Have school designs become too extravagant? “Gold-plated,” “Cadillac” and “extravagant” are terms familiar to architects who specialize in school design. But what is extravagant to one may not be extravagant to another.
A cupola housing the bell from a high school built 130 years ago may appear “extravagant,” yet is a significant enhancement for students and the community. A school's mascot duplicated in the terrazzo floor may seem wasteful to outsiders, but not to students. High-quality hardware is necessary, considering building longevity and the abuse doors receive.
A variety of factors influence design and costs:
School philosophy, programs, curriculum, scheduling, delivery methodology, technology, security and maintenance.
Enhancement of community value and student achievement with aesthetic design features.
Changing building and fire-safety codes, which increase the cost of materials and systems.
An evolving learning environment that responds to new educational processes, community uses and students.
Human factors in spatial design.
Monitoring of architectural and engineering staff to avoid unnecessary costs in design features, specifications, details and systems.
The antonym of extravagant is cheap — one thinks of low-price. Cheap school buildings were constructed quickly after World War II to meet the baby-boom demand. Few understood the impact of long-term maintenance and operations (M&O) costs. Consequently, these “cheap” buildings have been repaired at high cost.
The ratio of initial cost is about one-eighth of the total lifetime cost of operating and maintaining a school building. The initial construction, furnishings and site costs are the least of the equation, yet demand critical evaluation for effective long-term use. Selecting cheap materials and systems without considering value engineering and life-cycle costing consumes monies that could go elsewhere.
Many institutions view cost containment as a long-term issue — not just the initial costs of design, construction and furnishings. They are willing to invest upfront monies to create long-term containment of M&O costs with minimal upkeep. They also view cost containment as an ongoing issue during the design phases.
What is the best for your school?
More space with cheap design features, materials and systems, and greater long-term M&O costs?
Less space with high-quality design features, materials and systems with low long-term M&O costs?
The desired space with “sensible” cost-effective design features, materials and systems that minimize long-term M&O costs?
This decision needs to be made long before a bond referendum is held. Monies spent upfront for quality materials and systems result in economies during the life of the building.
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.