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Facility Planning: Building Success

Ten major factors influencing school design.

Architecture encompasses science and art, intellect and emotions. Occupants respond actively and passively to the built environment. Ten major factors influence a successful educational design:

1. Educational philosophy. Provides mission, beliefs, goals, process and organizational statements. It identifies and creates the criteria for the design, such as:

  • The organizational structure for dividing the student population into smaller units.
  • Departmental or interdisciplinary relationships for teaching stations, staff and administrative structure.
  • Support spaces such as flexible team learning areas, resource centers, media centers, forums, auditoriums, special education, community education and technology centers.
  • Classroom design using traditional, transitional, flexible or open concepts.
  • Delivery methodology (individual, small-, medium- and large-group learning, lecture, team-teaching, student-centered, teacher-centered, technology), video, voice and data systems, distance learning, virtual learning, online learning, interactive and video.
  • Functional relationship of spaces.
  • Active and passive security design of facilities and systems.

2. Curriculum. Core curriculum and elective courses, extracurricular, special education and community education, and class (section) size dictate the number of teaching stations.

3. Scheduling methodology. The traditional six- or seven-period school day was based on the Carnegie unit, which equates seat time with learning. Each unit represented about 130 instructional hours. The Carnegie unit continues to influence the length of the class period, the school day and the school year, as well as the time expended to receive a diploma. New scheduling methods developed since the 1960s include modular, flexible and block.

4. Technology. Create a master plan for management, operations, instruction, security, in-service training, upgrades, infrastructure, hardware, software and facilities needed to support administration, staff and students.

5. Space program. Develop the total area (square footage) by identifying all spaces needed: teaching stations, large- and small-group learning spaces, support facilities, staff offices, media center, flexible team learning areas, technology center, auditorium, food service, custodial, mechanical and electrical, administrative, circulation and student commons.

6. Aesthetics. This quality gives pleasure to the senses, and its value has been demonstrated in studies that show better student achievement in beautiful spaces compared with ugly spaces.

7. Function. The spatial relationship of teaching stations, departments, offices, circulation, and support spaces that supports and promotes the educational philosophy, and adheres to the building and fire/life-safety codes.

8. Operations and Maintenance. Schools need to be built to last. The materials, systems and furnishings must stand up to heavy use and abuse, be economical to operate and maintain, and provide security.

9. Site. Unique characteristics and amenities will influence the design, location and orientation of the building, as well as vehicle and pedestrian access, egress and circulation patterns, parking, the layout of athletic and physical education fields, and nature areas.

10. Budget. Cost control is an absolute from the initial estimate for the bond referendum, the bidding phase, and throughout the construction.

Construction costs are affected by design; the quality of materials and systems; the size or the area and volume of the building; the completeness and accuracy of the contract documents for competitive bidding and minimal change orders; and the construction economy at the time of bidding.

Address these 10 major factors for a successful project, and your facilities will meet expectations.

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

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