which we were able to come up with their potential capacity.

We also reviewed the specific buildings to see if we could develop more efficient and effective layouts for specific buildings. Several additional focus groups were created in an effort to understand the future of wet lab work, standard repetitive processes, offsite activities, equipment centralisation and actual utilisation.

These focus groups comprised end users in terms of both researchers and lab managers, as well as technical specialists. While it’s vital to get feedback from the researchers, lab managers can have equally vital information on how the facilities could be used in a better way or more effectively.

Technology is changing, and research activities that might have traditionally needed larger equipment can now be done with smaller pieces or shared equipment. This is where the feedback from lab technicians was crucial.

Space benchmarking & standards

With space benchmarks and standards, we examined both university and commercial research lab benchmarks.

Several benchmarks have been established, including square metres per researchers, linear metres of bench per researcher, particular items of equipment per researcher, and office space per researcher.

We are still developing other KPIs, such as research grant income that is generated, and relating that variable to the space occupied. Bearing in mind, of course, that different types of research have different requirements.

One issue that we need to address, however, relates to the limitations of a flexible or interdisciplinary approach. Some research disciplines have very specific requirements.  A generic lab will not support these specialist requirements.

We recently built a generic lab, but when the selection was made for the final two groups to move in, there was a significant amount of additional work required for the equipment they brought. To make a facility more flexible can be more expensive, which is why we need to continually asses where we’re going in the context of flexibility.

The University of Adelaide has an archive that comprises space plans, live space occupancy plans, space charging information, and timetable utilisation stats related to some of the teaching labs. And what we’ve done is consolidate all of this data into one source, which we can utilise for ongoing planning work.

KPI tracking and the amount of designated office space to each group have also been integrated into this source. We have a blog that relates to this on the space system page, which updates stakeholders on the latest happenings and where we’re going with the use of space.

One of the advantages in our effort to manage space more effectively is we’re a relatively small and tight campus – much more an urban campus than a suburban spread-out design. So, we have much more of an opportunity for co-location of equipment and labs.

In terms of key lessons learned when it comes to conducting a space review, it’s very important to have an accurate space data system as the foundation. Is everything up to date for both the building plans and occupancy?

Our space charging system has really helped us with that, because it means each school and faculty signs off on what they occupy.

Additionally, it’s the walk-around to evaluate who is actually occupying the facilities and whether or not they are still receiving research funding. It could be leftover space from years ago.

From there, it comes down to layers of information on facility condition, if the equipment is up to date to accommodate the research, and areas of research in the near future.

Research facilities are complex when you start to bring them all together and try to evaluate a number of layers, such as condition and utilisation, and the appropriateness of the facility.

It’s a complexity that universities need to recognise and allow sufficient time to collate data and analyse it. Following the review, it comes down to the ongoing management of the process – a vital component for ensuring research facilities are appropriate and sustainable over the long term.

At Research Facilities Design & Development 2016, Harald Baulis will present on efficient space management strategies to support and facilitate research.

Download the brochure or visit www.researchfacilities.com.au to know more.

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