Long-range facility planning is a comprehensive process for preparing education institutions for the future and confirm that facilities meet current needs. A long-range facilities plan (LRFP) evaluates how facilities support programs and the educational needs of students, staff and the community.

Each school district or college has unique needs and challenges; it may need to address enrollment growth or decline, changing demographic patterns and shifts, changing educational delivery and curriculum, phasing out or repair of aging facilities, grade-level reconfiguration, community needs and other issues.

Rather than addressing issues independently, the LRFP is an opportunity to consolidate all items into one plan.

Launching the plan

An education institution should launch a long-range facilities plan concurrently with its educational strategic plan. In this way, the long-range facilities plan supports goals, objectives and action items identified in the strategic plan.

Key stakeholder “buy-in” is imperative for plan acceptance. To start the process, hire a facilities planner to evaluate educational adequacy, facilities conditions and to conduct dialogue with stakeholders. A participatory planning approach should include people with diverse backgrounds and a balance of community members, education administrators, board members, staff, parents, students, civic and business leaders, governmental officials, senior citizens and anyone who will enhance the process.

For the LRFP, form an executive committee, a steering committee, focus groups and conduct community meetings. The executive committee of about six key decisionmakers functions as a guide for the plan objectives. The steering committee, consisting of 40 or more participants, is responsible for providing input into activities, reviews, discussions and options for recommendations. Focus groups expand input from staff, students, parents and community members in special topics and areas of particular concern. Conducting community meetings lends transparency to the process, and provides for immediate input and feedback.

Reaching consensus

Make it clear that decisionmaking is by consensus. Defining “consensus” at the beginning of the process lets participants acknowledge that all opinions are respected, and that even though their ideas may not be adopted, the recommendations are arrived at in a fair and objective manner.

At the beginning, information gathering frequently occurs “behind the scenes” as the facilities planner analyzes aspects of facilities and the support of curriculum. Once shared with committees, the adequacies and inadequacies of facilities quickly surface, which leads to establishing priorities. Committees can take many approaches to prioritizing; breaking the large group into smaller groups encourages open dialogue and idea-sharing. Have each small group discuss strengths of the education institution's facilities; this celebrates past accomplishments. Discuss facilities shortcomings, and focus on immediate and long-term needs. Differentiate between educational needs and facilities needs. At this stage, participants can prioritize facilities strengths and shortcomings, and determine the most important items that support the educational strategic plan.