Facility Planning: The Right Fit

Feb. 1, 2011
Flexibility is key in planning new facilities.

Any new school design must be the right fit, just as the glass slipper perfectly matched Cinderella’s foot. However, the right fit for a school means designing facilities for a lifetime of changes.

Developing the right fit usually begins with educational specifications or educational planning guidelines. Experience has shown that people and facility demands evolve. Five years generally is needed for the planning, design and construction of a large school. Those involved in the initial planning and design—superintendent, administrators, teachers—sometimes say they will be retired before a new school opens, and they hope those that replace them will accept their ideas. Unfortunately, more often than not, a new teacher does not approve and seeks changes, and an architect may be blamed for what is perceived as a poor design.

Educational planning guidelines are the means of communication between educators and architects. Educators describe the educational program, philosophy, curriculum, scheduling and identify factors that affect learning and teaching. This information provides a database for an architect to create the space program, facility design, functional relationships, construction plans and specifications. A district’s operations and maintenance philosophy identifies the desired building materials and systems, which are coordinated with other district buildings for ease of maintenance, inventory of parts and repairs.

Generally, 12 to 15 months is needed for planning, design, cost estimating and passing a bond referendum; 15 months is required for design and contract documents; and 30 months for construction. Hiccups will occur along the way. In addition, programs, curricula, teaching methodology and technologies may change.

One school district spent two years studying its existing two high schools before deciding to build a third high school. Another year was spent planning and designing the new high school; then a bond referendum failed. One year later, a subsequent bond referendum passed. By the time the new school opened, seven years had passed. The design was based on an educational philosophy called integrated thematic curriculum, and the planning committee devoted extensive amounts of time learning the new philosophy and developing the curriculum. However, when the school opened, the educational programs and curriculum were based upon the traditional departmentalized curriculum use in the existing high schools.

Sometimes, specifics such as the educational programs may be unknown. Educational planning guidelines can avoid specifics to promote space design responsive to change.

For instance, a superintendent was hired to create a new technical district comprising 13 metro school districts. The architects and educational planners were directed to immediately begin planning and designing two vocational technical schools without knowing the programs. The guidelines were developed in a matrix format, illustrating possible curricula and space program categories. Facilities must be designed with ultimate flexibility to adapt to changes in training students for the workplace.

Cinderella and the prince found the right fit to live happily ever after, and your new school can as well, through:

•Participatory planning to develop educational planning guidelines that respond to current educational needs, while recognizing the changing nature of technology, teaching and learning.

•Studying architectural options to select the best design, materials and systems with flexibility and adaptability.

•Selecting furnishings, fixtures and equipment that enhance flexibility.

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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