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Flexible School Facilities
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School buildings generally outlast enrollment cycles. After two decades of slow growth to an all-time high, national pre-high school enrollments will drop slowly over the next decade. High school enrollments will follow this same pattern, trailing by several years. Planning buildings to anticipate enrollment drops may create new opportunities to meet school program or community needs. Not planning for enrollment drops may simply result in underutilized buildings.

k-8 enrollments9-12 enrollments
Numbers above in millions

Planning for a long-term, and somewhat unknown future, requires an adjustment in thinking. Schools planned today nationally exhibit a progression of school development. This progression may be used to characterize degrees of change from traditional practices. The progression identifies five stages of restructuring, from the most traditional (#1) to the most radical (#5), which may result in no need for a building at all. The sequential diagram below expresses the way that any school can be seen as a point on a continuum, and that, over time, it may evolve from one point to another. Some aspects of the progression may be highly controversial (virtual learning), but others, such as project learning and teacher planning centers, are likely for most schools at some future point. Even if these were not imbedded in the teaching practices today, the prudent planner would do well to anticipate their integration in the near future. Preparing for such a possibility requires “futurist thinking.”
five stages

  • Traditional School / Departmental / Repeated Classrooms
  • Schools Within a School / Project Learning / Teacher Planning Centers / Interdisciplinary
  • Virtual School / Service Learning / Home schooling / School to Work / School is not a Building

Technology integration in school buildings has only been an issue for fifteen to twenty new thinking
years. It has evolved from isolated desktops, to networked desktops, and finally to wireless laptops. The future will include tablets, personal digital assistants, and digital phones as technology evolves from a limited resource to a pervasive communications and analysis tool. Just as we would never think of putting all the pencils in one room, we will no longer think of building computer labs. The nature of libraries will change. Educational delivery methods and the basics of student-teacher contact may change as well.

School-Community Relations
Connection and relevancy to the community it serves is the heart and soul of any school. Community use of isolated building functions such as gymnasiums has been a standard in school planning since World War II, but in recent years expectations, programs, and access have increased significantly. Schools now need spaces for parent volunteers, mentors and tutors. Schools now view student placements in community service and job-oriented, hands-on learning initiatives as critical to their curriculums. The potential of new and educationally sound school-community relations is now clearly understood. Each step of enhancement results in new facility needs.

Strategic Locations
In new schools, planning must be based on communication and flow among functions. The strategic positioning of functions enhances student identity, sharing of limited supplies and resources, teacher communication, team teaching, community use, and orderliness within the building. The correct location of a function can position it for a viable long-term future as part of a constellation of spaces serving changing needs.

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March 2nd, 2006

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