When educators and school administrators describe their vision for new K-12 school buildings as ‘21st-century learning spaces,’ they’re not exaggerating. Many new schools are truly different in concept from their counterparts of only a few years ago.

September 07, 2012

2. Get into the weeds on project programming.

Optimal K-12 design and construction calls for Building Teams to be integrated early into project programming. This is especially true in K-12 school projects where discussions over current and future teaching methods are at stake.

For example, the concept for the San Clemente Elementary School in Larkspur, Calif., began with a visioning exercise based on a previously developed biannual plan that included 21st-century learning processes to engage students, says Valerie Pitts, EdD, Superintendent of the Larkspur–Corte Madera School District.

What school officials want from their Building Teams

Here’s what school administrators interviewed for this article say they want from you:

1. Listen first, then talk.
2. Don’t be prescriptive. Avoid cookie-cutter solutions.
3. National and regional firms should engage local partners who know the community.
4. Park your ego at the door. Hire expert consultants when needed.
5. Know how to soothe frayed nerves in contentious meetings.
6. Learn to converse in “education-speak.
7. Don’t get too glitzy or grandiosein presentations.

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects (QKA) helped school officials translate the results of this exercise into a design that promotes the client’s vision. The design committee—composed of school board members, administrators, and teachers—visited other schools and even private companies (notably, Google) that have adopted innovative space designs. Some educators and members of the public were initially alarmed by the direction the committee was taking. “Some stakeholders weren’t with us,” recalls Dr. Pitts. “They said things like ‘A school is not a business’ and ‘This sounds like back to the 1970s and the open classroom.’”

Such criticisms are common when a school system embraces change, says QKA Principal Mark Quattrocchi, AIA. “A school district is not a single client,” he says. “There are lots of hands to hold—school board members, the superintendent, the facility manager, school principals, parents, and teachers.” Discussions over how children should be educated can provoke impassioned arguments that surface in programming.

As facilitators of the programming process, Building Teams should play the role of neutral mediator. “That’s an important part of our practice,” says Quattrocchi.

When things get testy, he says, the facilitator should try to calm the room down. “Left to their own devices, sometimes things can get real ugly real fast,” says Quattrocchi. Obtain consensus at crucial points in the design process, he suggests, and get approvals at important milestones from decision makers.

Another programming tactic: Create spaces that can be shared by the community. For instance, the San Clemente school will be open for athletics on weekends, and its café will be available for use by community groups.

Larkspur–Corte Madera School District’s Pitts warns, however, that “you can’t always afford what the community wants.” She says some citizens in the community wanted a performing arts facility in the school but it had to be chopped for budgetary reasons.

When it comes to aesthetic sensibilities, designers need to keep their egos in check. Dr. Pitts says that she sacrificed some interior and exterior trim elements and chose a composite roof over a more expensive option in the San Clemente school. “Those [aesthetic] issues are more of a concern for architects than they are for me,” she says.

When things get testy, he says, the facilitator should try to calm the room down. “Left to their own devices, sometimes things can get real ugly real fast,” says Quattrocchi. Obtain consensus at crucial points in the design process, he suggests, and get approvals at important milestones from decision makers.

Another programming tactic: Create spaces that can be shared by the community. For instance, the San Clemente school will be open for athletics on weekends, and its café will be available for use by community groups.

Larkspur–Corte Madera School District’s Pitts warns, however, that “you can’t always afford what the community wants.” She says some citizens in the community wanted a performing arts facility in the school but it had to be chopped for budgetary reasons.

When it comes to aesthetic sensibilities, designers need to keep their egos in check. Dr. Pitts says that she sacrificed some interior and exterior trim elements and chose a composite roof over a more expensive option in the San Clemente school. “Those [aesthetic] issues are more of a concern for architects than they are for me,” she says.

         
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM BD+C

Comments on: "The keys to success in the K-12 school market"