The two buildings had little in common, while they existed.

One was built in 1888 and once housed the University of Minnesota Music Department. The other was put up in the late 1960s, a half-mile off campus, and once housed a massive machine used for nuclear research.

But the university's decision to knock down both the Music Education Building and the Tandem Accelerator building unites them as signs of an aggressive new strategy by colleges here and elsewhere to control costs by controlling campus space.

"Financial situations and changing technologies have made it clear that we need to be more efficient in our utilization of facilities," said Orlyn Miller, the U's director of planning and architecture.

In other words, if a building is obsolete and costly to keep up, it will come down.

Colleges and universities around the country are taking a hard look at their buildings. This summer, Ohio State University passed a plan to add no net academic space. If it wants to add, it must show that it has subtracted.

"In the '90s and early 2000s, when universities were more flush with money, there were big building booms, and we weren't taking anything down," said Amanda Hoffsis, senior space planner for Ohio State.

"The new space didn't really solve old problems. It just added new space. The old problems remain."

Those old problems include the costs of cleaning, heating, fixing and keeping an eye on buildings -- whether or not people are in them.

But the movement includes more than mothballing and razing buildings, officials and experts say. It's also about "using the space you have more effectively," said Ira Fink, of Ira Fink and Associates, Inc., a planning firm focused on colleges and universities.

"On the energy side, colleges want to be good stewards."

Demo decisions move slowly

At the University of Minnesota, demolition is complete on the Music Education Building. But it took a decade to get to this point.

The building sat vacant since 1996 and was mothballed according to government standards, according to university documents. The U worked with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office and explored more than a dozen uses for the building. Could it be a retreat center? A student commuter lounge? A hotel?

A study showed that revamping the building would cost $2.9 million. In the end, the building's small size, inaccessible entrances and fire code violations landed it on a list for demolition. Earlier this summer, it was torn down.

"None of these are quick decisions," Miller said.

But some are easier than others, he said. The particle accelerator hadn’t been used in decades, and other research in the building was disrupted with the nearby 35W bridge collapse. With the Eddy Hall annex — also recently demolished — “it’s questionable whether it was much of a building the first place.”

Typically, demolitions were driven by building projects. For example, a building might be torn down to make room for a new one.

But now, the U is looking at its 29 million square feet of space with an eye to what it might take offline. Operating costs are weighed against the price of moving programs and people, plus demolition.

"The president [Robert Bruininks] has challenged us to reduce operating costs, and this is one way of doing it," Miller said.

But the U is not making the same commitment as Ohio State to add no academic space. "It's being discussed," he said. "But it's more often discussed as 'no net new space without new resources'."

That would exempt the next phase of the U's Biomedical Discovery District because it is funded mostly by the state. However, the university will cover the district's operating expenses, estimated at $109 million, $40 of which are non-recurring. The U expects grants will cover some of that cost.

Lots of space goes to offices

Research is the most expensive type of space to operate, and it tends to become obsolete quickly. But the biggest chunk of space on most campuses -- including the University of Minnesota -- is offices.

"That's easily 25 to 30 percent of all non-residential space on a campus," Fink said.

Coordinating building, mothballing and demolition to make the best use of space is a puzzle, Fink said, and "you have to look at all the pieces."

The demolition piece is especially tricky on a campus, he said. Some residents reacted with sadness to news of the Music Education Building's end. But even the ugliest, most mundane buildings elicit strong feelings from alumni.

"Universities have a long life to them," Fink said, "and people remember how things were."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168