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Add, Convert or Build?

One of the most difficult issues facing schools and universities is whether to build a new school or upgrade an existing facility.

Many schools need to be replaced because of poor conditions. Yet, institutions have to consider issues beyond just poor conditions, such as closing facilities because of decreasing enrollments; replacing antiquated, small schools that are inefficient to staff and operate; and converting a university building for other uses.

Making the right choice may be difficult to determine because of other concerns: changing educational philosophies, programs and delivery methodology, future mandated programs, and enrollment.

What are the driving factors that enable some schools to make wise facility decisions? Leadership, trust, confidence, continuity, communication, public relations and justification are important. The administrative team can provide strong leadership that creates trust and confidence; however, because superintendents and administrators no longer spend the bulk of their careers with one district or institution, continuity and trust may be lacking.

Usually, administrators, planners and architects work together to identify facility needs. Sometimes, these needs have already been identified. Once that has been done, the community needs to be convinced. Involving the community in planning groups helps educate constituents. They need to be kept up to date through continual communication and public relations.

A comprehensive facility study can provide the facts to justify a project. Among those facts:

The educational adequacy of the existing facilities to adapt to and accommodate new educational philosophies, curriculums, programs, class sizes, scheduling, delivery methodology and community needs.

The physical adequacy of academic and non-academic support areas (media center, student commons, food service, and administration) to support an increased enrollment.

The physical condition of materials and systems, structural integrity, code updating for energy conservation, ADA, fire, life safety and health, including mechanical, electrical and security systems.

A total cost analysis of new vs. renovation; value engineering and life-cycle maintenance and operations costs.

The physical adequacy of a site to accommodate building expansions, additional physical education and athletic fields, more automobile parking, and automobile and bus traffic patterns.

Continuing to expand a school may lead to problems. The institution may be saddled with outdated facilities that require expensive operations and maintenance. The lowest initial cost may be the most enticing, but it may not provide the most effective solution. Sentimental attitudes often influence a decision that should be based on long range educational facility needs.

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

He can be reached at [email protected].

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