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Inspired Planning

Inspired Planning

A long-range facilities plan can help education institutions meet current needs and prepare for the future.

Long-range facility planning is a comprehensive process for preparing education institutions for the future and confirm that facilities meet current needs. A long-range facilities plan (LRFP) evaluates how facilities support programs and the educational needs of students, staff and the community.

Each school district or college has unique needs and challenges; it may need to address enrollment growth or decline, changing demographic patterns and shifts, changing educational delivery and curriculum, phasing out or repair of aging facilities, grade-level reconfiguration, community needs and other issues.

Rather than addressing issues independently, the LRFP is an opportunity to consolidate all items into one plan.

Launching the plan

An education institution should launch a long-range facilities plan concurrently with its educational strategic plan. In this way, the long-range facilities plan supports goals, objectives and action items identified in the strategic plan.

Key stakeholder “buy-in” is imperative for plan acceptance. To start the process, hire a facilities planner to evaluate educational adequacy, facilities conditions and to conduct dialogue with stakeholders. A participatory planning approach should include people with diverse backgrounds and a balance of community members, education administrators, board members, staff, parents, students, civic and business leaders, governmental officials, senior citizens and anyone who will enhance the process.

For the LRFP, form an executive committee, a steering committee, focus groups and conduct community meetings. The executive committee of about six key decisionmakers functions as a guide for the plan objectives. The steering committee, consisting of 40 or more participants, is responsible for providing input into activities, reviews, discussions and options for recommendations. Focus groups expand input from staff, students, parents and community members in special topics and areas of particular concern. Conducting community meetings lends transparency to the process, and provides for immediate input and feedback.

Reaching consensus

Make it clear that decisionmaking is by consensus. Defining “consensus” at the beginning of the process lets participants acknowledge that all opinions are respected, and that even though their ideas may not be adopted, the recommendations are arrived at in a fair and objective manner.

At the beginning, information gathering frequently occurs “behind the scenes” as the facilities planner analyzes aspects of facilities and the support of curriculum. Once shared with committees, the adequacies and inadequacies of facilities quickly surface, which leads to establishing priorities. Committees can take many approaches to prioritizing; breaking the large group into smaller groups encourages open dialogue and idea-sharing. Have each small group discuss strengths of the education institution's facilities; this celebrates past accomplishments. Discuss facilities shortcomings, and focus on immediate and long-term needs. Differentiate between educational needs and facilities needs. At this stage, participants can prioritize facilities strengths and shortcomings, and determine the most important items that support the educational strategic plan.

Standard components

Although each LRFP is unique, there are standard plan components:

  • Goals and objectives

    State a vision, goal or philosophy outcome relating to the institution's identity. Confirm how technology, flexibility and expansion expectations and the community affect desired outcomes.

  • Educational adequacy

    Compare facilities with state guidelines; analyze master schedules for section sizes, course offerings, periods per day and utilization efficiencies; research the effect of daily operations, athletics and community programs on core facilities; and develop space standard templates for equity across the district or campus. Consider the quality of space, function, expansion needs, aesthetics, safety and security, site size and circulation, square footage, grade-level configuration, instructional aids, program support, flexibility, capacities, space utilization, seating efficiency and repurposing opportunities.

  • Facilities assessment

    Assess facilities for proper maintenance and operation of the building site and envelope, interior materials and systems, mechanical and electrical systems, and technology components. Consider deferred maintenance, capital-renewal issues, mandated health and safety upgrades, facility obsolescence, physical-plant condition, codes and accessibility.

  • Operations and sustainability

    Develop and assess life-cycle costs and paybacks, energy efficiency, administrative and transportation efficiencies, demographics and maintenance measures. One-time initial costs vs. recurring annual operating costs are major considerations for an institution's long-term viability. Environmental responsiveness of design and maintenance should be considered. Committees require this information for decisionmaking as facilities options are developed.

  • Community impact

    Consider a community survey. Survey questions provide an institution with quick responses and opinions (though sometimes without adequate background information). Other approaches include obtaining feedback at community meetings from small-group discussions or using electronic response devices at community meetings to obtain immediate feedback on topics presented. Consider community services, historical significance, political aspects and property values.

  • Implementation assessment

    As options are developed, consider how carrying out the plan affects school operations. Phasing, construction sequencing, time, cost and the effect on learning with different building solutions are important considerations in determining final direction.

Seeing results

After completing the LRFP, move quickly to communicate the recommendations to policymakers; a plan does no good sitting on a shelf. Also, years go by quickly, and it is much easier to update an LRFP than completely start over. With a plan in place, the process of updating is streamlined; it is an opportunity to reconfirm prior goals and objectives, and to re-evaluate recommendations for facilities.

For a successful outcome, organize committees, identify planning criteria, collect data, gather information from user groups, communicate findings, develop and refine the options, determine direction and carry out the plan. A long-range facilities plan provides policymakers direction in allocating finances, enhancing curriculum, promoting credibility and making decisions.

Erickson, AIA/NCARB/REFP, is president of ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers, Minneapolis, a multi-disciplined firm specializing in school facilities planning and design. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Community involvement

The St. Charles (Ill.) Community Unit School District embarked on a long-range facilities plan involving several hundred community members, numerous business leaders, school administrators, staff, students and government officials.

During the year-long strategic and facilities-planning study, pertinent topics were presented by education and facilities-planning consultants, demographers, district specialists and government officials. They informed the community of current conditions and future trends, and sought input from community members. Information gathering occurred at regular meetings through small-group discussion. From this effort, the district received immediate response from hundreds of community members.

“We would present a topic, have small-group discussions and receive immediate community feedback all in one meeting, and then present facilities options based on the feedback for discussion and consideration at the next meeting,” says Donald Schlomann, superintendent. “We addressed topics including class size, building capacity and grade configuration. The transparency with the community was valuable in obtaining district credibility and a positive direction.”

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