An e-Newsletter for the Clients and Friends of C.T. Hsu + Associates, P.A.

April 2005

 

Obstacles and Answers:
The ABC's of Designing Quality School Facilities in Challenging Times

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, an estimated 6,000 new schools will be built nationwide by the year 2007. The planning and design of these educational facilities will have a profound affect on how students learn. Yet, the obstacles to building and maintaining quality public school facilities are overwhelming.

School Overcrowding

  • Obstacles - In the next decade, enrollment in K-12 schools is expected to increase an average of 5% a year, according to an economist for McGraw-Hill Construction Analytics. In Florida, the state's double-digit population growth in the 1990s already has produced a critical shortage of classroom facilities statewide.
  • Answers - Many school districts are turning to nontraditional sites and partnering with private enterprises to ease overcrowding. Locations can include downtown areas, museums, airports and malls. Such initiatives offer several benefits. Facility sharing can produce more efficient use of tax dollars, enabling school districts to re-direct a portion of their construction funds to other district needs. Students benefit too from the exposure to their unique surroundings. For example, a Minnesota school located in the Mall of America offers students a variety of learning experiences in advertising and merchandising because of its location.

Education Reform

  • Obstacles - Theories on how to better educate our children are boundless. Most of the mainstream theories share a common thread: smaller and more personal environments. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, personalizing the school environment is one of seven core strategies for improving student performance. Accordingly, school districts around the country are using small school development as a central strategy for improving high schools.
  • Answers - Education reform presents architects and planners with an opportunity to re-evaluate long entrenched beliefs about public school design. Innovation and creativity are the hallmarks of today's successful school designs, whether it's the design of a new school or making existing large urban high schools "small" by redesigning them into smaller, schools-within-a-school, such as magnet programs.

Financing

  • Obstacles - While the cost of building school facilities skyrockets, many state systems are limiting financial support in favor of incentives to build schools on the cheap. In addition, current reimbursement formulas encourage the construction of large facilities despite their questionable educational value. In Florida, K-12 budgets are lagging behind in both the rates of inflation and student enrollment.
  • Answers - Large schools traditionally have been considered more economical to build and able to support a broader curriculum. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests small high schools can produce higher achievement levels, higher graduation and lower dropout rates, and are safer than larger high schools. According to Michel Cohen with The Aspen Institute, policymakers need to review the current disincentives built into state subsidies for school construction and provide incentives for creating small high schools and learning communities.

These issues do not even begin to explore the myriad other barriers to building and maintaining quality public school facilities, such as the cost of wiring aging schools to provide basic computer and communication technology.

School facilities will always have un-met needs. Enrollments fluctuate. New program initiatives are conceived. The relationship between schools and their communities evolve. It would be difficult to find any school building today more than five years old with every space utilized as it was originally intended. Perhaps the answer lies in constantly striving for new and innovative approaches to school facilities.

Sources for more information:
   The Council of Educational Facility Planners (www.cefpi.org)
   National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (www.edfacilities.org)


 
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