Higher Education Facilities Leaders Share Insights in Philly

On a chilly October day in Philadelphia, our facilities planning analysts gathered for a regional workshop with facilities leaders from institutions including Swarthmore College and Duquesne University. The event was hosted by Drexel University and Paul Linderman, Drexel’s Assistant Vice President for Capital and Lease Financials.

State of the Room

This small group of twelve members brought to the table a combined 180 years of higher education experience in a range of roles. This cross-section of membership represented a variety of institutions: public and private, large and small, research and liberal arts. They were all there to talk facilities management. Pete Zuraw, VP of Market Strategy for Sightlines, a Gordian company, helped moderate the conversation throughout the day.

State of Facilities

We love a tradition, which is why our Insights events always get a preview of our annual State of Facilities address. Kevan Will, Senior Account Manager, gave attendees their first glimpse into the 2018 report. Kevan explored the impact of debt taken on by campuses, capital investment returning to its pre-recession heights, flattening operational budgets and space growth outpacing enrollment growth.

The topic which sparked the most interaction surrounded building lifecycle waves. We talk about this theory all the time with our members. Campus buildings built in the mid-20th century are hitting their second lifecycle need, while the surge of buildings built in the last 15- 20 years are hitting their first lifecycle and are due for major repairs and replacements. Effectively, all of these facilities are going to need repairs at the same time. It’s a scary thought, right? How do schools choose what projects to tackle when? How do they pay for it all? Our members discussed this imminent problem.

Some institutions plan to take advantage of economic conditions. For instance, Saint Joseph’s University urged caution in spending when things were booming and costs were high. Bryn Mawr College’s building needs had a bit of a peak during the recession, so they were able to take advantage of optimal pricing and stretch their dollars.

"You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way." - Marvin Minsky

Leveraging Experience

In addition to sharing ideas for paying for an onslaught of facilities’ needs, members spent some time talking about how to leverage knowledge from previous institutional and industry experience.

Joe Monahan, Associate Vice President, Facilities and Operations  at Temple University, has worked at three higher education institutions in the Philadelphia area, all very different in GSF, endowment and hierarchical organization. All of this gives him a deep understanding of how each corner of the department truly functions. Monahan has learned that prioritizing needs and setting expectations is paramount to securing funding.

“Transparency helped [with] sharing resources and solving problems.”

Joe Monahan

Nina Bisbee from Bryn Mawr College has been in higher education for less than three years, having spent the previous 25 years at the Philadelphia Zoo. While zoos are less sophisticated in terms of metrics, they do face the same overall issues as a college campus. It’s all about space, people and upkeep. Getting a new animal into the zoo raises the same question as adding a new class to the academic schedule: “Can the facility accommodate the new addition with what we have available?”

Highlighting Drexel

We were grateful to Drexel and Paul Linderman for hosting the Philadelphia Insights Workshop and for showing off some alternative financing strategies in the form of third-party collaborations. Drexel has gotten creative over the years, bringing in new partners to expand the campus footprint and taking every opportunity to increase community involvement. One long-term strategy involves a parcel of real estate that is under planning and development and will be released 100 percent to the university in 99 years. Another entity adds apartments and condos to the campus landscape. Finally, builders have completed a medical center run by Drexel staff and emerging medical professionals for those in need of an affordable healthcare facility. A second, similar facility is already in the works. All of this innovation has been accomplished with alternative financing.

Before everyone departed for the day, we took a short tour of some interesting spaces at Drexel. The Papadakis Integrated Scieces Building is Gold LEED-certified and houses a 22-foot wide by 80-foot tall living bio-wall, the largest in North America.

The Workshop concluded at the Main Building, which dates back to 1891 and features a breathtaking atrium with the original tile still intact. Carvings of masters at their crafts—think Shakespeare, Galileo, and Bach—adorn the archways and columns. The original Drexel Institution, the Main Building now serves as the home for classrooms and administrative offices.

Future Insights

We enjoy meeting with our members and providing a forum for conversations around new approaches to tackling issues on their own campus. Stay up-to-date on upcoming events and gain access to exclusive content by subscribing to our newsletter.


About Gordian

Gordian is the leader in facility and construction cost data, software and services for all phases of the building lifecycle. A pioneer of Job Order Contracting, Gordian’s solutions also include proprietary RSMeans data construction costs and Sightlines Facility Intelligence Solutions. From planning to design, to procurement, construction and operations, Gordian’s solutions help clients maximize efficiency, optimize cost savings and increase building quality.