For school and university administrators planning new facilities, the path from concept to completion is lined with countless decisions, big and small. Each choice — from the overall budget allotted for the project to the color of the library walls — can affect whether the students and staff members who spend their days in the building perceive it as a place that enhances learning or as just another structure filled with desks and chairs.
Trying to rank the importance of those decisions to fit every school's situation would be futile — the priorities are different at every district or college campus. But here are 10 issues, in no particular order, that administrators should keep in mind as they strive to build facilities that do a better job of educating students:
Defining a school
Before determining the best way to meet a school's facility needs, officials need to be clear on their school's mission and culture. A school that has not articulated those concepts may have to define itself more clearly before moving ahead with building or renovating facilities.
Some schools have different teaching philosophies or emphasize different curricular areas. A school spread out on a sprawling campus will have different needs than one that is crammed into a small, urban setting.
“You need to seek out the philosophy of the institution,” says Philip Sun, who directs the academic practice area for the Ratcliff architectural firm in Emeryville, Calif. “No one plan is going to fit any two campuses.”
To accommodate computers and ensure accessibility, many districts are building schools with larger classrooms. But at some point, the extra square footage begins to strain the construction budget. One solution that frees up space in classrooms is for schools to create shared spaces where teachers and staff members can store many of the items traditionally filling the shelves and closets in classrooms.
“Classrooms cannot continue to grow,” says Paul Zippel, a partner with WTW Architects in Pittsburgh. “We advocate creating a grade-level planning center that provides bulk storage and a place where teachers can share curricular materials. Teachers have to be willing to detach themselves physically from some of the materials they have collected over the years.”