What is the Future of K12 School Design?

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“I don’t know where we are going, but we sure are going”

“I don’t know where we are going, but we sure are going”

“I don’t know where we are going, but we sure are going” is a quote that I remember from Alfalfa of the Little Rascals cartoon show.  We all recognize that changes in K12 education are occurring but it is hard to predict where it will all lead and how to be prepared for it.  One of the Southeast CEFPI (Council of Educational Facility Planners International) strategic planning committees is the New Norm/New Direction Committee.  Its primary role is to identify evolving changes in education and anticipate the effects those changes will have on facility design. We have discussed items such as STEM programs, Blended Learning, Early College, procurement methodology,  Public-Private Partnerships, Charter Schools, and school security to name a few.

Please feel free to reply below with your thoughts on upcoming changes in K12  education and the impact on facility design.

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Building a New School? Plan Early and Maintain Focus to Finish Strong

The Opening Day Guarantee

In office and retail construction, owners can delay opening without serious consequences. But if a school building is not ready on opening day, the community will be in an uproar.

The solution is adequate planning. A good working estimate for a new school, from conception to occupancy, is three to five years.  The project schedule’s length depends on a variety of factors, but is generally driven by the size and type of school (elementary, middle, or high school, and new or renovation). School board members and administrators who believe their school can be built faster than a normal project will likely set themselves up for failure.

Look Ahead 5 Years . . . Every Year

To prepare for the building process, school boards should maintain regularly updated capital improvement plans. Once a district determines that it needs a new or renovated building, it should take four to six months to look for, select, and procure a new site. Another one to two months should be spent on various site assessments.

Selecting a qualified and experienced design team can take one to two months; the design process typically takes nine to 14 months. While the building design and site design should be done together and finish at the same time, each process follows a slightly different track.  Site reviews and approvals can take six months or more, while a building permit review takes one or two months. 

Once the design and permitting processes are complete, the project is ready to receive bids from general contractors, a process that takes about a month or two barring contingencies.

Turning the First Shovel

A district should expect a new elementary school to require 14-18 months, a new middle school to take 17-21 months, and for a new high school, 24-28 months. Move-in times are typically an additional one, two, or three months for an elementary, middle or high school, respectively.

School Construction Schedule

This schedule outlines the key milestone activities and durations to successfully build your new school.

Qualified planners will be sure to include general contingency time for unforeseeable delays such as bad weather, labor and material shortages, poor soil, etc.

The best way to manage all those deadlines is for the district to designate an internal employee to create and manage a project implementation schedule. While meeting the deadlines will be a team effort, the final responsibility should rest with the district.  They have the most control over the front end of the schedule, where it is easy to fall behind schedule.

If this happens, the problem is almost always impossible to fix; the district will need to make (or implement) contingency plans to open the building late—often by a whole year, not just a month.

 It Really Takes That Long

Experienced construction companies know how to recognize projects with doomed timelines, yet may still bid on and accept projects with unrealistic deadlines. (Such deadlines may also reduce competition.)

A responsible winning contractor will make a good-faith effort to complete such a project on time, but may also be prepared to pay liquidated damages (per day charges for each day late).

Even so, team members may believe that a contract signed to complete a project on time means a rush job. That approach will make little difference come August, because an 18-month project usually takes about 18 months – not 12 or 14 months.

Instead, school board members should equate the school design and construction process with a marathon, planning ahead and then maintaining an even, calculated pace throughout the process–coming in strong all the way to the finish.

Energy Case Study: Henderson County Public Schools

According to ratings received by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program for buildings, both Hillandale and Mills River have nationally ranked in the 90th percentile of K-12 building energy performance in each of their three years of operation. Dave Lyons, Energy Manager for Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS), indicates that “Hillandale and Mills River continue to have the best energy performance of any school in our district.”

Three Year EUI Summary_hi res

Although a wide variety of HVAC, lighting, and building envelope improvements were included in the schools’ design, three main strategies played a central role in delivering energy use reductions:

1) Integrated Daylighting Approach – As daylighting relies on a complex interaction of many different components, Moseley Architects’ designers undertook significant steps to bring these parts together in the right way. Each building on its site follows an east-west (E-W) axis to allow all classrooms to face north or south. Despite different site constraints at each school, both buildings were able to be oriented within 15 degrees of this ideal E-W axis.

2) Demand-Controlled Ventilation And Dedicated Outside Air Systems – To promote further reductions in energy use, Optima Engineering utilized a combination of Demand-controlled Ventilation (DCV) and Dedicated Outside Air Systems (DOAS) in conjunction with the schools’ water source heat pumps.

3) Energy Management And A Culture Of Conservation – Extending beyond the features inherent in Hillandale and Mills River’s design, principals and staff at both schools are taking an active role in keeping their utility costs in check. Mills River’s Principal Todd Murphy concurs, “These are brand new facilities that we’re proud of and we obviously want to take care of them. We look at them as our homes. With our facilities being green schools, we work on incorporating that theme into the classroom as well.”

For more information, download the complete case study here. . . Henderson County Schools Case Study

Simple School Security Improvements Can Go A Long Way

This renovation included a new security vestibule, which directs visitors  through the front office of the school to check-in.

This renovation of Abingdon Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia includes a new security vestibule, which directs visitors through the front office of the school to check-in.  The expansive glass around the reception area provides excellent visibility of the activity at the main entrance.  

As communities across our nation seek to understand the tragedies that have struck schools, the safety of our school children remains an ongoing concern for anyone responsible for providing responsive facilities, especially educators and school designers.  These concerns have changed the way we think about school safety when planning a new building or conducting reviews of existing facilities. 

Moseley Architects wants to share with you a summary of issues related to school safety that should be discussed with your design professional.  It is important to recognize that investing the time and energy into a proper security training program for school staff and volunteers must be a top priority.  This article focuses only on the physical, built-environment portion of a safety strategy.  It does not address the school policies, procedures, or programs, which are a crucial part of a safe school strategy.  As school facilities designers, we recognize that those discussions occur in local communities across America. 

Layers of Protection

The ability to create layers of protection is an important concept when thinking about school safety .  No single measure is going to be a panacea.  An intruder on a school site should be required to pass through several layers of security measures before coming into contact with school children.  Security measures generally fall into two categories: passive and active.  Passive safety measures are the coordinated design decisions that improve the safety of the building without changing the operation of the building or requiring additional staff resources.  Active safety measures incorporate both physical design strategies as well as technology components to support the safety of the school.

Click this link to view the entire article . . . .  Simple School Security Improvements Can Go A Long Way