Asumag 617 Rydeen 2013

Facility Planning: Design Mismatch

March 1, 2008
Does enrollment fit the facility's design capacity?

There often is a mismatch between the capacity of school buildings and the number of students in those buildings. Schools that exceed their design capacity experience increased wear and tear. And schools that are under-enrolled have to spend more in operations and maintenance than is necessary.

In trying to get student enrollment to fit a facility's capacity, administrators should remember:

  • The building is a fixed item — capacity is determined by factors subject to change, such as use of a teaching station, building and occupancy codes, scheduling and curriculum.

  • The initial design capacity can become outdated when programs and physical environments change.

  • A classroom utilization study will reflect the building's functional capacity.

  • Building capacity is best determined by reviewing the master schedule, tallying the number of students in each section, identifying unoccupied periods in each classroom, teacher-prep practices, and classroom uses for purposes other than instruction, such as a study hall or advisory session.

  • Decreasing section sizes to increase individualized education decreases building capacity.

  • Teaching stations have expanded beyond the typical academic classroom, science lab and gymnasium.

  • Specialized learning is occurring off-site with magnet and work-training programs, alternative education and online courses.

Learning activities occur in a variety of spaces. Teaching stations used for art, music, shop or labs require more space and have larger or smaller section sizes than the average classroom. Programs such as special education or bilingual education reduce design capacity because fewer students are in a classroom.

The design capacities of many older secondary schools no longer are accurate because the buildings are being used differently. A six-period day with one open period would be considered 83 percent utilization. Block scheduling often leaves a room unoccupied for part of the day, which contributes to lower classroom utilization. Planners recommend a 75 to 85 percent utilization factor to determine the capacity using block scheduling.

Expanding the curriculum decreases section sizes. For example, an advanced world-language class may have few students compared with a core subject class such as English.

Fluctuations in school-age population affect building capacity. Some schools experiencing increasing enrollment exceed the design capacity by increasing section sizes rather than build additions to accommodate a short-term rise in student population.

Some education planners use a square-foot-per-student formula to calculate building capacity, but this method can be misleading because each institution is different.

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

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