In the past eight years, the design standards of classrooms have improved significantly. This movement was instigated by the introduction of the classroom acoustics standard in 2002 from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in collaboration with the Acoustical Society of America.

The standard, formally known as ANSI S12.60, has become a design requirement within numerous state, county and local public school systems, and has been partially incorporated into both the LEED for Schools and Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) rating systems. These developments primarily have occurred in the K-12 environment and have had limited influence on higher-education institutions.

Making standards

Originally released in 2002, the ANSI S12.60 standard was revised and updated in 2010. The new version includes two parts covering the acoustical goals for permanent schools (Part 1); and relocatable (modular) classrooms (Part 2). These parts are intended to provide numerous benefits from the classroom acoustical design performance goals, including maximizing the intelligibility of the spoken word from teachers and students, improving the audibility for persons with hearing impairments, reducing distractions from activities outside of the classroom, promoting productivity and focus of students, and relieving the vocal stress and fatigue of instructors.

In the standard, there are three basic components to the classroom acoustic design for achieving the goals described above:

•Low background noise from building systems, such as the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and elevator systems.

•Enhanced acoustical privacy for neighboring spaces and the exterior.

•Limited reverberation in the classrooms.

These conceptual goals are applied to core learning spaces or classrooms up to 20,000 cubic feet in volume. There are performance goals for ancillary learning spaces, including corridors, cafeterias and gymnasia of any volume, where learning may be a secondary purpose but communication still is important to the function of the spaces.

The details for the performance goals are described in the standard, which can be downloaded free at http://tinyurl.com/ANSI-S12-60.When spaces are built that achieve these goals, the education environment is enhanced.