How many facility-use options should an institution present to the public before people become confused? One school district published 12 alternatives for restructuring the use of its facilities. How do busy parents with school-age children comprehend and respond to so many options? Even as a professional educational designer, I felt overwhelmed trying to understand, compare and explain all the options.
All of us have experienced difficulty in understanding complex issues. So, when evaluating facility options, school officials should apply the KISS principle: "Keep it Simple, Stupid."
A mailing spelling out 12 options for use of school district facilities is the opposite of simple. It is likely to create confusion, which may lead to indifference, lack of interest, and even doubt that the decisionmakers will arrive at the best option.
Before approaching the public, administrators responsible for facility decisions must identify, develop and analyze many options. Many factors involving the educational adequacy and the physical adequacy of buildings may influence their conclusions:
Demographics. In this district, 23 percent of the population were between the ages of 5 and 19; other large districts were at less than 20 percent. About 30 percent of the residents in this district had school-age children. Boundaries, proximity to school, busing and special needs also will affect building-use decisions.
Public interest. Newspaper circulation has decreased as a result of the Internet, other media and social networking. Generally, only a very small percentage of community residents attend public presentations, unless closing schools are the issue. Only a small percentage of residents without school-age children will attend a public presentation.
Enrollment. Whether increasing or decreasing enrollment, a variety of issues may affect the final choice, including space utilization, class sizes, curricula and extracurricular offerings, and educational delivery methodology.
Economics: Cost always is a major issue for districts. Many districts now are spending less than half their budget on the core of public education: regular classroom instruction. Everything is affected by costs, such as staff, operations and maintenance, using buildings with empty classrooms, small class sizes, deferred maintenance, budget deficits, updating technology and community use.
Operations and Maintenance (O&M): Small class sizes require additional staff, classrooms and O&M. Operating and maintaining underused buildings is costly. Even the design of the facilities and site influences the O&M costs.
Buildings. Age, condition, design, spatial diversity, deferred-maintenance issues, mechanical and electrical systems, code updating, life safety, functionality, handicapped accessibility and adaptive reuse/resale potential may affect the decision of long-range continued use.
Educational. Class size, instructional strategies, space adaptability, classroom design, delivery methodology, technology, community education, scheduling philosophy, and impact on student achievement may influence facility use.
In some cases, circumstances will require administrators to present a variety of options; for instance, patrons may need to be informed about the limitations facing decisionmakers. However, limit the number of options to avoid confusion and lack of interest.
How many facility options should be presented to the public depends on each specific situation. When in doubt, give it the KISS test. Try the minimalist approach of "Less is more."