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School Construction 2003

August 21, 2003

Tomorrow’s schools could be neighborhood hubs

  • Craving a taco? Hunting for a meeting space? Here’s your one-stop shop

    Everett High School
    Photo courtesy of Dykeman
    As older schools are renovated, they will be adapted and reused in new ways that are useful to their community. A mid-1990s renovation of Everett High School included upgrades to an auditorium across the street. The facility now serves both the school and the community.

    It seems no one is ever fully satisfied with their local educational system, and rightly so.

    More than ever, schools are being burdened by increased enrollment, limited resources and budget cuts. In addition, parents, politicians and the community-at-large are intensifying scrutiny and demanding accountability.

    We should be continually asking ourselves how we could improve our schools and communities. Recent strides in this direction have resulted in some very interesting ideas, programs and trends.

    More and more, communities are seeking greater integration of community and schools.

    Schools are being used as multicultural community centers. School facilities are looked to for flexibility, to provide extended use for resources such as food programs, health centers, libraries and recreation, as well as day care/child care, youth centers, lifelong learning and more.

    In marked contrast to the ongoing debate about separating church and state, churches and religious groups in many areas have partnered with schools to provide facilities and programs that will benefit the needs of both groups.

    Learning environments

    Trends are moving toward the restructuring of “teaching environments” into “learning environments.” Increasingly, autocratic, bureaucratic or other “control”-style systems of management will be restructured to eliminate internal competition. The new focus will be on teamwork and quality, reducing classrooms sizes and achieving lower student-to-teacher ratios.

    Already we are beginning to see greater flexibility of facilities to accommodate multiple uses. School facilities will consist of a hierarchy of parts for the “individual,” the “family,” the “neighborhood” and the “community.” We have even begun to see an integration of business partnerships.

    So, what does this all mean to the design of a school?

    It means we’re going to earn our keep as architects and planners, and that the process will be very participatory, testing our skills as facilitators to achieve consensus for one-of-a-kind programs and solutions. The stakeholders will increase in number and type because of greater interest and integration in the community.

    The schools of the future may very well be smaller and more integrated into the fabric of the community in a variety of ways.

    Some parts may be separate technology centers for use by community, business and students alike. Artist studios/schools may be combined with galleries or retail outlets. Schools may share space in office buildings or shopping centers, and may include amenities such as food courts and parking garages.

    We will also still have the existing larger, older schools that will start to be adapted and reused in other ways ... for Boys and Girls Clubs, daycare centers, food programs, senior centers, as well as educational uses.

    Green communities

    There will be greater emphasis in the community for environmentally sensitive solutions to development. The creation of sustainable, “green” communities will be encouraged.

    And schools will make greater use of the community’s environmental, recreational and park resources at-large, not just the typical school playground. Recycling and conservation will become the norm in facility construction as well as in day-to-day operations. Good stewardship of the Earth’s resources will be stressed.

    Another big issue will be transportation. Smaller schools potentially mean a smaller draw area, which may facilitate more pedestrian movements, particularly at the elementary school levels. However, secondary school levels may require greater movement of students if the components are separate and distributed within the community. In that case, there will need to be enhanced public transportation.

    Adaptive reuse of existing structures within the community will increase in an effort to conserve resources, save development costs and maintain a perspective of our historical roots. And with the ever-increasing cost of education, construction and salaries, we will see more creative ways to achieve the educational program while being environmentally sensitive and accountable to the community. All of this will result in dollars well spent.

    The goal is to provide varied, interesting, experiential environments that will primarily foster learning, not teaching.

    Bruce Jilk, an architect of educational note, once said: “The environment has a significant effect on our behavior. A basic example is the classroom. Take a roughly 900-square-foot space with a 10-foot ceiling, place a marker board to define the front, send in one adult and 30 kids who have never seen each other, and more often than not the adult will assume control. Place the same people in an arcade game setting, and the kids will assume control.”

    Good mistakes

    The kids will learn what they need, making plenty of mistakes along the way. Mistakes are good! Mistakes give us perspective and guidance. We need kids that are curious, willing to make mistakes and press on.

    All of this may require a quantum shift in perspective ... from administrators and teaching staff, as well as from the community — business, government, citizens and parents alike.

    We must all be willing to take some risks to remove the barriers to learning that exist within each of our communities. Decisions need to be made that are in the best interests of kids. It will not happen overnight, but it has started and we need to be prepared to support the endeavor. To make the mistakes and press on!

    K. John Jones is a principal at Dykeman, an Everett architectural firm.

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