Facility Planning: Creating Smaller Buildings

June 1, 2002
Scheduling changes and enrollment fluctuations may affect school size.

To be successful, schools in the 21st-century should focus on coherency and time. That's what the National Association of Secondary School Principals recommends in Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution.

Coherency is curricula that offers real-world learning and application. Time is scheduling with enough flexibility to adapt to a student's abilities.

Enrollment will fluctuate as the curriculum expands and the schedule changes. This may affect building size. As a school adds programs, such as on-the-job-training, exploratory programs, mentoring, community service and tech classes, the number of students in the school during any specific period may be 10 to 20 percent less than the stated enrollment.

If all students are not in the building at all times, some may get their lunch off campus, and perhaps the food-service facility can be smaller.

Class sizes may vary from five students to more than 30 — thus, some classrooms may not be used efficiently. Operating a traditional schedule of six or seven periods per day creates different needs than a block or flex schedule.

Administrators should check each period of the day to determine the actual number of students in the building. Then, they should evaluate each quarter, semester or marking period, because those tallies also will vary. Subjects with heavy enrollment in one quarter may be light in the next quarter, resulting in empty classrooms.

Schools also should analyze the pattern of students relocating off-campus in different marking periods.

Schools should review this pattern over several years to determine if having 10 to 20 percent of students off campus at any given time is the norm.

If a significant percentage of the students are not continually in the building throughout the day, can the building be reduced in size by a comparable amount?

That depends on the kinds of spaces targeted for reduction. Eliminating an academic classroom will affect a building's size and cost differently than eliminating a science classroom, industrial-tech classroom, or physical-education station. Each space has unique characteristics.

Eliminating several instructional spaces or reducing the size of the food-service area and other support facilities may allow a school to reduce the size of heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, electrical and technical equipment. The initial cost savings are minor compared with savings in life-cycle operational, maintenance and staffing costs.

Another way for schools to save space is to eliminate one academic house and use a house-sharing concept.

Students in one grade study their exploratory courses in other areas of the building while two grades are studying their academics; these schedules would reverse in the afternoon.

One complete house can be eliminated and the building can be downsized using this arrangement, but designers must be sure to include sufficient numbers of offices, prep areas and lockers for all students and staff members.

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].

About the Author

James Rydeen | Architect/Facility Planning Specialist

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

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