Facility Planning: Expect the Unexpected

Architects and educational planners often face topsy-turvy space-programming dilemmas. Space needs generally are thought to be dictated and influenced by systematic factors — educational philosophy; capacity; curriculum; master schedule; mandated federal and state programs; teaching methodology; community needs; and security. These factors change constantly, but generally the change occurs gradually.

Aesthetics, culture and attitude seem to be unsystematic. Some change is predictable; much is not. Consider recent issues:

  • Student hygiene

    Most students don't shower at school anymore. Shower rooms are being downsized or remodeled for other uses. What if the pendulum swings back? Concern about obesity may lead to more rigorous exercise programs, and showers may again be needed.

  • Marketing schools

    Districts are wooing prospective students, inviting them to tour facilities and meet staff. Aesthetics and maintenance come to the forefront because many people judge a book by its cover.

  • Student lunch policy

    Changing from an open off-campus lunch policy to a closed program may affect facility needs, such as cafeteria and kitchen space. When a policy allows students to go off campus for lunch, food-service facilities are downsized. If schools change this policy, remodeling or expanding those facilities will be expensive.

Experienced planners expect the unexpected. Unpredictable unsystematic factors may occur, such as:

  • Bigger students

    Designing corridors to meet minimal life-safety code requirements for a one-way emergency exit may not suffice for two-way traffic. Such corridors may be too narrow because today's students are bigger. Narrow corridors in heavy-traffic areas may lead to jostling, bullying, taunting and fighting.

  • Capacity

    Designing a 750-square-foot secondary classroom for 25 students and squeezing in 30 to 35 students can impair life safety, comfort and indoor air quality.

  • Open space

    The open-classroom concept has had varying degrees of success for 40 years. The concept was meant to facilitate individualized learning. But many teachers have not been trained to operate in an open environment, and the open setting can distract many students.

  • Climate

    Schools built with classrooms opening to the outside and no interior hallways were spared the costs of corridors. However, these designs can lead to more theft, vandalism and other safety problems. Having enclosed courtyards limited outside access, but didn't eliminate the problems of student lockers being outdoors, which in humid climates left them susceptible to mold.

  • What schools don't have, but wish they had

    For example, schools seek smaller class sizes until they see the added cost of additional classrooms. Sometimes, decentralized high school centers for grade-level administration or satellite resource centers are provided, only to be left unused and unstaffed because of budget limitations.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

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