October 21st, 2020

A Few Tips for Education Leaders (From an Architect’s Point of View)

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Let’s talk about two things that touch all of our lives every day, in some way:

Education & Architecture

SSP is honored to speak for the NJSBA Virtual Workshop 2020 for Education Administrators. While preparing, we had one question at the front of our minds:

What value can we, as architects, provide to New Jersey’s leaders in education?

When you work as an architect, you gain a particular point of view. When we design learning spaces, we’re not simply designing attractive buildings. We’re creating resources, solving problems, and meeting specific needs – much like you do as educators.

We know the architecture of your space is not separate from what happens there. It is integrally connected to the goals and wellbeing of your community. As such, we will discuss a few topics around school architecture and design. Along the way, we hope to impart a perspective that will help your school and your students grow in an ever-changing world.

Classroom Layout & Building Design in a (Post) COVID World

This is obviously an important topic right now. And in architecture as in education, this unprecedented time is teaching us lessons that we’ll carry with us forever.

The challenge we are facing now is this: Providing our children with a quality education creates circumstances that put them and their families at risk. It’s quite the problem to solve, and something we take very seriously as architects – How can we maximize educational value, minimize risk, and make the best of this situation?

As architects, the biggest areas where we can lend our expertise are HVAC (air flow, ventilation, and filtration) and classroom layout. Along with proper use of facemasks and PPE, any improvements to ventilation and to socially distant layouts will go a long way in minimizing risk of COVID-19 and making its spread more manageable.

 

Master Planning

Schools are institutions, and as architects, designing for institutions is what we do. The word implies a space that will be around for a long time, so any project we undertake considers the long term benefits for the community. It’s not “What does the science department need next year?” but rather, “How can we benefit science students for decades to come?”

However, even just considerations for the Science department are only one piece of a master plan. The complete master plan is the grand vision that asks, “Where do we want to take this institution over the next 10, 20, or 30 years?” and then puts concrete steps in place to get there.

The master plan considers factors such as: evaluation of existing space usage; demographics; future educational changes; and identification of current problems.

Then all individual projects, which benefit different important aspects of your institution (science, music, athletics, etc.), add up in a way that makes sense for the long term benefit of the school.

For an example, see the master plan SSP created for Raritan Valley Community College.

Does your school have a master plan? If not, what would it include?

 

Re-Imagine Your Space

Now let’s bring it down a level, to the individual spaces at your school.

The pandemic has made the world rethink the way we interact spatially, and all public spaces have had to adapt. But it is not the only force of change that affects our learning spaces. Technological and cultural shifts do so all the time.

As times change, how do you transform your educational spaces to address new challenges, needs, and resources?

For example, libraries are among the institutions that have, in recent decades, had to change the most with technology. The transition from paper books to digital media has transformed the way we consume information.

SSP was part of transitioning the library at Hunterdon Central Regional High School into an Interactive Media Center. The space now embraces both names, library and IMC. As such, it provides the best of both worlds: access to paper books and all the value they provide, as well as a multitude of interactive digital learning resources.

Can you think of a space at your school that needs a little reimagining? What can you do to give that space new life?

 

Projects in Trouble

The bad news? Things happen. The good news? We’re problem solvers.

In any project, obstacles are bound to arise. In school construction projects, the stakes are high, because the timely and quality completion of projects directly affects the education that takes place there. It pays to stay proactively ahead of any issues and to know how to react to any issues that arise, when necessary.

Common issues to be aware of include the following:

  • The “Low-Bid” Format – Public sector projects are required to contract the lowest-cost viable bidder. This law protects taxpayers, but it also creates competition among contractors in the direction of price cutting, not in the direction of timeliness and quality.
  • Material Availability – Suppliers now commonly take a “made to order” approach in the availability of construction materials. As such, another reason to plan in advance is to ensure contractors have all the materials they need to stick to the timeline.
  • New Codes & Regulations – Many contractors like to do things “the way they’ve always done them”, which can lead to setbacks when new regulations arise. You don’t want to waste time and money re-acting to code violations, so it’s important to be clear up-front on all new codes. It’s something we take seriously at SSP before the start of any project.

Other issues may include: contractors delaying progress to lengthen their payment period; shortened time windows project completion (which are increasingly common), and more.

We talk about all these issues in more depth – and about balancing project scope, schedule, and price – in other SSP blog posts (read part 1 and part 2). If you’re facing any of these issues or taking on a new school construction, we encourage you to take a deeper look.

 

And More

If you participated in our digital discussion at the NJSBA virtual conference, then you heard us talk about many other areas where education and architecture intersect, such as: navigating NJDOE requirements; safety and security in school buildings; public/private partnerships; construction costs & budgeting; ESIP projects (NJ’s Energy Savings Improvement Plan); solar projects; and more.

As long as there have been school buildings, education has been inextricably tied to the architecture that encompasses it.

If you’re a school leader, and you have questions about any of the above topics, or about other ways you can transform and adapt your educational spaces, just call SSP or send us a note. We’re happy to talk.

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