School facilities are designed to respond to the philosophies, programs and concepts that educators request. As educators promote new concepts, planners and architects have introduced new facility concepts such as houses or clusters, flexible team learning areas (FTLAs) surrounded with classrooms, resource centers and sub-resource centers, media centers, flexible classrooms and open classrooms, forums and technology centers.
In post-occupancy evaluations, educational planners and architects often find that spaces, such as FTLAs for independent and interdisciplinary work, have never been used properly. The steering committee that assisted the planners and architects in planning and designing the building three to five years earlier is not involved in the startup orientation.
Many committee members no longer work in the district. A new principal is hired, but doesn't receive information about how facility design concepts can enhance educational delivery. A principal may try to install different programs and concepts. A new teacher replaces the teacher who planned a specialized classroom and is puzzled by its design.
Schools often overlook the benefits of having the educational planner and the architect assist the administrators and staff in the use of the facilities.
Building commissioning is a process for achieving, validating and documenting that the performance of a building and its systems meet the intended design needs and requirements. The commissioning process reviews systems such as structural, building envelope, interior, elevators, plumbing, environmental, energy, electrical, protective, security, communication and site.
Unfortunately, commissioning doesn't always ask the questions, “Why this design?” and “How was the space intended to be used?” and “What in-service training of staff is needed?” Perhaps, one of the basic commissioning requirements should be that the planners and architects review with administration and staff the design intent of the original steering committee.
A new school is usually ready for occupancy three to five years after a district formulates initial educational planning concepts. Over time, people change, ideas change and intent changes. The leadership challenge facing the superintendent, secondary director, principal and staff members is to promote acceptance of new concepts and to carry out new programs. An architect strives to provide a facility design that meets current needs and is adaptable to future educational directions.
The community, administrators and teachers must be motivated to create and effectively establish an environment that motivates a student to learn.
A proper physical environment can have a positive effect on a student and enhance the learning process. The facilities, equipment and space also can enhance the teaching process. However, at times the staff may need specialized training and adaptability to be able to do their jobs effectively.
Consider commissioning your educational planner and architect as part of the process — to work with administrators and staff for the most effective use of the learning environment.
Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at Jrydeen@atsr.com.