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NWO-I strategic real estate adviser Maarten Kruizinga wants to be prepared for the future

‘Not looking away, but looking ahead’

Excellent accommodation that seamlessly fits the needs of researchers. In a nutshell, that is the work of Maarten Kruizinga, strategic real estate adviser at NWO-I. He started working in this new position at NWO-I three years ago. After all of the NOW Institutes had been brought under a single organisation, the need arose for a central real estate policy with an eye for the long term. Kruizinga is working on that now. He is trying to realise a clear overview and prepare for a future without annoying surprises.

‘I want to look forty years ahead and determine which institute will need a major renovation or new building when. No surprises. No looking away from the major expenditure we face, but looking ahead.’ It is, of course, hard to predict what science will look like in another forty years. ‘But you do know that you still want to accommodate excellent research and so a best guess about the accommodation required is better than nothing. You can always adjust things if necessary.’

Grey areas

All nine NWO Institutes need to use comparable figures to make such a long-term perspective possible. There are currently still many grey areas where each institute makes its own choices. For example, what constitutes maintenance and what represents renovation? That is clear in the case of a bit of painting, but modernising an outdated part of your office is a less clear-cut case. What is real estate, inventory or scientific infrastructure? In the case of a building or an office chair, it is clear, but what about a cleanroom? Which costs are paid from the basic grant, and which costs are paid from project funding? Which maintenance activities should be carried out by your own employees, and for which activities should you hire external people? ‘The classification needs to be unequivocal’, says Kruizinga. ‘Equal rules for everyone. Otherwise, everybody can say that they need something without it being clear how justified that claim is in relation to the needs of other institutes.’ Kruizinga hopes to complete the harmonisation process this summer. That will provide a good basis for a strategic real estate plan.

Green and flexible

A strategic plan allows you to emphasise certain things. What does Kruizinga consider to be important? With an enthusiastic glint in his eyes that is clearly visible, even during our video call, he immediately mentions a boost for sustainability. ‘I think that a scientific organisation can definitely be ambitious in this regard and give a good example. The institutes are currently investigating whether a joint ambition to become “climate neutral” in 2030 is feasible. Great steps have already been taken per institute. For example, Nikhef’s data centre at Amsterdam Science Park provides residual heat to the nearby student accommodation, and various new institute buildings have acquired a sustainability certificate. The second aim that touches upon sustainability requires us to ascertain the minimum we genuinely need to conduct world-leading scientific research. Finally, in science, you always need to make choices: do we invest this euro in buildings or in research? And, of course, we would prefer to invest in research. The challenge is not to come up too quickly with standard solutions, but to seek creative solutions that improve the quality of accommodations and that are also sustainable. In this respect, more is not necessarily better. An example is building as flexibly as possible to maximise your real estate portfolio’s lifespan and avoid renovations as much as you can, even if the research changes. Or sharing space and equipment, which also allows you to make connections between different science domains.’

Human resistance

What are the difficult cases that Kruizinga has to deal with in his everyday work? He has to think for a long time before answering. The current new building for SRON in Leiden is a gigantic project, but that is actually going exceptionally well, and the project team of SRON is keeping a firm grip on things. The large-scale renovation at Nikhef involves very different challenges. When the building work begins there, and all of its associated inconvenience, it will be a challenge to safeguard the continuity of all Nikhef’s processes. Sometimes the negotiations with partners – other universities, municipalities, the province, companies – are protracted. Things always work out eventually, but it sometimes takes a lot of time. ‘In the end, people are usually the greatest source of resistance’, he says, after thinking for a while. This can happen when people need to get used to a new way of working. That was the case, for instance, with the relocation of the NWO Utrecht office in 2019 when “activity focused” working was introduced. Rooms were set up for different types of activities: phoning, meeting or working in silence. This means that employees no longer have their own fixed place. That takes some getting used to, but such a concept offers many more opportunities for meeting and connection, and it means that your office space can flexibly respond to future changes in the organisation, says Kruizinga. So it is also more sustainable. In this case too, it is important to establish what is genuinely needed.

Working from home revolution?

According to some people, the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a real revolution in working from home even when it is over. Kruizinga takes a more nuanced approach to this. ‘I don’t see offices in their current form disappearing, but the composition of activities that take place at the office might well change in the future’, he says. ‘Far more than in the past, the office will mainly become a place for meeting co-workers. And the threshold for being able and permitted to work from home will become lower. Employers will then need to be really flexible in the search for a work-home balance.’ However, we can endlessly speculate about what the consequences of the pandemic will be whereas, in fact, we will simply have to wait until public life slowly picks up again in the near future.’ In this context, NWO-I is also busy developing a policy for hybrid working (from home, at the office or elsewhere) in the post-corona era.

Creativity and pragmatism

Kruizinga is pleased with his job at NWO-I. When he made the switch from industry to scientific research, he had to get used to the political nature of research organisations. However, now he finds dealing with the continuous clash of interests fascinating. ‘It’s more exciting than acting as a police officer in a building project.’ He also enjoys being out and about a lot, visiting all of the NWO-I locations. ‘I’m not someone who likes to sit behind a laptop for eight hours a day.’ Furthermore, he likes architecture and the combination of creativity and pragmatism that his job involves. And, last but not least, he finds it satisfying to indirectly contribute to good research.

Who is Maarten Kruizinga

Maarten Kruizinga (1979) lives in Utrecht with his partner and their daughters aged five and two. He studied civil engineering at TU Delft, worked for a real estate consultancy in Den Bosch and then for the real estate company of Leiden University. He started working for NWO-I in March 2018. In his spare time, Kruizinga is the drummer in the rock band Billbunker (listen on Spotify or YouTube), bikes off-road across the Utrechtse Heuvelrug or can be found on his skis. However, his ski trip a year ago had a less pleasant ending. Kruizinga was one of about 6000 people who became ill after a stay in the infamous Tyrolean coronavirus hotspot Ischgl in Austria. He had to spend five weeks in quarantine in the guest room. Kruizinga has since resumed his everyday activities without problems, but his athletic performance is still not what it used to be.

Text: Mariette Huisjes
Newsletter Inside NWO-I, May 2021

NWO-I real estate

To make the high-level research of its nine national research institutes possible, NWO-I owns or rents laboratories, offices, additional buildings and grounds at about thirteen locations in the Netherlands, from Groningen in the northeast to Yerseke in the southwest. The oldest building (ASTRON’s service building at the Westerbork site) dates from 1968, and the newest (SRON in Leiden) will be completed in May of this year. The total value of the real estate owned by NWO-I is 84 million euros.


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