Repurposability: Flexibility & Adaptability of Spaces in Colleges & Universities


Over the last two decades, college and university campuses have been expanding at record rates. Often, these changes and expansions add luxury amenities that make campuses more attractive to prospective students. However, much of this space goes unused.

This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic where on-campus events and classes are restricted. Since many of these expansions were funded with debt, losing tuition during the pandemic has put a strain on college and university finances. These factors have been leading to a reassessment of how space is used on campuses, and how to get more out of the structures that are already there.

The philosophy of repurposability involves having spaces that are flexible for a variety of events and gatherings. These arrangements mean that schools can provide space for a wide range of activities without building places that will spend most of their time unoccupied.

College & University Expansion Challenges

Colleges and universities have felt great pressure to expand their campuses in order to attract new students in the face of flattening enrollments—which has led to high spending on lavish facilities. The amount of campus space per student has almost tripled since 1974.

However, many schools are finding that this sort of growth is unsustainable. Public funding for universities has fallen, leaving schools dependent on tuition dollars. COVID-19 has put even more pressure on budgets. And, with school shutdowns and virtual classes, many buildings are sitting unused. While most will meet in person again once it is safe to do so, options for remote learning will also be maintained.

Given these factors, it is unlikely that most schools will continue to build at the rate that they have. Instead, they are learning new ways to get benefits from existing spaces.

What Does Repurposability Mean?

Any new building or updating of existing spaces should involve the planning needed for smart growth. It's important to consider new or additional ways the space can be used, how often each use is needed, and what sorts of revenue, if any, a space can generate.

The most forward thinking designs focus on repurposability. That is, the flexibility and adaptability to easily move from one purpose to another. Repurposability measures a space's ability to be changed during a day or week as well as the ability of the space to be changed over time to accommodate changing needs of students and staff.

How Seating Impacts Repurposability in a Space

The type of seating chosen for different spaces has a strong impact on how flexible that space will be throughout a day, a week, and a term. For instance, spaces where all seating is fixed to the floor are much harder to change out when more floor space is needed. 

If you have a space that will be called into use for many different purposes it is best to make that space as easy to change as possible. One of the seating types that we recommend if you are going to be using a space for many different purposes is telescopic seating. Telescopic seating, which is also called retractable seating, allows a space to accommodate different events well.

Take a gymnasium that will be considered a multipurpose room: seating can be rolled out to accommodate a large seated audience for a guest speaker morning. Then, it can be fully retracted to allow a dance class to meet later in the day. In the evening, part of the seating can be put out while others are left retracted when a local amateur sports team rents the space for a game.

Telescopic seating is not just for gyms, however. Large arenas and performing arts centers are also embracing telescopic seating so the space can offer different types of events and fill gaps in their calendar.

Another big concern when it comes to flexibility is how quickly and easily seating can be expanded and retracted. Powered telescopic seating uses electric motors to bring seats out and stow them quickly and easily. In some cases, an entire facility can be transformed by as few as two employees in just a few minutes. This saves on labor and allows you to stay in operation even when staffing is low

College campuses are continuing to evolve. As technology advances, the ways that classrooms are used will continue to change. Different student body makeups may provide opportunities  to use buildings in different ways than they are now. By planning for smart growth, colleges and universities can keep pace with these evolutions. Making spaces adaptable and flexible to increase repurposability will mean that every space on campus can have more utility.

At Irwin Seating Company, we've spent years helping facilities of all kinds plan for their future seating needs. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you increase your spaces' repurposability.


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