July 10, 2012, by Jenny Gallow

Doing More With Less in School Design

If you are somehow connected to the world of education (or educational design) chances are you aware of 21st Century Education or 21st Century School Design trends. School Districts fortunate enough to have new building programs (in design or under constriction) right now are being forced to make decisions on how to balance these future-focused trends within the current economy.

Operating levies aren’t passing and districts are reacting the only way they can – with cuts. I am working with a district right now that has been forced to make major changes to their staffing and curriculum. The funds used to construct the building and the funds used to staff and maintain it do not come from the same pot of money. Decisions on how to outfit the new building were decided before the economic downturn – and now the building and program needs are not in alignment. The new building was designed with a 1200 square foot Life Skills Classroom – program cut. The new building was designed with a Media Center equipped to support 2 to 3 staff people – staff cut. The list goes on and on.

Buildings are filled with square footage designed for the specialty programs that are often first on the chopping block (like those listed above) – omit these programs and you are left with large rooms without a defined function. These classrooms are the perfect place to create multi-function learning labs (buzz words in 21st Century Design). So you take something bad (programs cut) and do something good (multi-use space). By providing flexible, mobile furniture my client now has a space large enough to gather two classes for lecture, collaborative work or study hall. A large room dedicated for these functions would have been hard to justify years ago when working on the overall building program.

School districts (and the design staff that works with them) are being forced to plan for a future that is unknown. The rate of change is constant and districts often have to do more with less. I would challenge you to use these moments as opportunities to question what else is out there – how you can get there – and how even a negative (cuts) can still benefit the district in some way.