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The Education Environment Program
 
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Authors: David E. Anstrand, RA, REFP
Edward E. Kirkbride, NCARB, REFP

Many trends such as communication technology, brain-based learning, life-long learning, cost of educational facilities, environmental concerns and others to be discovered, suggest the scope of planning educational environments is expanding. In the recent past, educational facility planning was confined to the preparation of “educational specifications or ed specs,” a listing of space-by-space attributes for the proposed facility. Today, instead of ed specs, an Education Environment Program (EEP) describes information and relationships as a trilogy, becoming the foundation for the future design of a new or renovated learning facility. This trilogy systematically describes the desired community environment, learning environment and physical environment. The community environment addresses civic design, program planning and partnership development. The learning environment focuses on interpersonal relationships, learning activities and learning time. The physical environment examines the relationships of building to inhabitants, building to site and building to the greater environment. The resulting Education Environment Program frames the “design problem” in a broader, more comprehensive way than possible in the old “ed. spec.” format.

Program and Process
The EEP is a program that initiates and is the result of an evolving planning process for a 21st century knowledge-based society. The old “ed. spec,” still in use by a majority of school districts, is also the result of a planning process, albeit, for a 19th century industrial society codified by 20th century institutions. The processes are different. Until recently, due to the static nature of curriculum, “ed. specs.” were developed by interviewing a relatively few decision-makers - usually school district administrators and department heads. A broader, more inclusive, participatory planning process is required for EEP programming. The “Information Age” constituency for educational facilities becomes the whole community. All stakeholders must be represented in the planning process.

Though beyond the scope of this article, a few comments on process may provide a better understanding of the Education Environment Program. The overall planning process must be “driven” by strategic thinking and, a strategic plan jointly developed by all stakeholders. The strategies and dependant strategy plans provide a conceptual framework for further planning. The EEP planning process must proceed from data collection, data analysis and synthesis to alternative program concepts. The alternative program concepts will then be tested by the planning participants and further refined. These refined concepts are then documented as the EEP. The EEP becomes the initial project information necessary to guide the educational facility design team.

The Community Environment:
The community environment contains, shapes and connects the learning environment and physical environment. Historically, school boards and municipal governments have planned and implemented programs independent from one another. The result has been duplication of facilities and services. When common “visioning” occurs between government units, it is possible to undertake joint planning to deliver cost effective facilities and programs to the community. This first part of the “trilogy” covers three areas: Civic Design, Program Planning and Partnership Development.

Civic design is an historic, “City Beautiful,” term addressing the physical structuring of community. When educational environments are thought of as “community infrastructure,” they can be used as “tools” to influence community growth and change. When integrated, educational facilities can reinforce existing development patterns rather than spawn continuing suburban sprawl. New planned development can be “anchored” by educational facilities. These facilities can be incorporated in community open space and park systems reinforcing and expanding community amenities. The location of other amenities such as libraries, community centers, and parks suggest joint development, maximizing tax dollars spent. By locating facilities in zones adequately served by utilities rather than non-served areas, significant construction cost penalties can be avoided. In many small communities the school is the center of the community. If creatively programmed, this facility can physically shape more than just the school’s immediate site and become the true, symbolic, center of community adjacent to or incorporating facilities housing other community services and programs. Recent trends suggest the return to neighborhood schools - possibly an important urban revitalization ingredient. Civic design aspects of the planning process, often overlooked or ignored, provide the essential basis for further planning and communication with other planning entities.

Program planning is often not coordinated between public and private entities. Most communities have a myriad of social and economic programs sponsored or provided by public and private organizations. School districts often plan new or expanded programs without full knowledge of existing programs provided by others. The result is a “patchwork quilt” of programs and services, many not well funded or advertised, providing benefits far below community expectations. Common vision and planning would insure against duplication of effort and better insure program successes. Examples of often duplicative programs include: municipal parks and recreation summer programs versus the school district’s sports camps; municipal library versus the school library; private day-care facilities versus school district pre-school programs; etc. By understanding the range of existing program offerings and their effectiveness, the school district can better “design” complementary programs that provide unique services or reinforce existing programs.

Every community has partnerships. Partnerships are “linkages” between the school district and the community. Often assistant athletic coaches are found through partnerships between the school district and interested athletic supporters and booster organizations. “School to Work” programs are often based on apprenticeship opportunities provided by local businesses. Municipal governments and school districts often work together to provide parks and recreation areas through joint use of school sites. The imaginative use of partnerships to solve educational facility needs has not been well developed. As a high school develops a medical and biological “house,” why not hold classes at the partnering hospital? Could partnerships be established between urban and suburban schools to share fine arts interests, talent and grant funding? Through proper identification of partners, program possibilities and opportunities; school district-to-community links will become much stronger.

Community civic design attributes, programs and partnerships opportunities can be discovered through a careful inventory of each area. The inventories can be recorded on a series of same scale maps. The maps can then be overlaid and analyzed to determine “areas of opportunities.” The areas of opportunities become resources for further evaluation and incorporation in the EEP.

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April 1st, 2006
 

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