Facilities Team Develops Tool That Makes Campus Scheduling and Planning Easier

A screenshot of the Campus Viewer interactive UML campus map
The interactive Campus Viewer, developed by UML's Facilities Information Systems team, won the "Effective and Innovative Practices Award" from APPA - Leadership in Educational Facilities.

By Ed Brennen

Renovation work at 839 Merrimack St. — the new home of the university’s Graduate and Professional Studies Center — was nearly complete when the campus abruptly shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The shutdown made it difficult for Facilities Management to coordinate the final stages of the project with architects and contractors, who could not meet in person at the property to go over a punch list of remaining work. 

By uploading photos of the building renovations to Campus Viewer, an interactive, web-based map platform recently developed by the university’s Facilities Information Systems (FIS) team, the punch list could be completed remotely.

“Because most people aren’t able to be on campus, it’s great timing” to have the Campus Viewer, says Assoc. Director of Planning and FIS Peter Brigham, whose team spent five years compiling data, maps and photos of the nearly 11,000 rooms across campus to create the platform that’s accessible to users universitywide.

UML has been recognized nationally for those efforts with an “Effective and Innovative Practices Award” from APPA – Leadership in Educational Facilities. Formerly known as the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, the organization represents more than 18,000 educational facilities professionals from over 1,300 learning institutions around the world. 

“This is well-deserved recognition for all of the hard work of our FIS team,” says Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management and Planning Jean Robinson, who notes that Campus Viewer “improves collaboration, transparency and decision-making across the university.”
“It helps facilitate student success by making sure the right courses are offered at the right time.” -Registrar Mai Nguyen on Campus Viewer

The Campus Viewer features more than 70 layers of building data on everything from square footage and information technology to life safety equipment and accessibility. All faculty and staff have access to around 30 layers of core data, while approved users have access to more secure layers and photos.

The Registrar’s Office, which uses the platform for scheduling courses, has high praise for the new tool. 

“It provides timely, accurate and relevant data to those planning and managing courses in various colleges,” says Registrar Mai Nguyen, whose office can see up-to-date details about classrooms, including the number of seats and white boards and the audio-visual technology. “It helps facilitate student success by making sure the right courses are offered at the right time.”

FIS has long maintained a database of university maps, floor plans and overall square footage, which Brigham notes is required when reporting for accreditation and even National Science Foundation grants.
The front of the new Graduate and Professional Studies Center Image by Ed Brennen
Thanks to Campus Viewer, Facilities Management was able to coordinate the final stages of construction on the new Graduate and Professional Studies Center with architects and contractors after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the campus in March.

But as new and renovated buildings started sprouting up around campus, an FIS master plan was developed in 2014 — with input from over 70 stakeholders — to maximize campus planning and solve data collection and management challenges.

FIS Coordinator Pamela Locke, a geographic information system specialist, developed the interactive map that serves as the anchor for the data. Nearly 15,000 documents associated with rooms were scanned and tagged to the map, work that now falls under the purview of Records Manager Larry Ourique.

Photos were another issue, according to Brigham. For years, unlabeled photos of rooms had been saved in project folders on shared drives across campus. So the FIS team invested in a 360-degree camera and worked with programmers from University Relations’ Web Services team to develop a photo collection app that automatically tags photos to the map. Student interns and Facilities employees took nearly 11,000 photos, providing floor-to-ceiling views of rooms (like those seen on Google Street View).

The photos, which are limited in access for security purposes, have enabled contractors to bid on projects during the campus shutdown, Brigham says. They’ve also allowed prospective faculty to see what their potential lab space would look like.

The FIS team has similarly created data collection tools for dozens of departments, such as Life Safety and Emergency Management, so they can link their data directly to the Campus Viewer.

“They own the data — they are the custodians — but they are willing to share it so we can serve it up,” Brigham says.

The FIS team also includes Computer-aided Design (CAD) Specialist Florentina Corbescu, who maintains the floor plans for each building, and Project Management Information Specialist Renee Morin, who oversees e-Builder, a layer of Campus Viewer that provides details on the more than 100 projects being handled at any one time by Facilities Management.

“The team has a unique ability to understand what various stakeholders do and how they generate and utilize data, while seizing every opportunity to increase the efficiency, access and veracity of campus data,” says Rick Wood, director of life safety and emergency preparedness.