Over the next decades, UZH will be involved in large-scale and highly complex construction projects. The fifth construction phase at Irchel Campus and the “Forum UZH” project are already under way, while further major projects will soon be added in connection with developing the Zurich City University District and Irchel Campus. At the same time, about 250 small or medium infrastructure projects are carried out each year. The costs for maintaining and renewing real estate will require future annual investments of over 150 million Swiss francs. These investments are thus considerably higher than the funding used today.
In order to realize the required infrastructure projects as effectively as possible, the Canton of Zurich in 2015 transferred wide-ranging real estate management competences to the University. This “delegation model” allows UZH to take on the functions of building owner and portfolio manager for renovations and new buildings. In other words, UZH defines its infrastructure needs, initiates and develops building projects, and thus manages project planning and realization processes.
“The quality of infrastructure is crucial for the competitive success of a university,” says President Michael Hengartner. “We aim to plan university buildings in a way that best meets the needs of researchers, instructors, and students. This is why having management competences in the area of real estate development is so important for UZH.”
Complexity and significance of generational projects call for strengthening of organization
UZH has taken significant steps toward professionalizing its real estate management since 2015. Previous work on implementing the delegation model has now shown that the challenges facing UZH can no longer be tackled successfully given its current organizational structures. This became evident from, among others, the key large-scale projects currently underway.
To improve the current situation, the Board of the University issued on 30 October 2017 strategic definitions for the future organizational structure in the area of real estate management at UZH. As a medium-term measure, the Board recommended to the Executive Board of the University that a reorganization of real estate affairs at UZH be evaluated within the ongoing project “Strengthening the Management of the University of Zurich”. Further, the Board of the University suggested that the Executive Board take into account the significance and scope of real estate affairs at UZH, and especially that it should align itself with the varying requirements and attitudes of building owners, their representatives, and purchasers, and design its tasks, roles, and responsibilities in accordance with good governance principles. As a short-term measure, the Board of the University recommended that the units Finances and Real Estate be separated as soon as possible, and be replaced with a temporary solution.
“In the past two years, UZH has undertaken major efforts to fulfill its new role as building owner,” says President Michael Hengartner. “Building projects have become increasingly important and complex over the past few years. This new organizational structure makes us stronger, allowing us to adequately prepare the upcoming generational projects.”
Wanted: real estate specialist
At its meeting yesterday, the Board of the University decided to reorganize real estate management at UZH as of 1 January 2018. This reorganization will be implemented step-by-step in the first quarter of 2018. The purpose of the new organizational structure is to enable UZH to be more efficient and effective in its planning of new buildings required for students, researchers, teaching staff, and employees.
The reorganization comprises two elements:
- First, real estate affairs will be removed from the current Division of Finances, Human Resources and Infrastructure, and it will receive its own director. This person shall be a member of the Executive Board of the University.
- Second, the new Directorate for Real Estate and Facility Management will be structured according to its main processes. It will include office for strategic real estate planning, portfolio management, projects, and management (“services”). With this, UZH’s existing units will be partially reorganized.
The most sustainable way to meet the University’s need for specialist expertise in real estate is through the creation of an additional directorate for real estate. Alternatives, such as integrating real estate into the President’s Office or an existing Office of the Vice President, or the creation of a fourth Office of the Vice President headed up by a professor, were considered but were deemed to be less appropriate for the required aims for the reasons mentioned above.
Silvia Steiner, Director of the Department of Education and President of the Board of the University, is happy about the creation of the new directorate: “The new Directorate for Real Estate and Facility Management will ensure that real estate matters at UZH will now be represented in the Executive Board of the University according to their significance, and that the required resources are available to tackle future tasks.”
Stefan Schnyder, current Director of Finances, Human Resources and Infrastructure, also welcomes the new organizational structure of UZH. “In light of the scope and complexity of upcoming projects, separate oversight over the finances and real estate areas is the right thing to do. This model has also proved successful at other universities, such as at ETH Zurich. It will now be easier than before to meet the various needs and attitudes of building owners, their representatives, and purchasers.”
Stefan Schnyder and President Michael Hengartner mention further benefits of the new structure:
- It strengthens competences in defining the requirements of UZH buildings.
- It separates the finances and real estate areas in line with good governance principles.
- It pools specialist knowledge and responsibility regarding the main processes.
- It ensures that the significance of real estate affairs is reflected in the University’s organizational structure and that the required resources are available to tackle upcoming tasks.
- In addition, it gives members of UZH clearly defined access paths to communicate their infrastructure needs.
Executive Board of the University with seven members
“In light of the great strategic significance of real estate development, it’s essential that the new Director be a member of the Executive Board of the University,” says Michael Hengartner. The Executive Board of the University will be reorganized next year within the project “Strengthening the Management of the University of Zurich”. The reorganization of real estate affairs will occur within this context. The aim of this project is to strengthen the Executive Board of the University’s strategic and future viability, to professionalize all levels in line with appropriate competences and simple decision-making processes, and to optimize how tasks are divided among members of the Executive Board of the University.
In future, the Executive Board of the University will be made up of seven members, i.e. five members from academia (the President, three Vice Presidents, as well as a Director of University Medicine Zurich) and two technical specialists (Director of Finances and Human Resources, Director of Real Estate and Facility Management). The legal foundations for these changes are yet to be adapted (University Act and University Statutes). Until then, the Director of Real Estate and Facility Management will be a permanent guest (without the right to vote) on the Executive Board of the University.
According to President Michael Hengartner, it is in the interest of UZH that work on the major infrastructure projects continue swiftly; this is why the reorganization of real estate affairs at UZH should be implemented quickly.
UZH has been able to recruit Peter Bodmer, an expert with an excellent track record, to head up the new Directorate for Real Estate and Facility Management on an interim basis starting on 1 January 2018. Bodmer has been instrumental in developing the Zurich City University District over the past few years. Bodmer will also take over UZH’s seat on the managing boards of the “Forum UZH (Wässerwies)” and “UZI5” projects. He has the expertise and experience required to ensure an efficient cooperation between UZH, the Building Department and the Department of Education, and other stakeholders.
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