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

4. Help school clients make projects affordable.

In today’s cash-strapped economy, Building Teams must provide their K-12 clients with money-saving design alternatives to ensure that elements integral to the educational mission don’t fall victim to the budget ax. Using space more efficiently is a key component. In North Little Rock, design firm DLR Group developed a comprehensive master plan that reduced the number of school campuses from 21 to 13.

Look, too, for ways to trim the number of classrooms. “If you have 10 classrooms, and each of them is empty for two of seven periods”—except for the teacher, who is using an entire classroom as an office—“you’ve got unacceptably low space utilization,” says French. One alternative: Provide smaller “work suites” for teachers to share when they’re not teaching.

Don’t neglect hygiene concerns in school lockers and showers

HPDE lockers were installed at the Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center, St. Albans, Vt., which is owned by the public high school, Bellows Free Academy, but gets 400,000 of its 600,000 annual user visits from the community. “In a public facility there is nothing more important than cleanliness,” says facility manager Dave Kimel. “These HDPE lockers have no cracks, crevices, or edges to catch cleaning cloths or trap mold, mildew, or other bacteria, and they’re easy to clean.” Gang showers were converted to individual units with the use of HDPE partitions. Says Kimel, “My crew finds them very easy to clean.”

Building Team leaders need to be deeply involved in any value analysis of the project, says Justin Kelton, Vice President of Operations for Educational Services at McCarthy Building Companies. For instance, if school officials decide to up the investment in media center technology, “You might be able to reduce the square footage of glass or use polished concrete instead of carpet in some areas to save money,” suggests Kelton.

Help get the voting public involved in school finance decisions. DLR Group facilitated dozens of public meetings in North Little Rock to build support for a millage to fund several new projects.

“Given the size of the [millage] increase we were asking for, not many thought we could do it,” recalls Kenneth Kirspel, Superintendent of North Little Rock Schools, who says that an intense effort was made to seek  input from the community. The result: “We won with almost 58% of the vote, at a time when economic conditions were not favorable.”


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