No one can argue that today's economy is one of the worst we've ever experienced. Jobs have been lost, houses foreclosed on, construction projects halted. But kids are still going to school — many in facilities that are in dire need of repairs and renovations. And many districts and campuses are growing — and building new schools.

We asked architects how the economic downturn has affected education construction. In the following pages, these designers share their insights and advice on how they are surviving, and specifically how they have trimmed costs and used creativity to create high-quality schools.

To view any of the architect's responses, please click on a firm below. You can also page through all the responses.

ACI/Frangkiser Hutchens
Kenny Southwick, Educational Business Development

HSR Associates, Inc.
Jack Fleig, Project Principal

TMP Architecture, Inc.
Timothy A. Casai, FAIA, President

BBS Architects & Engineer, PC
Roger P. Smith, AIA LEED AP, Principal

Dougherty + Dougherty
Betsey Olenick Dougherty, Partner

SRJ Architects Inc.
Sonya Spalinger, Vice President

Williams Scotsman
Michele Cunningham, Vice President of Marketing and Business Transformation

Schmidt Associates
Thomas G. Neff, AIA, LEED AP, K-12 Studio Leader/Principal

McCall & Associates, Inc.
John M. "Mac" McCall, Vice President

Peter Gisolfi Associates
Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP, Senior Partner

Freese and Nichols, Inc.
Alfred Vidaurri Jr., AIA, AICP, LEED AP, Principal

Schradergroup Architecture
David Schrader, AIA, LEED AP, Managing Partner

Rhinebeck Architecture & Planning PC
Phillip Zemke, AIA, LEED AP, Principal

Fanning Howey
Michael Hall, AIA, REFP, LEED AP, Chief Marketing Officer

Dickinson Hussman Architects
Donald G. Hussman, AIA, Principal

Kingscott Associates, Inc.
Bob McGraw, AIA, LEED AP, President & CEO

The Collaborative Inc
Michael J. DiNardo, AIA, Architect/Partner

Flansburgh Architects
David A. Croteau, AIA, LEED, AP, President

PBK
Irene Nigaglioni, AIA, REFP, Partner/National Planning Director

RSC Architects
John P. Capazzi, AIA, Principal

Gould Evans
John Wilkins, AIA, LEED AP, Principal

Olson Lewis Dioli & Doktor Architects
Christopher T. Doktor, AIA LEED AP, Principal

DLR Group
Jim French, AIA, REFP, Senior Principal and Designer

Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood
Bill Wallace, AIA, Executive Vice President

Boynton Williams & Associates
Christian Ballard, AIA, Senior Project Architect

Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA)
Keith Johnson, AIA, Associate Principal, and Dan Hess, AIA, Associate Principal

Legat Architects, Inc.
Jason Lembke, AIA, LEED AP, Director of K-12 Education

Hastings + Chivetta Architects, Inc.
Erik Kocher, AIA, LEED AP, Design Principal

BLRB Architects
Tom Bates, FAIA, Managing Principal

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?
The economic downturn has created an environment across educational institutions where stakeholders are looking at projects of "necessity." As we move from the clutches of the recession, projects have to meet a specific need and be viable from a benefit/cost analysis basis. Whether new construction or renovation, these projects must be well-developed. Extensive planning that addresses current and future educational needs of students, faculty and the institution at-large must be considered before decisions to proceed.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should it take to be prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

In the event the timing is not conducive to deliver a successful project, planning becomes a most important asset. Although trying to predict the exact timing for an improved economy is difficult, utilizing existing historical data along with current and future needs of the physical plant are pertinent. Strategic planning allows the institution to take action on a realized plan when the economic environment improves. It also allows for decisionmaking and prioritization for projects that can’t wait, and are critical to the mission or health and safety of students and staff.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

A project that would not meet the immediate needs should not be considered. In planning and design, it is important to look at the budget dollars available and create a program that will add value to the educational process. Cutting costs to provide a less-than-adequate space would be a disservice to end users and detract from the institution’s ability to meet its mission. Projects must be to code, must ensure all health and safety concerns, and add value to the program.

Other thoughts on designing in this economy?

When planning and designing, whether a tough economy or not, we must be good listeners and work collaboratively with the client. We must provide the knowledge and expertise that allow for a good stewardship of any monies spent, regardless of the size and scope of the project.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?
We have been checking with contractors and suppliers on a regular basis to determine current material and construction cost. A majority of our projects utilize masonry construction for the exterior walls. On a current project it was determined that precast concrete would provide a more economical solution. This change did not affect the educational program but allowed additional funds for other components of the facility. In this economy, typical practices need to be questioned and evaluated to get the best value for the educational institution.

HSR Associates, Inc.: Jack Fleig

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

A significant part of our market is K-12 projects. Typically, a referendum is required to give school districts the authority to proceed with significant capital improvements. Although some recent referendums have been successful, we anticipate that most will not pass. Smaller projects that do not require public approval are moving forward, but there are few of those as well.

Many of our school clients are in rural areas that have been hit hard by the downturn. This makes it that much more difficult to pass a referendum. We are working on some preliminary plans for several school districts, but they are reluctant to authorize proceeding with final bidding documents. We do not believe these conditions will change until there is a significant improvement in the unemployment rate.

TMP Architecture, Inc.: Timothy A. Casai, FAIA:

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Now more than ever, working closely with districts and facilities personnel to provide a comprehensive district or campus master plan for our K-12 and college/university clients provides an invaluable tool for future planning. These facility plans enable educators to look at their district or campus holistically, as they solicit valuable staff, student and community input.

BBS Architects & Engineer, PC: Roger P. Smith, AIA, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Education institutions have not been exempt from the fallout caused by the economic downturn. In fact, though they appear they could be able to "slide" through, the exact opposite is true. Enrollment is affected and capital expenditures dependent upon that enrollment, and other endowments, donations and grants have also come under attack.

The projects that have been "put on the back burner" include those driven by enrollment, as well as any medium- to large-scale improvements that "appear" to be able to be accomplished "at a later date." Some projects that were already in the "pipeline" have been able to move ahead, while others have been "put on hold until things get better." The latter represents the majority of cases.

The present economic climate has forced our education clients to do the work that is of the highest priority, which is represented by correcting blatant noncompliant code or severely deteriorated building component and assembly conditions. Small- to medium-size design projects that bring maximum benefit balanced with minimum outlay are also being accomplished, as these often are highly visible projects that the student/end user/benefactor can easily encounter and enjoy. The planning steps that my firm would advise an education institution to take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves are the following:

•Begin planning immediately! Many education institutions become paralyzed when they discover that their funding sources have been temporarily or permanently removed or restricted. Often, schools, primarily in those delivering education to K-12 students, seek their funding for capital projects through voter-approved budgets and bond referenda. This is an extremely difficult time to gain taxpayer support. However, to refrain from planning and public discussion on that planning is to perform facility improvement suicide.

•Bring projects to the forefront. It is important to recognize the real issues of the school’s constituency. It is imperative that open and frank dialogues take place with well-intentioned and truly focused committees and focus groups. "Needs" must be clearly defined and kept unfettered by "wants."

•Commission well-thought-out "community-based" design. Include the "community," all those who are true stakeholders, so that they can assist in refining the design. A real dichotomy exists between "refining" solutions so that one can take ownership vs. "defining" the needs and solutions so that the designer can bring vision and value.

• Be on a timeline. Master planning without scheduling is equivalent to preparing a recipe and either not turning on the oven or forgetting to invite your guests. All projects have a shelf‐life and an expectancy of a delivery date. Whether or not all or part of the actual funding is in place is only one facet of the planning model. The time required to develop a sound program, prepare multiple preliminary options, estimate the future costs for those options, obtain all necessary approvals, and bid and construct the final design solution is the parallel universe to acquiring and dispensing the necessary funding. Waiting for the economy to change to begin planning or to tackle any of the “pre” tasks in the process will result in being too late to reach your goals.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised?

The “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost‐cutting is required can be outlined as follows:

•Obviously any design work that is associated with any code requirements or any provisions protecting health and safety.

• The “right‐sizing” of any space. Often projects are compromised when they are over budget or underfunded, and often the “value engineering” response is to “downsize” the project by reducing the square footage of the entire project. This entails decreasing the size of perhaps every space in the program. What we have found is that this decision is completely irrevocable. Spaces that should be a certain size so as to provide an adequate and acceptable educational environment have been decreased in size and will be inadequate and unable to be increased forever. Often these spaces are “landlocked” in the design scheme. Maintaining a right‐sized spatial plan may cause the elimination of a desired space, but that space can be considered in a future expansion that is anticipated and able to be added without wholesale renovations to accommodate it in the future.

•Adequate, appropriate and well‐designed electrical and mechanical (HVAC) systems must be considered in the design vs. available funds debate, as these backbones of building infrastructure are almost impossible to remove and replace when they are compromised in the design and value engineering phases.

Other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

•The complete design team–-architect, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects,construction managers, owners, clients and perhaps involved end‐users--must be brought together to not only be part of the vision, but also stakeholders in the establishment of the costs. Needs, wants and desires must be categorized and fully evaluated by all those invested in the success of the process, not just the success of the project.

• Architects should be diligent in evaluating design options and alternatives. Intricate and involved floor-plan configurations can increase costs without gaining desired usability. We must consider the “how‐to‐build‐it” montra with every line that is conceived and put on paper. “Cuts” to a project borne out of value engineering considered only after the completion of design development documents are too late and will only cause unnecessary anxiety to the entire team.

•The owner and/or client must be diligent in representing to its personal team and users that their wants and desires must be tempered. In addition, their representative(s) to the overall design team must be willing and informed participants.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning in a tough economy?

Three projects are perfect examples of planning outstanding projects in this tough economy:

•Our design for the additions and alterations at Southampton Elementary School took into account constructing on the remote East End of Long Island, which poses numerous logistic and timing issues that manifest themselves in project construction costs. We had to balance these cost implications with our need and desire to further extend the wonderful traditional exterior architecture that is bound in the brick and cast-stone detailing. It was imperative that the spatial program be well honed, as these other factors, as well as a challenging economic climate collided. Architectural detailing and the procurement of the specific product embedded in those details were of paramount importance in our design/building cost analyses.

•Our renovation of the interior of Mullarkey Hall at Long Island University at C.W. Post was a challenge, as our design efforts to “fit” the functions within the limited space of the existing building (former residence) were also bound to a fixed and specific budget. Our interior designers and MEP engineers juggled numerous design solutions that often were affected by inches of space. This could be easily explained in our simple but accurate choice of sliding doors to private spaces in lieu of swing-type function doors.

• Our design for the New Life Sciences Building at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) is an exciting event occurring right this moment as we are truly in the thick of the national economic crisis, which is affecting the Long Island region most assuredly. It is the winning submission in a design competition that had a fixed and defined program of spaces tied directly to a fixed and defined total project budget developed on the edge of the beginning of the downturn. Any additional funding is more than likely unable to be realized as the economy grabs hold of higher education planning and budgets. We are repeatedly following all of our own guidelines for visioning and implementing our designs. The client is fully engaged in the process and we are reevaluating each line on the paper. Material selection and component interface are the direct targets of our detailing. This documentation development is following an exhaustive but very productive “community based” design approach with the science faculty to exact their needs without compromising the educational delivery in a state-of-the-art LEED Gold design. The true benefit of this moment is to envision the merging of our design approach with a sustainable building model and “hit” the bidding process head‐on as the economy lies dormant–a cataclysmic moment!

Dougherty + Dougherty: Betsey Olenick Dougherty

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

"Shovel-ready" projects will bid at very competitive prices, and districts will receive greater value for their money. Bond-funded projects should move forward now.

SRJ Architects Inc.: Sonya Spalinger

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

SRJ has a goal to design our facilities to achieve a 30 percent energy savings. We use the "Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings" as a prescriptive method to work toward that goal. We have put a lot of emphasis on daylighting because of the documented educational benefits that come along with the operational savings. We have seen success in reducing the required lighting as a result of proper daylighting design. The reduction in lighting has in turn led to a reduction in cooling load through energy modeling. These reductions lead to a cost savings for the owner over the life of the building, which enables them to do more with less.

Williams Scotsman: Michele Cunningham

What are your thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Modular space provides myriad options for the education market. Whether the need is temporary or permanent, modular buildings offer intrinsic design flexibility and adaptability, which are important factors in this economy. Modular building offers a faster path to occupancy than conventional construction methods and is inherently sustainable because the concurrent construction process used to build them minimizes construction waste and maximizes quality control.

Modular structures also support attainment of LEED certification, which is becoming ever more desirable for schools across the country and a requirement for building permits in certain districts. Innovative new concepts, such as those leveraged for High Tech High, demonstrate that modular construction can create a sophisticated LEED-certified school that meets budget and design requirements as well as time constraints.

Schmidt Associates: Thomas G. Neff, AIA, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

The current economic downturn has resulted in additional scrutiny by the general public of any expenditure by an education institution. This has pushed most education institutions to pursue projects that result in some kind of savings, and these projects have been primarily renovation/remodeling projects. Typically, the most visible and defendable "savings" are in overall energy consumption. Projects that deliver a savings in energy and subsequent energy costs fall into three major categories:
•Mechanical system or mechanical component replacement projects.
•Lighting upgrades and lighting-system replacements.
•Building envelope upgrades or building system replacements, such as windows or roofs.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should an institution take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

If a school or university is unable to fund facility projects because of budget cuts or public perception of potential expenditures, we would always suggest that the particular institution or school corporation endeavor to examine current and future goals and objectives through a comprehensive master plan.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

"Untouchable” elements of a school facility design are the areas that “support” other components or systems. The most obvious of these is the mechanical system and the corresponding temperature control system. We have all experienced facilities where the unseen components—such as the heating and air conditioning—have been minimized. Subsequently, they rendered the educational spaces almost unusable from the standpoint of air quality and overall building comfort, not to mention excessive energy consumption and high utility costs. Other “support” components include communication spaces such as interactive media centers, common spaces, and gathering areas. These types of spaces—when augmented with Wi-Fi—become extensions of instructional spaces where discovery is enhanced and interactive learning is congealed.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Outstanding educational institutions are timeless and enduring facilities that support discovery and learning. But more importantly, they set examples of responsible stewardship of the environment and the resources available. One of the most significant resources is the developing mind of our youth. The design of the environment that supports their education is a critically important challenge set out for educational facility planners and designers.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

In the case of the submitted project, the renovated and remodeled DeHority Complex Residence Hall at Ball State University, the challenging aspects of the project centered around the minimal floor-to-floor dimensions that severely limited the options for the renovation and replacement of mechanical support systems. And yet, the replacement and upgrade of mechanical systems—which “support” the use of the facility—was a major driver in the project. The creative approach to “designing” pathways through the existing structure to provide desperately needed mechanical service upgrades, became an unseen but key component contributing to the success of the finished project. Also, similar to educational spaces, the common spaces that support student interaction—both inside and outside the renovated facility—were given precedence in the overall design of the facility.

McCall & Associates, Inc.: John M. "Mac" McCall

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

We are seeing more minor renovation and improvement projects, as well as an increase in master-planning work. Many school systems and universities no longer can afford completely new structures; however, they still are finding money to improve the facilities they already have. Many clients are seeking to make their existing spaces more efficient and bring them up to modern standards. Classrooms, offices and conference rooms that weren’t being used to their highest potential are being reconfigured and retrofitted to offer more flexibility to more user groups within the schools. Older spaces that, in some cases, were unused or almost abandoned because of their age and the potential cost of upgrades are being considered again.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should an education institution take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We work with universities and school systems to analyze their existing facilities and look for opportunities to best and most effectively use a space; we then formulate a plan for integrating growth and the resulting larger projects into the overall master plan. It could be a long while before funding and budgeting are back to their previous levels. In working with our clients, we see this as a chance for educational systems to spend time analyzing what they have, how it can best be used, how to plan for their future growth, and if new facilities are required, how to maximize the future use of that facility.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

We advise our clients that, although higher-grade finishes and extras can be easily upgraded in the future, it is the basic building materials which create a long-lasting facility. This foundation is essential to achieve the longest useful life of a building, and these are the areas which should not be compromised. In addition, sacrifices should not be made which will negatively impact the energy-efficiency of a facility. In the design of a facility, we constantly evaluate new materials and new systems for ways to lower the initial capital investment while not affecting the lifecycle cost of the building. If we were to sacrifice these two items, we would greatly affect the long-term maintenance and operational cost of the building.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

It’s important to work closely with not only the owner but also the user groups to understand their needs; look for potential overlapping uses of space. It’s also imperative to encourage the client to integrate the contractor into the project early in the process. A successful facility that meets the needs of the client is not just about the design. The project must be well-built for the money the client has available. The right design and construction team working cooperatively with the owner can overcome most project issues including material price fluctuations, materials selections, and potential constructability issues.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We are just completing a $16.7 million dollar elementary school for a local school system. Through meticulous attention to space utilization and careful materials selection, we were able to construct the facility at a 10 percent cost savings under the initial budget while not sacrificing any systems or design features in the process.

Our firm is also working with a regional university on the adaptive reuse of a 70-year-old dormitory; the building is being retrofitted to house classrooms, office and administrative spaces and new remote learning facilities for the campus. Through this creative use of existing space, the university will be able to increase its enrollment as well as the marketable geographic area.

Peter Gisolfi Associates: Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Many academic projects of all types seem to be on hold. At major universities with large endowments, it appears that the vast majority of projects have been shut down or tabled. The only projects that seem to be moving forward are those which are considered to be absolutely essential to the life of the school, such as a new building to replace lost rental space or the replacement of an important building that has been destroyed or deemed structurally unsound.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves.

Two thoughts come to mind. The first would be to update an existing master plan or undertake a new one as a strategy to meet short- and long-term objectives.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

We recommend that projects be phased in a way that enables a school to construct the most essential elements first, such as a "permanent" and energy-efficient exterior skin; basic, intrinsically sustainable features that will pay the institution back in the long-term; and an energy-efficient mechanical system that can be installed only when the building is under construction.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

As one example, we are completing districtwide renovations and additions for the Pelham Union Free Schools in Pelham, N.Y. These projects have benefitted enormously from the downturn in the economy. Construction cost prices came in 15 to 20 percent below budget targets, and alternates for additional, necessary work (e.g., window replacement, masonry and roofing repairs) were able to be included.

At the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY, the 1903 building, Goodhue Memorial, which housed the school’s main library, was destroyed by fire. The project to restore and double the size of the original building has transformed Goodhue into an energy-efficient, LEED gold certified building.

The Student Center at Manhattanville College was planned just as the recession started. The new building--a vibrant, multidisciplinary destination and gateway to the campus core--forms the edge of a new student activities quadrangle. It is the first “green” building (gold LEED certified) on the campus.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

One of our most fundamental tasks as architects is to substantially reduce the energy and operating costs of new and existing buildings. Our long-term mission should be to cut the energy consumption of the building sector of our economy by at least 50%, and then to move on to energy-neutral buildings. These objectives are just as relevant--perhaps even more relevant--in this lagging economy.

Freese and Nichols, Inc.: Alfred Vidaurri Jr., AIA, AICP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

In the Texas marketplace, we still are seeing a wide variety of project types. This is being driven by the record enrollment growths that our colleges and universities are experiencing. Project types that appear to be a little more difficult in moving forward are student housing, sports and recreation

I am seeing the available budgets still focusing on core and high-demand industry areas such as engineering, nursing, science and research-related fields. It is also interesting to note that in the last 24 months we have seen at least four new green field campus projects move forward in Texas.

If a school has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should an education institution take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We are advising clients to pursue various pre-design activities. Those activities include efforts such as need assessments, programming, stakeholder visioning workshops, feasibility studies, master planning and some preliminary concept studies. We tend to see a steady amount of master planning during times like these. Any pre-design activities such as these that we can offer a client today enables them to make informed future decisions.

What are the untouchable elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

All too often I see one of two compromise approaches, both of which have long-range negative impacts: One, I see compromises on the quality of materials and building systems. Rather than re-evaluation of the project program, size and features, lower-quality materials and building systems are introduced in order to get the project to a specific budget. These decisions have ongoing, long-range maintenance, staff, and operational cost impacts.

Second, I see the approach of just downsizing spaces and areas by a uniform factor to reduce square footage and meet the budget. It is almost impossible to go back and enlarge each area by 20 percent after the fact. Sometimes you must look at cutting programmed areas rather than undersizing everything.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Almost all our projects today are being designed to some level of sustainability. We are now starting to see owners realize the long-term benefits of being sustainable. I am starting to see more owner request to reach for “net zero” energy consumption levels in their projects. This is an exciting challenge for everyone.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We are working closely with our clients to take full advantage of record-low construction cost and aggressive competition to build projects today. By understanding the construction climate in our area we are able to deliver more facility, and features, to our clients during these tough times. If a client has funding, today is a great time to be building. Many clients that do not have adequate funding are doing all the pre-design activities and master planning today in order to be ready to move quickly in the future.

Schradergroup Architecture: David Schrader, AIA, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Education institutions are not pursuing construction at the same rate that they were prior to the economic downturn. Some states are seeing tremendous challenges with staffing and operating expenses given their reduced revenues and so are forgoing projects to which they previously would have committed. When schools are doing work, it often is reduced from large- scale construction upgrades to maintenance items.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should an education institution take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Develop a strong master plan based on facility feasibility studies so that the school is on track to continue its facilities programs when the economy recovers.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

Educational space.

Rhinebeck Architecture & Planning PC: Phillip Zemke, AIa, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

At the K-12 level, project planning for renovations and additions has screeched to a halt. Some projects that were being developed prior to the downturn have continued, but most public school districts are scrambling to save jobs and pay for staff benefits.

There are on-site alternative energy projects proceeding at schools, funded in part with state and federal incentives. This initiative will continue as long as the incentives remain.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We work with construction managers and fiscal advisors to craft the best project for our clients that meets their needs at the most economical cost. Good design need not be expensive, and—with the appropriate team of designers and constructors—projects can be delivered on schedule and at a good price.

In construction, time is money, and it is important to streamline the construction process and stay ahead of potential problems whether they are constructability, delivery of key products or manpower. Paying attention to design details and the laws of nature is key to successful projects.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We recommend that schools take stock of their facility needs and prepare short term and long term plans to maintain facilities. Once the economy improves and there is funding for schools, the deferred maintenance items can be addressed. We also recommend that schools prepare long range master plans to address expansion or contraction due to population changes and be ready to adjust facilities and staff as the school age population changes.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

We believe that the untouchable elements of the design are the education components - classrooms, labs, student spaces - that serve the school age population. Value engineering/cost savings can be applied to means and methods, materials, administrative spaces and financial instruments without affecting program. Unfortunately, schools often cut art, music or athletic improvements thinking that these elements are not part of the core educational needs.

Any other thoughts on designing in a tough economy?

In the public school market, school administrators and designers have to work together to devise alternative project-delivery methods that use construction dollars more effectively. The regulatory and funding agencies have to rethink their mission, shorten the approval process, and allow some of the alternative delivery methods used in private industry. There may be an increase in charter school construction as the federal “Race to the Top” funding finds its way through the state agencies.

Fanning Howey: Michael Hall, AIA, REFP, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

In most areas we are seeing an increased emphasis on planning initiatives. Feasibility studies, master plans, community-engagement campaigns and even conceptual design projects are low-cost ways of preparing your institution to quickly move forward once funding does become available.

In some portions of the country, construction continues to be strong. This is most prevalent in areas where there is some kind of pre-existing funding mechanism. For instance, in the state of Ohio, school construction continues to move forward, thanks to the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

The old saying "fortune favors the prepared" applies here. Technology infrastructure and equipment is truly one of the "untouchable" elements in modern schools. Today’s digital natives thrive in a high-tech environment; ignoring technology needs today leads only to additional costs tomorrow. By investing in a robust technology infrastructure, clients can more easily adapt to future needs and reduce future building costs.
Energy-saving systems are another must-have. They represent best practices from an environmental standpoint, and the right strategies can lower long-term operating costs.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

In a way, the current economy is a perfect environment for long-range planning. By stressing that a construction project is not imminent, we are free to engage stakeholders in a conversation regarding "ideal" scenarios, untainted by concerns about the impact on local tax rates, etc.

There are several low-cost ways to begin planning for the future. One of these is a community or campus engagement initiative. A thorough planning process can clarify the institution's vision, build consensus for potential projects, and develop options that have broad support and are "shovel ready" when funds become available.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

In this economy, maximizing the client's investment is more important than ever. This means that architects and engineers must design for 2060 as well as 2010. We must anticipate how the facility will be used over the next 50 years and respond accordingly.

New trends and new strategies must be evaluated based on their ability to help the client adapt to future changes. As with any art form, the best design solutions are timeless.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

In a tough economy, it is often necessary to "think inside the box" – that is, to look at the creative reuse of existing space to meet programming needs.

At Zionsville High School, we helped turn an existing warehouse space into a project-based learning area for the school's new Multi-Disciplinary Instructional program. The adaptive reuse approach allowed the district to create a new program area, reduce overcrowding in core instructional classrooms, and do so without a costly addition.

The adaptive reuse approach allowed the high school to add 12,164 square feet of academic space at a cost of only $1.6 million.

Dickinson Hussman Architects: Donald G. Hussman, AIA

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

Cost-cutting is a difficult item to embrace when planning educational facility improvements. Untouchable elements can be arbitrary and difficult to agree upon when designing in a collaborative effort with educators, facility managers and administrators.

Generally, we recommend that building components that can be difficult to economically expand or modify be addressed as an "untouchable" item during the early programming phase. While almost any building can be expanded or modified if planned appropriately, we believe that it is best, if the budget allows, to plan and construct those areas during the initial construction phase.

What are your thoughts on designing in this economy?

Our economy as well as our sensitivity to the development of sustainable architecture has become a driving force as we prepare designs for future education institutions. Architects, planners and interior designers can no longer neglect the components that shape our student’s educational environment. Providing a place where students can live and learn without external contributions from pollution, noise and intrusion should be our primary goal. Students and educators alike are now demanding facilities that assist in the learning process. We must strive to sustain this mission by creating schools that advance the exchange of knowledge so students are inspired to reach their full potential.

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Although the economic downturn has affected most people of all income levels, educators in our region are aggressively pursuing facility improvements of all types. Historically, if parents and community members can accurately understand a school district’s need for facility improvements, they will support referendums. Using the economic downturn as an advantage, school districts are able to purchase facility and infrastructure improvements as well as furniture, equipment, and technology at a much reduced cost. Knowing that construction values will be on the increase, districts are trying to accomplish as many improvements as their constituents will support.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Our advice would be to use time wisely and plan for the future. Preparation of a long-range facility master plan will allow an institution to accurately forecast their current and future needs, assess their existing facilities, and plan for future development in response to the needs assessment. Once a comprehensive plan is in place, it can serve as a tool that will identify potential phased improvements as well as a scheduling instrument for all future construction. By having this plan in place early, it will allow educational institutions to get a head-start as we embrace a recovering economy.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

Demonstrating value is a component that resonates well during a tough economy. If parents and community members believe that you have designed a new building or addition that brings value to the community, they will be positive about the development and will most likely support future referendums. Value can be perceived differently but if a school demonstrates that it was planned efficiently and constructed with durable long-lasting materials, the perception will be positive.

Kingscott Associates, Inc.: Bob McGraw, AIA, LEED AP

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Our educational work has not slowed, but the type of project has changed. We have been doing primarily facilities improvements, especially energy-savings work.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should it take to be prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We encourage districts to focus on strategic planning and educational delivery. They can plant the seed with teachers and the community for future projects and curriculum changes.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We recently completed design of a new high school for Fremont, Mich., and the district will use a learn lab concept. This is a larger classroom with no "front of the class." It’s full of interactive technology and mobile furniture—supporting inquiry-based learning. The high school will open with several of the learn labs in place, but it is designed to have all classrooms become a learn lab. The district eventually will convert all classrooms to a learn lab, but will do this as funds are available for the technology and the teachers are trained for student-centered curriculum.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

Taking into account both the economy and the need for improved education–technology, energy savings and health/safety should never be cut.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

We have been able to work with schools to “repurpose” their classrooms and facilities into student-centered learning spaces. We do this by upgrading finishes and furniture within existing spaces. Sometimes we remove walls and merge classrooms to create larger, more flexible spaces.

The Collaborative Inc.: Michael J. DiNardo, AIA


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Schools are looking to maintain current investments, in both facilities and infrastructure. Many projects are geared toward renovations and maximizing existing under-utilized spaces. Universities are renovating and expanding student-housing offerings, which often have been a neglected campus resource. We also are seeing an increase in planning.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

The institutions that utilized this "downturn" period to develop a master plan for the future will be the leaders as the recovery comes full-force. This is a key time to engage in the master-planning process.

Conduct assessments of your college’s existing resources; identify underutilized spaces; gather input from stakeholders; and visualize where your institution will be in the coming years. With this information, create a prioritized plan—ordered in terms of need and by financial feasibility.

In addition, look for new, creative uses for existing spaces.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Even with smaller budgets, schools can still create high quality learning environments. Many universities are developing phased building programs, in order to accommodate enrollment growth while working within budgetary restrictions. It’s possible to do more with less.

Flansburgh Architects: David A. Croteau, AIA, LEED AP


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing

We see educational institutions pursuing smaller projects, focusing more on adapting existing spaces and planning incremental phases to provide greater financial flexibility.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

The economy has forced independent schools to identify the key elements of their program that make them stand out from their peers. In today’s economy, it is a rare school that can be all things to all people. For example, the goal of Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA), Kamuela, was to become the greenest school in the nation. We recently completed its new renewable-energy research laboratory where students research, design, develop and test renewable-energy technologies. This was the HPA’s priority. Other elements of its master plan have been deferred. Alternatively, the Williston Northampton School saw new dormitories that we designed as the best way to improve its campus, and attract students and faculty. "Untouchable" elements are those elements that define a school and support its core mission. They are different for each institution.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

Since Flansburgh Architects’ founding in 1963, we have always sought to do more with less. We advise our clients to seek ways in which space can be used for multiple purposes. In our designs, we also seek to reduce the number of building systems and minimize the amount of building materials that are used.

Often, the best design solutions come from situations with the most constraints. For example, the second phase of our self-sustaining campus plan for KALO, a native Hawaiian charter school on the big island of Hawaii will break ground next month. The buildings’ designs are formed from simple, economical and repetitive modules that have a shed roof and are tapered in plan. Added together, they create organic curvilinear forms with views directed toward the surrounding landscape. Each module supports a project-based, multi-age educational program. The economic constraints of the project drove this innovative solution.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We suggest that our clients invest in the infrastructure that can support their existing facilities with an eye towards future projects.

Now is a good time to build consensus for an upcoming project and demonstrate the strong need for new facility.

We recommend that our clients have a long- term plan so that any small-scale improvements will be supportive of the long-term plan.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Since Flansburgh Architects’ founding in 1963, we have always sought to do more with less. We advise our clients to seek ways in which space can be used for multiple purposes. In our designs, we also seek to reduce the number of building systems and minimize the amount of building materials that are used.

PBK: Irene Nigaglioni, AIA, REFP


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

The economic downturn has greatly impacted education institutions as it has limited the funding that districts receive, as well as affected their enrollment. This has led to a reduced number of new facilities being built, and an increase in renovation and maintenance projects. School districts that have approved bonds for building new schools cannot do so, as they have either difficulties in selling the bonds, or difficulty in dealing with the costs of operating the buildings. Therefore, they have had to accommodate their added enrollment in older facilities, and this has accelerated the need for renovation and replacement of critical building systems.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps should an education institution take so it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

If construction is on hold, we advise education institutions that wherever possible, they proceed with the planning process of projects. The delay in construction has afforded education institutions time to plan the work successfully. This enables education institutions to develop a detailed and thorough set of educational specifications that will take into consideration their instructional goals and plans, so that when the economy changes, they can proceed with their projects in an expedient manner, without sacrificing the instructional integrity of the facility. Given the fact that so many projects are delayed, expediency in construction start will result in cost savings to these institutions.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

In our experience, anything that directly impacts the learning environment should be untouchable, such as acoustics, natural light, indoor air quality and ventilation. In addition, allowing for adequate space for differentiated instruction is critical, in lieu of the traditional double-loaded corridors with classroom boxes that flank it. Incorporating spaces for collaboration, project-based learning and social interaction should be maintained, so creativity in the design in order to maximize the space without adding square footage is paramount. Last, integrated technology should remain, and cuts in the provisions to support it should be avoided.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Designing in this economy provides an excellent opportunity for innovation and creativity. Much like the Renaissance that followed the Dark Ages, this is an opportunity to put behind the notions of the past, and start looking towards better and more innovative ways of designing educational facilities. This is the perfect time to look at alternative materials for better, more economical and sustainable ways to do things. It is also a time to analyze the delivery methodologies, and the traditional “design-bid-build’ approach, and look at more integrated delivery where the goals of maximizing values should be emphasized.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

An example of one such project is Atascocita Springs Elementary School in the Humble Independent School District. This new facility was built with a high energy-efficiency goal, as operating costs of buildings are such a high percentage of the district’s budget. The entire team approached the project with an overarching theme of improvement and innovation, so all materials, systems and planning standards were evaluated and tested so new ideas and methodologies could be implemented. The result is a district facility that is like no other, but that is a learning tool in itself, while being the district’s most efficient facility to operate.

RSC Architects: John P. Capazzi, AIA


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

The recent economic downturn, while unfortunate for many institutions, presents a unique opportunity to address deferred-maintenance issues and other valuable renovation projects. With construction costs at their lowest levels in more than a decade, many of our clients are opting to tackle projects that will extend the life of their facilities rather than search for new construction funding that is unlikely to materialize. Obviously, many of the grand-scale projects that our clients had in mind during more prosperous times have been put on hold temporarily. With proper facility analysis and needs assessment, a good architect can see beyond the funding issue and design creative, cost-effective solutions that will take into account both current and long-term needs.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in this economy?

One client took advantage of the soft commercial real-estate market and purchased a building where it had previously been leasing space. Construction is underway on a five-floor, multi-stage renovation that will create a satellite campus for this institution in the new building. Another client annexed a neighboring commercial property that was vacant in order to expand the campus and create more classroom space. Finally, through deft foresight and excellent planning, a school district client was able to stretch its pre-recession-approved referendum to cover more than a dozen renovation and addition projects at three of its schools.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

RSC Architects has been advising our education clients who can’t pursue construction projects to take this opportunity to perform valuable feasibility studies, needs analyses and site assessments. Therefore, when the economy does improve, a detailed master plan has already been devised and put in place that will more adequately justify spending allocations. Beyond that, it is always prudent to start identifying your funding sources now and preparing the necessary requirements ahead of time.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

Clearly, any element that involves student safety is off limits to cost-cutting measures. Second, any design element that adds years to the life of a facility and replaces an obsolete or soon-to-be obsolete technology should be defended during cost-cutting talks. Examples of this would be modern IT infrastructure and Wi-Fi, energy-efficient equipment and design elements, and synthetic turf athletic fields. Shortsightedness is the eternal archenemy to progressive school design.

Gould Evans: John Wilkins, AIA, LEED AP


If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Education institutions can build significantly more for the dollar now than they could in recent years. For those projects whose timing is uncertain, we recommend our clients complete as much of the planning work as they can afford now so they are in a position to move quickly before construction inflation catches up.

The planning effort is different for each institution and can include fund-raising sketches, a concept design package, a complete schematic design or even planning through design development. The decision of how far to take the early planning stages depends somewhat on how confident the client is that the project will happen and how quickly it can secure their funding once the economy turns.

Olson Lewis Dioli & Koktor Architects


What are your thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

We suggest that schools and universities take advantage of the planning process to simplify facilities. Simple spaces that can remain flexible and organic enable institutions to remain sustainable. Customized environments—based on local circumstances—also enable a school to responsively nurture the spirit of creativity and passion in students.

Around the world, educational revolutionaries are challenging "what we take for granted." Sir Ken Robinson, an international leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources, believes that current educational models dislocate "people from their natural talent." He encourages a non-linear, more organic approach to education. Models such as the Montessori method create settings that are shaped by students’ passions. Another academic reformer, England’s recently appointed education secretary Michael Gove, announced in September a "formidable reform programme" for schooling in England. It enables teachers to start schools "free of the stifling bureaucracy that has irritated them in the past." Restrictions about campus facilities have been lifted, creating an opening for new ways to consider education outside of the physical environment.

We suggest "thinking outside the box" and listening to these revolutionaries. Consider how their ideas might apply to our own facilities.

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Many of our clients first created campus masterplans. These provide a blueprint for overall growth in an intelligent, sustainable and phased way.

Especially in these economic times, institutions may find it challenging to inspire donors and patrons with urgent, but uninspiring, “to-do” tasks. Instead, clients integrate the necessities of code upgrades, accessibility modifications, energy-conservation measures, etc. within the larger scope of more cohesive projects. Then they are able to appeal to supporters during capital campaigns. In this way, a project addresses immediate needs, but also supports long-term goals.

As a tool, the masterplan provides an overall map for change and growth. Then each step fits into a larger schematic. Growth may take place in intentional, affordable stages that lead to an attractive and cohesive campus experience.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Schools/universities may consider such tools as retreats and vision workshops with leadership teams. They may undertake the initial work of assessing existing conditions, formulating or updating mission statements, and articulating ideals and goals for curriculum, campus life and educational facilities. They may define a prioritized list of potential physical facility projects to be addressed. In this way the school builds consensus and lays the groundwork to move forward with planning and implementing their recommendations.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

Schools strive to remain competitive. Sometimes despite the economic downturn, a client decides that now is the best the time to invest in the school’s infrastructure. Dream big. Grow the school. Build the best possible labs and gyms and performing arts spaces. A local independent school north of Boston, for example, has undertaken two major expansions in the midst of tough economic times. They are planning a new athletic facility and expansion of their arts complex to provide enriched facilities for students. Although challenging to fund, these projects are vital to meeting their goals for growth and excellence, and sustaining their ability to appeal to students and faculty during a competitive market.

DLR Group: Jim French, AIA, REFP


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Today, more and more districts are opting to renovate existing schools vs. building new.

Transformations, whether small or large, prove both cost-effective and environmentally responsible.

Districts considering renovation projects should examine existing instructional spaces to carefully evaluate educational function for flexibility, accessibility and improved energy efficiency. As facility planners and designers, we serve a creative role by helping districts re-imagine their current facility as a 21st-century learning environment.

Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood: Bill Wallace, AIA


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

The economic shift has challenged the education sector in a variety of ways. The shortage of funds has put education leaders in a position of having to prioritize and budget more effectively. Instructional and maintenance staff cutbacks have put a focus on revising and rehabbing existing assets in lieu of adding more square footage. Rapidly growing systems are leveraging relationships within their communities to build multipurpose spaces that can serve both constituencies. Energy-saving measures that have short-term payback are also being considered.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

There are several:

1. Iconic gestures. Schools should represent the community to which they serve. These character elements define the message a community sends about the value it places on education.

2. Maintenance efficiency. With staff cutbacks and typical student activity, buildings need materials and systems that are capable of being maintained cost-effectively.

3. Teaching tools.Our 21st-century world mandates that education is increasingly more competitive. Tools that serve this purpose are critical.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

One positive is that there is better construction pricing. This has allowed for more diversity in the designing process when it comes to technology, space, and other amenities that were considered luxuries. Such Amenities include: outdoor learning spaces, larger interiors and better material choices for long term use.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

A master plan of the institutions long term needs is critical. This includes an inventory and cataloging of existing physical assets along with adequate planning and placement for future requirements. A capital needs plan is also vital to understanding the system-wide necessities and costs involved. We usually advise that this be measured over a five-year period. >/p>

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Less can be more. Square-footage costs. Be as efficient as possible in planning facilities that use the spaces and volumes in creative, flexible ways. Design multi-use spaces that save initial construction dollars and long term operating and maintenance costs.

Boynton Willisma & Associates: Christian Ballard, AIA

How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

Even though Oklahoma has been less affected by the recession than many other states, there definitely are fewer projects in Oklahoma.

The reason for the reduced number of projects is twofold. The first reason is straightforward: School boards are reluctant to ask people to pay more when the economy is down, so therefore they are not bringing the projects to the public for a vote.

The second reason is a little more complicated: many school districts are combining multiple projects into one or into a few clusters of projects. Numerous school districts are bringing to their patrons unprecedentedly large districtwide bond issues. These popular "fix-all" mega-bond issues are passing throughout Oklahoma with relative success, but they do tend to reduce the total number of projects and, combined with the slow economy, make obtaining architecture work much more competitive. Given the correct emphasis, large mega-bundled projects are still feasible. Small projects are generally required so they must be done for buildings to be occupied or to meet basic needs so these too are popular.

The economic downturn seems to have had the most major impact on mid-size institutional projects; these are the type of projects that school boards are reluctant to bring before their patrons. Unlike small projects, mid-size institutional projects aren’t seen to be "required" and they also lack the glamour of the major projects.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Every school official has multiple responsibilities and limited time. If a school official is not currently a part of a construction team it is the perfect time to plan. We would encourage this client to hire an architect to help create a master plan which could then be used as a reference, when they achieve the financial ability to construct, to help maximize their potential to teach and to plan for the correct type of education facilities to achieve that goal.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or comprised when cost-cutting is required?

A school’s most basic facility requirement is sufficient classroom space. If the most basic space need cannot be met with a current plan, the project will be a failure.

A tier down from this are other important items such as: daylighting, sufficient media center space, enclosed and outdoor P.E. spaces, sufficient student and faculty restrooms, teacher storage (including personal items) and individualized thermo comfort control of building spaces.

Any thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Although a budget may affect the quality of a design, creativity is not absolutely tied to a budget.

Regardless of the economy the most successful institutional architect is one that uses common elements, products and items in new ways.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We have numerous creative project managers and project architects who ultimately are all responsible for their own designs. These designers have all created very unique solutions with simple mostly modular materials: brick, concrete block, EIFS and cast-stone exterior claddings that house an invisible, cost-effective, modular pre-engineered metal framed system.

In one of our projects for Kingston Public Schools, creativity was achieved by using tinted concrete masonry units designed in banded patterns that appear to grow out of the side of the natural slope of the hill, on which this activity center (70 percent complete) now sits. Above the stone-like base is a synthetic stucco finish (EIFS) where each elevation component was given a unique look. The gymnasium, cafetorium, band room and building entry were all designed to express the function of the space and activities within the building. Within each area, specially designed components create their own sense of hierarchy with specific design details and color patterning. We took much care in our design of each element in each elevation, but this care did not result in increased cost; EIFS is a very plastic material. The CMU base creates the sense of permanency, the banding of the CMU and the synthetic stucco express the creativity. This project is currently slightly under its initial budget and has already become a symbol of pride for the community.

Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA): Keith Johnson, AIA, and Dan Hess, AIA


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

A number of our major K-12 public education clients passed large capital-improvement bonds in November 2008. For projects that went from design into construction over the past two years, owners are now benefitting from an extremely competitive bid climate.

It is common practice for architects to include bidding alternates on projects, giving public school districts the added flexibility to increase the scope of a given project or to improve the quality of a building in terms of upgraded materials and systems. The current market is enabling many of these added-value components to be fully realized. We are finishing design of a large new high school project. The district is very close to being able to construct approximately $5 million worth of additional site and sport-field improvements from funds made available solely because of construction savings.

Districts contemplating upcoming capital-improvement needs and how best to solicit voter support are in somewhat of a wait-and-see mode. Districts with bonds scheduled to retire seem to be in a better position to propose new projects where immediate needs exist, as they can run bond campaigns on the strength of not increasing existing property taxes. We have seen this strategy utilized in past times, and would anticipate some districts being in a position to do so again.

Other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

DOWA has educational projects in design as well as under construction. The necessity for design professionals to be highly responsive to public clients has never been greater. The present bid climate can and does result in extreme competition among general and subcontractors, requiring greater accuracy in bidding documents to reduce construction change orders and claims—one means to make up for an aggressive marketplace.

The economy also creates opportunities for design creativity in terms of being efficient in meeting owner-user needs and detailing buildings to be cost-effective. Despite the down economy, there are new building products and materials constantly coming to market that can add value to new and renovated institutional buildings. Through product research and creative integration, designers can transfer the resulting benefits directly to owners and stakeholders.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

If funds are available to complete preliminary research and investigations, such as demographics and facilities studies, public school districts can be in a better position to have a base of solid information upon which to plan future bond campaigns when stakeholders are more inclined to support facilities expansion and improvement.

When conducted and documented by qualified architectural and engineering design professionals, facilities studies can provide a wealth of both technical and anticipated cost information, enabling district administrators and school boards to craft long-range facility master plans that can be presented to stakeholders well in advance of a formal bond campaign. This process of sharing information at the planning level detail often results in greater buy-in by voters.

As design professionals who focus on architecture for education, we counsel our clients to spend time exploring trends in educational curriculum delivery and how school buildings of the future will best respond. This broad topic can open up planning-level discussions about sustainable design, efficient use of buildings and resources, advances in technologies, etc. The resulting information can form a basis upon which an institution or public school district can build when the decision is made to go forward with a capital improvements plan or bond.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

A first priority should be to maintain the proper building area to provide adequate space for the needs of the school. This may require compromises in finishes and other amenities, but a school that is not adequately sized to house the student population is a failure from the start. In addition, a school that is being planned for a larger future population should be planned such that the core facilities are sized for the future buildout. This would include adequately sizing components that would not be easy to expand on, which may include the cafeteria and kitchen, media center, mechanical and electrical rooms, and administration area.

A second priority when cutting costs would include infrastructure for items that cannot be purchased now but are planned to be added later. Wiring for educational technology, even if some is only in the form of open conduit, should not be compromised. Adding these later will be expensive and unsightly.

The third priority should be to focus on long-term durability and maintenance. Low-budget substitutions may look appealing from a cost standpoint, but more often than not, these compromises lead to maintenance problems down the road. Exterior materials, mechanical systems and light fixtures that will hold up with minimal maintenance will save money in the long run, even if there are cheaper alternatives available initially.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

The first lesson we have learned is that although bond funds are going further in our projects due to low construction costs, school districts and their patrons are expecting greater accountability for the dollars being spent. We have found that decisionmaking needs to follow a very transparent process, even if this is more time consuming than one would expect.

A second important lesson, and related to the first concern about accountability of tax dollars, is that communities are very concerned that their tax dollars are reinvested in the community, creating jobs for local workers. We have found that projects are viewed as a greater success if the school district can demonstrate a direct connection between the investment in the project and job creation in their community. This will pay dividends in the future when new bond levies are proposed.

Finally, a significant challenge for our clients has been planning for schools in which there is adequate funding for the construction, but uncertainties regarding future operational funding. Our clients have successfully turned this around by challenging the planning staff and their communities to realize that this is a great opportunity to look forward and to really strive for a school that is all about the possibilities inherent in creating educational environments for the next 50 years. Sometimes there is greater freedom and thoughtfulness in the design process when the future is less certain.

Legat Architects, Inc.: Jason Lembke, AIA, LEED AP


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

We’ve observed a focus on energy recovery and energy efficiency, the building envelope, system maintenance and roof replacement. The focus has shifted inward, from a few years ago when new structures accompanied the housing boom, to today when institutions are reviewing ways to improve the buildings that they have and do more with less capital.

What are the "untouchable" elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

Ideally, the classrooms would be the last to be compromised by value engineering. A close second place to classrooms would be technology infrastructure. In fact, we’ve seen education institutions leverage distance learning and wireless technologies to reduce classroom demand.

Other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Energy-efficient, sustainable designs employing a creative use of materials and resources are practical in any economy, but are amplified in today’s economic environment. Planning is the key to the success of any project, and the importance of planning can’t be underemphasized. Successful planning will inform the vision, design, budget and schedule of the project, as a reflection of the economy.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

Mundelein (Ill.) High School District 120 has been strategically planning and engaging its community in preparation for a comprehensive capital improvement campaign. Through comprehensive facility analysis, programmatic evaluation, demographics and most important, the engagement of stakeholders, the district is building a consensus for the future.

The master plan that results from these efforts enables the district to address capacity concerns, achieve a programmatically comprehensive high school, improve infrastructure, reduce class sizes and offer more student-life options. In this economy, collaboration and information-sharing is more important than ever.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Interestingly, there is an inverse relationship between the current economic climate and planning activities. The need for larger or more classroom spaces, better systems or building improvements has not subsided. We’ve found that schools are still planning for the future with hope that the economy will strengthen and their communities will say "yes" again to fiscally support their needs.

Hastings+Chivetta Architects, Inc.: Erik Kocher, AIA, LEED AP


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

In our experience, there has been a drastic reduction in work available at private institutions because the building projects are tied to the availability of donor funds. Work for public institutions has remained stronger, but will be under pressure as state funds become harder to obtain.

If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

We would recommend updating the campus master plan, performing utilization studies and completing existing conditions assessments. We would also encourage clients to plan new projects through the conceptual or even design-development stage so projects are ready to move forward once funding is in place.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

The quality of the facility is one element that should never be compromised. Facilities are owned for life, and institutions must be able to utilize a building for decades. If the scope must be reduced, it is better to cut square footage and maintain quality. Designers must then provide a plan for flexibility and future expansions/additions or phasing to accommodate growth.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

Regardless of the availability of funds, the construction market is so favorable right now that institutions would be well-served to get a project started sooner rather than later.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

Two recent large projects for the same state system required our project team to complete programming through construction documents and have the projects ready to bid in six months, rather than the typical time of one year. Their goal was to get the projects out quickly to take advantage of cost savings in the bonding and construction markets, which our team successfully completed.

BLRB Architects: Tom Bates, FAIA, Managing Principal


How has the economic downturn affected the types of projects that education institutions are pursuing?

We are seeing many school district clients focus on future planning in order to be prepared when capital budgets permit major projects. Energy retrofit projects also are on the rise, as districts will not only trim expenses over the long haul, but also often can obtain grant funds to support this project type. In lieu of large modernization and replacement projects, many districts are pursuing small-scale renovation and repair projects to extend facility life until circumstances favor larger capital building projects.

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If a school or university has decided it can’t pursue construction projects at this time, what planning steps would your firm advise an education institution to take so that it is prepared to move forward when the economy improves?

Now is an optimal time for schools, districts and higher-education institutions to complete or update their long-range facility and campus master plans. Facility assessment and evaluation, for both programmatic and physical adequacy, is an important first step to identifying immediate as well as mid- and long-term needs. Developing a long-range master plan now will lay the groundwork for an organized and supportable capital facilities-improvement plan when funds are available for construction projects.

What are the “untouchable” elements of a school facility design that should not be scaled back or compromised when cost-cutting is required?

The old adage "penny wise, pound foolish" certainly can be applied to cost-cutting measures applied to mechanical systems selection and design. Increased energy consumption, higher maintenance and operational costs, and a reduction in indoor environmental quality are just some of the potential consequences of cutting corners on mechanical systems. The long-term costs--both tangible and intangible--will outweigh any short-term savings achieved in this area. Cost efficiencies are better achieved through adaptable and flexible design and selection of durable and easily maintainable furniture and finishes that yield savings and prolong the life of the facility over the long run.

Any other thoughts on designing outstanding institutions in this economy?

The current economic climate actually can be advantageous to school districts with capital project funds to invest, because of lower-than-usual construction costs in many regions. Our design strategies for achieving outstanding educational facilities are consistent in lean economic times. Flexibility and adaptability of space; thoughtful consideration of furniture, fixtures and equipment; integration of sustainable features and selection of mechanical systems that reduce costs and enhance indoor environmental quality--all are hallmarks of a high performance, cost-efficient facility that will ensure long-term physical and programmatic sufficiency.

What examples from your own recent projects have addressed planning outstanding schools in a tough economy?

We currently are providing pre-bond planning and budgeting services to several school districts in small, rural communities in Washington state. We are finding, especially in communities with industries most directly affected by the current economic climate, that our K-12 clients are being particularly thoughtful about how much support they are seeking from local voters. The planning process for these projects is exhaustive, as every potential facility solution is explored to rejuvenate or replace aging schools in an effort to minimize the amount voters are asked to support and maximize the net, long-term benefit of these capital projects.