It's in the Details

Planning for tomorrow while building for today can be a daunting task; but with predetermined goals and a little insight, an outstanding facility can result.

Raising capital for school construction is a difficult and often highly charged process. Rare is the school district that confidently states it has enough money to do everything it envisions when the bond issue passes or the developer fees are assessed. Therefore, the challenge is to create schools that will serve students well into the coming decades, yet remain within budget.

Designing a high school requires different thinking when compared with an elementary or middle school. Several features differentiate high-school students from their younger peers: -A greater number of students congregate on a single campus. -Less supervision is needed between classes and after school. -Harder wear and tear on furniture and finishes, particularly those found in common areas occurs. -The facility is used more for after-school activities. -The campus may be open.

Building a successful high school actually begins long before an architect starts designing. District personnel should work closely with planners and architects to decide the project's larger goals, including academic and social perspectives, as well as the effects the school will have on faculty, students and staff. Other considerations, such as how the school functions as a social organization, should be considered. Ultimately, the challenge is how to integrate instruction, aesthetics and security into a place that stimulates and enhances the learning process.

Flexible design When considering the "where" and "what" of the project component, try to think in terms of current and future usage of the space. What works now may not be as efficient in the future. Try to determine any perceived change in the student population during the next decade or two. Many districts are growing rapidly and are aware that the current high-school building may be insufficient for a larger population in the future. Acknowledging that growth allows districts to plan for these changes when designing a new school, when the near-term cost is less than future expenditures.

Technology is an important part of a high school. Therefore, districts should consider putting conduit for future technology into classrooms and administrative areas that might not receive cabling for a few years. Installation during initial construction makes system changes easier and more cost effective in the future. Another important aspect to planning is understanding where future buildings might be sited on campus, which allows engineers to place utilities in paths that will minimize disruption to services and relocation costs later on.

Do not overlook the maintenance aspect. While a certain finish may be attractive, it could prove difficult and costly to maintain. Talk to the maintenance staff to find out what features of other schools work and the ones that do not work. Seek finishes that easily can be maintained, because high-school finishes often are the focus for vandalism and graffiti. Try to balance maintenance goals with creating a pleasant learning environment.

Another area that deserves attention is light fixtures. Schools have found it difficult to completely vandal-proof light fixtures, particularly if they are located outside. Whenever possible, install light fixtures on the building not on poles, which makes them blend into the building rather than stand out as targets. With the proliferation of computers into classrooms, marker boards are replacing chalkboards. While it has not yet been proven that chalk dust affects computer performance, many districts are not taking chances. Consult with your facilities committee to create a classroom environment that the staff and students find most productive.

Another consideration is weather. In many areas of the country temperatures remain pleasant throughout the year. For this reason, many teachers find it more conducive to instruction if they can open windows throughout the year to allow fresh vs. recirculated air into the classroom. To prevent open windows from affecting the overall HVAC system and its costs, provide temperature controls in each room.

Keeping it secure Security should be approached on several different levels--campus-wide, building-wide, and via individual rooms that hold computers, musical instruments or other special equipment. While few schools need to place security cameras and systems throughout the campus, there are several solutions that should be integrated into the overall design.

For example, place facilities that will be used after hours or by the general public in locations that are accessible, yet can be closed off from other areas of the school. Joint-use facilities may include athletic fields, basketball courts, swimming pools, gymnasiums/assembly spaces, bathrooms, media centers and performing-arts centers. Consider roll-down grills to close these areas after hours. Some schools have located the parking to one side of the facility for easier access to after-hours activities.

By pooling funding sources or passing a bond issue for joint-use facilities, schools and communities can obtain needed buildings that neither could afford on its own. This is a win-win solution that can work well for such projects as athletic facilities, performing-arts centers, media centers, parks/green space and multipurpose buildings.

There are many advantages to instituting this concept: -The school can build and use a facility that it could not afford. -The public will have a centrally located, well-equipped facility for seminars, programs and performances. -Public-use areas allow community members more contact with the school district--the same people who may be called upon for active support of future projects or bond measures.

Liberty Union High School, located northeast of San Francisco, traditionally had a strong drama and music program. Prior to completion of its Performing Arts Center, students held band concerts in the gymnasium, while the drama and choral groups used the stage in the cafeteria for performances. While the district hoped to build a theater, its expense put the idea on hold.

Philip White, former superintendent of the district, sought an alternative financing approach to make the dream a reality. He formed a group of interested community members and city officials to develop and prioritize a list of capital projects that would be funded by a bond measure supported by the city council. These promotion efforts were further supplemented by the Brentwood Community Theater, whose members had participated in the creation of the bond measure. In return, the community theater group would use the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) for its performances.

"Their efforts were key in the passage of this measure. They developed a coalition to directly endorse the project and provided volunteers as well," says White.

Following the successful passage of the bond, the architect worked with the district, city officials and members of the Brentwood Community Theater to develop the program and design of the PAC. The facility had to serve three different, acoustically conflicting purposes--drama, band and choral performance. The committee participated in obtaining the optimum balance between these competing uses.

Ultimately, the facility program expanded to include an orchestra pit to facilitate musical theatrical performances. The center houses a 600-seat theater, drama practice room, dressing room, stage craft room, choral practice room, band practice room, several small practice rooms and a large storage area.

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