Schools as Centers of Community

The schoolhouse has evolved significantly since its inception as a one-room, one-teacher building. While much of the ideology remains the same, the look of the physical facility and its status in the community has gone through many metamorphoses over the years.

In the past, a school was the center of a community — reflecting its pride and the value placed on education. But the rapid school-age-population growth of the 1950s and 1960s that spawned a school building boom, and resultant population shifts that further spread out communities, contributed to a societal disconnect with the schoolhouse.

Over the last few years, however, schools are returning to their once-prominent position as flagships of the communities they serve.

Today's school buildings are being designed and constructed to encourage greater community use. The days of a school being used for a limited number of hours, five days a week, for nine months a year are over. Education facilities need to be available year-round, and have to accommodate more than just traditional students and programs. Schools increasingly must provide access for night and weekend use; pre-kindergarten, daycare, adult and senior programs; as well as serve as centers for cultural and recreational activities.

What is dictating the movement back to increased community use of education facilities? Why…the community, of course!

When school districts propose a bond issue to raise needed funds to construct new facilities or conduct major renovations to accommodate enrollment growth, new technology, or safety and accessibility issues, many often have to incorporate significant community-use aspects into their plans. Districts are finding that it is much easier to get funding for a building program when taxpayers are involved in the planning process and see additional benefits of the construction beyond just education — namely community benefits.

In addition, schools are finding that local businesses and organizations are more receptive to contributing dollars, equipment and resources to those institutions that include the potential for alternative and community uses in their facilities.

This focus on the community has major design implications for schools. For example, more attention is paid to the types and organization of spaces planned into the building. Schools are including spaces for technologically advanced media centers, expansive recreation centers, auditoriums that can accommodate professional performances, and elaborate and functional common areas and multipurpose rooms to encourage community use. These spaces also require extensive planning for such things as traffic flow, parking-area locations, security and accessibility.

The schools planned, designed and built today are much more sophisticated than those of years past. So, too, is a building's applicability and usefulness to the community.

Constructing schools to be not only just classrooms — but also facilities that encourage and accommodate extensive outside use — is another necessary step in the evolution of the schoolhouse as the center of the community.

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