PCC employs a holistic – and equitable – approach to facilities planning
Since its inception in 1961, Portland Community College has grown to include four comprehensive campuses and eight centers or areas served across a 1,500-square-mile service district area spanning five counties — Multnomah, Washington, Yamhill, Clackamas and Columbia. Historically, development of the college’s facilities has been approached site-by-site as growth needs dictate. However, a 2015 accreditation visit to PCC opened up the opportunity to launch a large-scale, college-wide integrated planning effort that brought together facilities, academics, information technology, and more.
This would be PCC’s first-ever attempt at conducting a system-wide planning analysis. It was a Herculean assignment because of its scope but a necessary one, both to meet accreditation needs and to back PCC’s Strategic Plan, which seeks to ignite a culture of innovation, achieve operational excellence, and support a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.
Phase I of facilities planning kicked off in October 2016, with the charge of creating an existing conditions assessment of the college’s infrastructure and understanding of how classroom space is utilized. A final report is anticipated next month that will reflect the collaboration of PCC stakeholders across eight different work groups, a steering committee and a task force, as well as several external consultants.
Part of the facilities plan highlights the application of Critical Race Theory, a theoretical and praxis-oriented framework to examine racial inequity in service to social justice. In this case, CRT was integrated with spatial theory as a tool to explore under-examined facets of space at PCC.
Following is a conversation with Project Manager Rebecca Ocken, who has directed Phase I of facilities planning, and Amara Pérez, a consultant who led the CRT portion of the process.
What are the goals of facilities planning as part of PCC’s larger integrated planning effort?
RO: We’d like a more planful approach to project identification at the college. This is the first time PCC has undergone a comprehensive assessment of its infrastructure. We are now data-rich after identifying areas for improvement in 60-plus buildings across the district. Through facilities planning, we are assessing the compiled data and structuring it in a usable format, and are seeking ways to improve project coordination.
What has this process revealed?
RO: Overall, our facilities are in good condition, and more serious deficiencies will be addressed through the 2017 bond — such as the remodel of Sylvania’s Health Technology Building and the Metro Center.
Our assessment also recognized the significant contributions of staff to the betterment of the college and just how invested our students are in their college environment and experience.
The staff and student participation prompts me to ask about their involvement in the Critical Race Theory part of the project. Please describe CRT and share how it was applied here.
AP: Critical Race Theory is a framework whose larger purpose is to advance racial equity for diverse communities of color. It’s used to examine racism as a system of domination, to uncover how racism is reproduced, and how it can be both implicit and explicit.
While CRT comes out of critical legal studies, it has been applied to education for decades, mainly as a tool to reveal patterns of inequity within institutions. These can be in the areas of student development, the classroom, policy and practice — and the findings have been profound.
This project offered the chance to bring CRT principles into conversation with spatial theory as an integrated framework to evaluate space, which is never neutral. What does spatial theory draw our attention to? Now, let’s add in CRT claims — in that spirit, what are our insights about PCC’s facilities? What are new questions in need of examining? What do these tenets mean for our institution?
Why was it important to the college to integrate CRT within the facilities planning process?
RO: Initially, the project team did not see a direct link to CRT in Phase I, as it was essentially an existing conditions assessment. Phase II seemed to be a better fit for CRT, when visions for future college growth will be developed. We also assumed — incorrectly — that Universal Design addressed aspects of CRT.
Fortunately, through continued discussion, it became clear that our built space relays a message to students, and we need to better understand what that is. Along with the physical design, we are finding ways to incorporate CRT in our design processes and procurement practices. By broadening our approach to engagement and participating in the more difficult conversations, we may be able to achieve a more inclusive and comfortable college environment.
How were students involved in this project?
AP: Students of color were invited to participate in a five-week leadership inquiry project. During that time they were introduced to the theories being explored and asked to apply them to their own lived experiences. Three daylong workshops were held, enabling the cohort to get to know one another, to review the focus of the project, and to understand their charge to investigate space at PCC.
They also created a survey to interview other students of color not in the cohort, about what they notice about space at the college. The last phase was to analyze their collected data — from the survey and their field notes.
What did they discover?
AP: That space is being read all the time, unconsciously or not. Depending on who you are, it changes the way we read space. Through students’ stories and lived experiences, we confirmed what the literature suggests – that space isn’t neutral and our multiple identities are often a lens through which we “read” and experience space. This was a huge insight.
They also learned about different dimensions of space, and that space functions to communicate socializing messages that teach dominant values based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and more. When reading space, it may be based on the built environment, the people in the space, or potentially a personal experience we had in that space. There are many dimensions. Our students, for example, expressed that looking at who occupies the space matters: Are others who look like them using it?
Eventually, we could have students help design space, using this critical lens; sometimes there’s a disconnect between designers and users of the facilities.
Perhaps most helpful is the set of questions that students developed for future use. For example, when contractors are submitting a proposal, PCC can ask them how they’ve applied equity in their work and how this affects the built environment.
You’ve noted that facilities planning is a multi-phase process. Can you describe what is included in each?
RO: Ideally, all work would be done in one phase, but given the sheer size of PCC we had to cut the work into more manageable phases.
Phase I results offer us a conditions snapshot of all PCC-owned facilities and infrastructure. We’ve evaluated everything from roofs to irrigation lines, thanks to eight work groups charged with specific areas of focus and made up of people from across the district. Focus areas included capital projects, facilities, sustainability, ADA, transportation and parking, information technology, and safety and security. We also formed a space utilization work group, responsible for evaluating the use of our academic areas. These work groups did the heavy lifting in reviewing and evaluating the data produced by a large consulting team.
Additionally, a steering committee was formed to help maintain a college-wide perspective and serve as the recommending body for the plan. In all, more than 100 people have been involved in the facilities planning process.
Phase II will feature campus and center visioning exercises to address future capacity at PCC facilities. This will afford us the chance to coordinate with Academic and Student Affairs, and to ensure that our built space is responsive to the college’s instructional and programmatic needs.
Earlier you mentioned the bond. How does facilities planning and the research you’ve done dovetail with PCC’s recently passed bond measure?
RO: Phase I of the facilities plan assessed and conducted cost estimates for the identified 2017 bond projects. Phase II of facilities planning will be funded by the 2017 bond, and it’s in this phase that the college will begin identifying larger capital projects for future bond funding.