CTH+A Staff News
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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
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)