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.
6. Future-proof your project with a design that permits flexibility.
Electronic whiteboards, laptop and tablet computers, wi-fi capability, large projection screens—these are the kinds of technologies that are being used in schools today. Since the future of technology is so unpredictable, designs for 21st-century learning must provide a structure that can be reconfigured at reasonable cost. This is the basic idea behind what some call “future-proofing.”
“A lot of the traditional egg crate schools are extremely expensive to modify,” says Michael Hall, AIA, LEED AP, REFP, Vice President/CMO, Fanning Howey. Instead, using steel skeleton frames and avoiding interior load-bearing masonry walls makes changing the size of rooms feasible. “Mechanical systems should have enough interstitial space so you can move things around, and cable trays in ceilings have to be easily accessible,” he adds.
Power systems should be able to accommodate possible new room configurations and be expandable if more electronic devices must be added. Data rooms, including supporting cooling systems, should also be expandable.
Don’t overlook furnishings. “Furniture design is becoming more nimble and movable,” French notes. Schools are being outfitted with softer chairs, couches, and benches that can be easily rearranged, providing a more comfortable setting for children and teachers to interact, he says. Storage cabinets, too, come with casters for ease of mobility.