Facility Planning
Facility Planning: Justifying the Future

Facility Planning: Justifying the Future

There are really two steps in the communication process that leads to creative, innovative school designs. The first step is identifying the need or asking “why?” The second step is creating a vision or asking “what can be?”

Identifying the need

Two “whys” usually drive the need for new facilities. The first is enrollment growth, and second is concern surrounding the age, adequacy and efficiency of the building. 

While new construction related to enrollment increases may seem straightforward, communicating the need can be challenging; especially if the increase is a recent phenomenon and the prior history of enrollment was one of decline. All too often the objection heard from the public goes something like this, “I graduated from that school and we had 100 more kids in our graduating class. Why do we need more space now?” Useful communication strategies to address an objection like this might include:

  • The use of newsletters/websites to highlight changes in how students learn today (i.e., special education, project-based instruction, technology, etc.).
  • Presentations to service organizations and other community groups that emphasize current instructional strategies such as differentiated instruction and computer-enhanced classrooms.
  • Listening posts that provide opportunities for school leaders to listen/learn from community members, as well as tell their own story about how education has changed.
  • Communicating needs related to age, adequacy and efficiency can be even more challenging, despite the fact that these facilities can no longer properly support the teaching/learning processes utilized by teachers. Again the refrain is, “The school was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my children (or more commonly other people’s children)!” Some ways to address these objections:
  • School tours (while students are present) that highlight the “good,” the “bad,” and the “ugly.” Accentuate changes (good) that are taking place in instruction, as well as the efforts/investments the district has made to properly maintain its schools. As for the bad and the ugly, it is better to show than tell, since any overt commentary on deficient aspects will likely prompt finger pointing about insufficient maintenance, etc.
  • Listening posts that provide opportunities for school leaders to listen/learn as well as share important information with the community.

Creating a vision

School buildings are steeped in tradition. Oftentimes, there is a strong bond between the school building itself and the community it serves. Educators have long had to “make do” with what they have. So, when tasked with designing new, innovative school spaces, there are several successful communication strategies to use:

  • Create focus groups of teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members and ask each group, i) what’s working in your school, ii) what’s not working and iii) if you could, what would your school look like?
  • Use school newsletters/websites to share what is new in schools in the immediate area and nationwide.
  • Invite educators who teach in schools with innovative designs to share their thoughts and ideas with their fellow educators in your school.
  • Bring school design specialists to board meetings and into the community for a “show and tell” about innovation in school design. 

Communicating from the very beginning and using a variety of communication tools is imperative to creating schools with truly innovative designs.

Tapper is senior educational planner for ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers, Minneapolis. He has more than 40 years of experience in public schools.

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