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Safe Return to Campus: How Penn State Leveraged Facility Technology to Navigate Capacity Reductions

With 33 million ft2 of space spread across 23 campuses, facility management is a complex process at Penn State University under normal circumstances. In the midst of a global pandemic, the team leveraged their cloud-based, mobile-enabled facility information system to adjust their plans and prepare for a safe return to campus.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the world thinks about physical proximity. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends keeping a distance of 6 feet from anyone who isn’t a member of your household. How do we safely go to work, return to school, and live our daily lives—while keeping physical distance to help control the spread of the virus?

On a university campus, the challenges loom even larger. From classrooms to dining halls, thousands of students are walking the same hallways and congregating in common spaces. Figuring out how to adjust space use and capacity to accommodate the recommendations from the CDC is a significant undertaking.


Thankfully, the Planning Design and Properties team at Penn State already had up-to-date floor plan data and an accurate space inventory for its 90,000 spaces when the pandemic hit. In 2018, they had migrated from a home-grown facility information system to InVision, powered by Cartegraph. They were looking for a modern, GIS-based system with a visual, graphical component to support their facility operations moving forward.

“In general, Penn State has been moving to more cloud-based solutions that are being maintained and improved by vendors instead of relying on solutions created by in-house personnel who may be shifted to competing priorities,” said Alex Gentry, Programs Manager at Penn State.

They named their implementation LionSpaceFIS and rolled it out to a team of 400 users. “I have been really impressed with the ease of use,” Gentry added. “We did all the training and rollout and I have been kind of astounded at the lack of questions we get after we do a short walkthrough with people. They just go to work.”

"We have techs who have jumped on this and are using their mobile phones to find the buildings and rooms."

Each Penn State Commonwealth Campus has a business or facility director and 1-2 assistant facilities staff members. At the flagship University Park campus, each college and major unit has a facility coordinator as well. These team members are responsible for keeping their facility information up to date in the centralized system.

“Something that we have been pleasantly surprised by is getting our maintenance techs in the field to use the mobile version to find rooms,” said Gentry. “We used to hand out printed block plans to everyone. Now we have techs who have jumped on this and are using their mobile phones to find the buildings and rooms.”


To prepare for a safe return to campus in a COVID-19 world, the team used InVision to apply a capacity restriction of 60-square-feet per person to offices, conference rooms, lounges, reception areas, multi-purpose spaces, and any other area that students and faculty would gather. They also drew social distancing layouts in CAD for high-priority spaces like General Purpose Classrooms and Labs. They loaded these images into LionSpaceFIS and made them available to all users on Campus.

Next, they trained their network of facility managers to use these guidelines as a starting point and adjust as needed. “We said a lot of times: This is a place to start. If you have a room that you’re sure you can safely get more in or want less in, you can do a floorplan for that,” added Gentry. “It’s up to the individual units to actually go measure the rooms, or request a layout drawn in CAD, to make sure they’re maintaining the 6-foot spacing. It’s also up to them to enforce it.”

Beyond COVID-19 planning, the Penn State team is embracing key performance indicator (KPI) dashboards to monitor facility performance and space optimization. They track the number of active buildings, amount of square footage available, assignable square footage, and more. They also keep an eye on available office space by building to see which buildings are under- or over-utilized.

“Additionally, we use KPI cards to identify invalid items. For example, we can see when we have rooms with too many people assigned to them based on capacity or a non-assignable room that has someone in it,” explained Gentry. “We pass that information to the admin areas to clean up the data and keep everything up to date.”