Schools that embark on facility upgrades often end up with unexpected outcomes. Educators and board members may pursue a building upgrade to accommodate new technology only to discover that the buildings need major updating to comply with codes.

With buildings ranging from 50 to 125 years old, many school districts can expect similar surprises as they begin to address their facility needs. Older schools have issues beyond deferred maintenance — leaky roofs, outdated plumbing, windows and paint. Many lack ventilation or have mold. Aging classrooms may be woefully undersized. Programs mandated by the government may have forced your schools to convert academic classrooms to spaces for special education and support services. Expanded curriculum, smaller class sizes and larger media centers also have reduced available classroom space in many schools.

Long-range planning can help districts anticipate their facility needs and the problems that may arise. A long-range plan creates options and gives a district direction. It also helps school administrators articulate their expectations for educational planners and architects.

Study defined

A districtwide comprehensive study will examine educational adequacy, educational environment and physical adequacy of the facilities. Educational adequacy includes space programming and section tallies to analyze educational directions, curriculum, schedule, as well as flexibility for educational changes. Schematic sketches of the site and floor plans will illustrate options for alternative space uses, remodeling and expansion.

The educational environment study includes evaluating aesthetics, function, interior traffic flow, indoor air quality, lighting, acoustics, color, furniture, safety and the appeal of the learning environment. The physical environment either supports or hinders the teaching and learning experience.

The physical adequacy study looks at the site and building; structural, mechanical, electrical, security and technology systems; operations and maintenance; and code updating for energy conservation, handicapped accessibility, fire, life-safety and health. Operational and maintenance records identify problem areas, and life-cycle cost analysis targets equipment replacement.

Site studies evaluate use, size, expansion, topography, drainage, landscaping, accessibility, parking, vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns, playgrounds, and physical education and athletic fields. Schools should review structural, mechanical and electrical systems in all buildings. Old schools need special attention. Schools built in the late 1800s and early 1900s may lack adequate structural capacity to support heavy floor and roof loads. Many classrooms have no ventilation except for a window. If they have ventilation, the system may lack fire protection.