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What is Comprehensive Master Planning?

What is Comprehensive Master Planning?

Many communities are facing very difficult decisions in regard to their future.  The needs of congregations are complex and cover multiple aspects of their operations and Sister daily life. This is typically a multi-faceted issue and not so simple to figure out. Planning efforts can start with a simple review of one aspect—say buildings—but that may not look at the full picture, which doesn’t therefore provide enough information to make informed decisions.

A comprehensive look at the challenges each community is facing is the best approach. The question “Do we have enough funds to care for our Sisters?” is many times the spark that leads to the identification of additional factors that need to be addressed. Understanding community demographics is key, but it only provides a piece of the puzzle. Many of the tasks that we will review are interrelated to one another, which makes it even more important to view several of these components in tandem. This allows us to arrive at all the puzzle pieces that create the picture to successful implementation.

Let’s look at the various components that provide for a successful, and more importantly, implementable planning effort.

"A comprehensive look at the challenges each community is facing is the best approach."

Julie Heiberger

Religious Market Leader | Senior Project Architect

Project Management

A skilled project manager will help shepherd the process along and assist the planning committee and leadership keep their overall goals for the effort focused and on-time.  An individual that can juggle multiple tasks, ask pertinent questions, and identify missing pieces of information is vital to the data gathering and overall analysis. Leadership Teams and Committees have day jobs and typically do not have time to chase everything down.  The project manager will manage all the work/services and facilitate the discussions between various consultants, committees, and leadership—they will know who should be involved in which discussions. As the gate keeper for all information, the project manager will form the work plan, assemble meeting agendas and minutes, and create the implementation schedule with all team member input.

Facilitation and Community Engagement

There are many ways to involve members and stakeholders in any planning effort. Understanding how this has been done in the past, identifying ways that could have produced better results and consensus, and modifying the process based on lessons learned is important for gaining alignment. How to share information and receive feedback and insight from both Sisters and key stakeholders is extremely important for buy-in. Common tools for engagement are focus groups and surveys, with the data gathered giving insight to what is important and/or concerning to those engaged. Understanding how ongoing communications, like newsletters, can also be an effective way to keep the community informed. It is of the utmost importance that whatever happens in a committee environment, that all individuals understand the message after the meeting—so when they are approached the individual is clear on what is to be shared. This isn’t meant to keep information from the community, but to make sure rumors are not generated that cause undue stress to members and staff.

Property Condition Assessments

Property Condition Assessments are an in-depth and comprehensive evaluation of buildings and infrastructure to understand the state of the equipment and built components that heat, cool, and serve the buildings’ occupants. This assessment is usually performed by engineers and architects to identify items that require repair or are anticipated to be replaced or addressed in the next 10 years. This is vital information for budgeting and planning capital improvements that are anticipated. For instance, a review of the mechanical equipment may note that it is approaching the end of its useful life (and therefore not very efficient in energy or performance) and will require replacement in five years. Not only are the mechanical systems reviewed, but the building envelope (roof, brick, windows, foundation, etc.) are also included in the assessment, along with a review of site features such as roadways and drainage.  Material finishes, ADA and accessibility, and analysis of Life Safety is often included in these assessments and help identify hazards that may need to be addressed.

Building Use Analysis / Potential Use Analysis

Many buildings suffer from under-utilization and general inefficiencies. Many communities have multiple occupancy types in their buildings; administration, independent living, care areas, ministry space, retreat areas, and public function spaces such as dining and chapel, for example. Evaluating and identifying ways that spaces can be consolidated to be more efficient is a good way to understand how much of the building space adjacencies/efficiencies are present in the building, identify underutilized space, and recognize potential improvements to independent living, care areas, and office spaces to be more operationally efficient. With tendencies to spread out “just because” there are empty spaces available, this can help to understand the communities true space needs.

Once the building analysis is completed, there may be spaces available for other uses and occupancies. Perhaps the best route is to move to another building or location. To best understand how the building could be used, it is critical to gain an understanding of the construction of the building and the limitations that may be put on other occupancies. If the building construction requires significant investment to meet the building codes for another occupancy, that may result in a decision to sell a property versus a capital improvement by the congregation.  This also will help to identify potential partners that may be willing to invest in the building based on their vision.

Financial Analysis and Forecasting

Many times an evaluation of a community’s financial health and ability to continue operating and caring for members ‘as-is’ will help with the understanding of their ability to care for all Sisters into the future. Understanding current operations, future capital expenditures, financial assets/investments, and community demographics—and how these impact future changes in the overall expenditures required to continue from a state of financial strength if nothing changes—is vital.

Looking into the future, changes in operations, divestment of assets, building improvements, and demographics can be modeled to show how identified changes can impact and extend the financial health of the community. To answer the questions “What can we do to ensure we have enough funds available to care for all our Sisters?” and “What changes can we make to impact and strengthen our financial health?”, we need to look at possible scenarios that take different strategies into account. For instance, by looking at how much space is needed for Sisters versus open, rentable space or if there is an opportunity to sell the building and lease back space needed for the community’s use are just two examples of scenarios that can be modeled. Financial modeling allows a community to look into the future to see what changes can be made to extend a community’s financial capabilities further into the future.

Market Needs Analysis

If there are buildings or property that could be used for other uses, such as for senior living services or multi-family / low-income housing, a Market Needs Analysis can help further inform the community of potential alternative uses for underutilized buildings and property. These types of studies help identify care needs in a community and what is currently provided to identify gaps in the marketplace. For instance, if there is a shortage of assisted living facilities in the outlying community, there may be a provider looking to meet that need and may find either a new or remodeled building attractive.

These studies can also include a search of un-met multi-family housing, low-income, and income supplemented housing needs in the surrounding community. The main caveat to these, however, is that they have a shelf life of about five years. With community demographics and potential new providers entering the community, the studies should be re-run if past five years to capture the current market conditions.

Civic Community Needs Assessment

A Community Needs Assessment helps to identify potential community organizations and mission-aligning partners that may have a need for building space or an unmet community need that can be accommodated in existing spaces on a congregation’s campus. This effort ties into the building use analysis due to the potential for underutilized buildings. This process includes identifying with the congregation what is acceptable to the members, especially if the building will continue to be a residence or administrative space for the congregation. Interviews are held with organizations to identify the best fit to complement the congregation’s future needs of the building.

Operational Assessment

An Operational Assessment for religious organizations with declining numbers and shrinking administrative needs involves a comprehensive analysis of the current operational structure, processes, and resources. The primary goals are to identify areas of inefficiency, streamline operations, and reallocate resources to align with the organization’s evolving needs while preserving its core mission and values. Some of the tasks involved include data collection, stakeholder interviews, review of operational processes and administrative structure, and evaluation of sponsored ministry viability into the future.

Real Estate and Land Analysis

Real Estate and Land Analysis is a process that involves evaluating various factors to understand the value and potential uses of a property. Aspects of understanding the property include zoning, site restrictions, utilities, site features (such as wetlands and easements), broker opinion of value (BOV), and highest and best use to determine the optimal value. Land use planning can help identify the appropriate allocation of land for various uses, such as multi-family or senior care.

Comprehensive master planning is crucial for understanding all of the complex factors that affect the future state of a community and to develop implementation strategies rooted in data and factual information to ensure success. Not all of these tasks may be necessary, but should be discussed and considered for planning. While some of these may occur later in the process, it will vary on each community’s needs and internal capabilities. Having a project manager with an understanding of all the various avenues to collect data to make informed decisions can be a huge help to an organization with limited time and people recourses to shepherd the process along.  Grounding everything with communication is a step toward ensuring success.