At Brown University, Providence, R.I., the campus' unsightly “Dumpster Alley” service area was converted into a swath of beautiful green space. At another institution, plans were developed to expand the university's underused underground tunnels and use electric carts in them to move supplies and utilities among various campus buildings. Another university used natural topography and hillside sites to camouflage services, opening up more green space for students and foliage.
Across the nation, colleges and universities are embracing materials-management planning, a creative and comprehensive solution to managing operations and support services. On many campuses, the receiving, delivery, storage, and removal of supplies and materials consumes a vast amount of space. As institutions expand, the amount of space devoted to infrastructure and support grows rapidly. The unintended result of this expansion: a cluttered, noisy and often inefficient campus. Delivery trucks compete with pedestrians; loading docks are in plain sight; trash containers sprout up; and lobbies, hallways and stairwells are used for storage space.
To better manage support space, colleges and universities are embracing the concept of “the invisible campus.” With a strategic materials-management plan, an institution's service infrastructure can be turned into a virtually invisible and sustainable environment, and a college or university can reclaim valuable campus real estate.
Why “the invisible campus?”
An effective materials-management plan finds innovative and effective ways to take the unattractive and unintended effects of managing operations and support services (delivery-truck traffic, loading docks, storage facilities, materials distribution, recycling and waste removal) and puts them largely out of sight. The goal is to consolidate and efficiently manage core services to create truck-delivery and service-vehicle routes that reduce vehicle or pedestrian conflicts; loading docks and delivery sites that reduce redundancy and increase effectiveness; solid and hazardous waste removal, storage and recycling that reduces cost; and utility infrastructure and service equipment relocation that improves campus aesthetics.
A materials-management plan often is provided as part of a capital-development or master-planning project. Quite often, the plan will make better use of underground or other off-site locations for services in the design of new or renovated facilities.
For example, one university built a new laboratory to replace an existing building that contained central support functions for the entire campus: truck deliveries, mail delivery, waste management and material storage. A materials-management plan was put in place that included mapping numerous underground tunnels and modifying them to place much of the university's support infrastructure below grade. A new underground service center was situated in the multi-story service complex beneath the new facility. By taking an asset the school already had, operations and support services were organized in a more beneficial and productive way.