Facility Planning

3 Key Practices to Preparing and Sharing a Facilities Review

As the end of the calendar year (and the decade) draws near, the fall attendance numbers are in and many district leaders around the country are undertaking facilities and capacity reviews. These reviews often identify the need to build new schools, close older ones, or convert campuses for a different use. They also play a pivotal role in demonstrating a school or district’s eligibility for certain types of funding. 

It’s a lot to consider all at once. As someone who has worked in the school district planning world for more than three decades, I’d like to offer a few tips to make capacity reviews less daunting and more beneficial for schools and districts. Here are three best practices to embrace as you review your facilities and communicate your findings to your board and community.

1) Create a cross-functional data-collection team.

Facilities managers, building administrators and teachers, district planning and budget administrators, and community members all have access to different types of information that needs to be reviewed at the same time. A facilities review team with broad stakeholder representation can collect and analyze data from multiple sources to support the educational vision of the district.  

Once you’ve chosen the team to spearhead the review, they might get started by consulting a guide that the National Forum on Education Statistics has released that pinpoints what types of data leaders need to collect and monitor to get a clear view of their facilities' needs. When the system is in place, you’re ready to start gathering information.

2) Prepare yourself with ongoing data collection.

Whether your district undertakes regularly scheduled facility reviews every year or every five years, collecting the data to inform them is an open-ended process. Facilities managers and school administrators must keep up-to-date about facility capacity constraints and specific requirements, from how many classrooms are in each school and seats in each classroom down to how many toilets and water fountains are required in school buildings. Ongoing data collection and analysis provides essential information related to practical considerations and high-level educational programming requirements. To tie these disparate sorts of data together in one system, many districts use a geographic information system (GIS).

According to a comprehensive definition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, GIS tools like ONPASS Pro “capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data.”

Using a GIS makes the planning process more efficient by linking facilities’ location and capacity information to the student addresses in your student information systems (SIS). Linking the data allows demographic and educational information such as program participation, achievement, attendance, and discipline to be included in facilities planning. Location data can also make the planning process more effective by linking the transportation system to areas including facilities maintenance, financial planning, and disaster planning.

3) Tell your data story with maps.

All of this data can be overwhelming when communicating your facilities review and plan with other stakeholders. I think it’s fair to say that not many school board members will respond enthusiastically to pages and pages of spreadsheets full of numbers. Maps are an effective way to illustrate facility needs and clearly communicate why specific planning decisions have been proposed or made.

A student density map, sometimes called a heat map, clearly shows where students live relative to existing facilities and helps explains why some schools are overcrowded while others are under capacity. Maps also illustrate where maintenance issues are creating the need for renovations or new facilities and communicate complex school siting decisions at a glance.

Facilities reviews can be daunting, but with the right team, plan, and tools, they can transform raw data into solid facilities plans and better learning environments.

About the Author

For the last 23 years, Caroline Fahmy has served as president and CEO of Educational Data Systems, responsible for the success, growth, and development of the company. For 11 years prior to that, she was vice president, responsible for the company’s finance and accounting departments and directing the statewide assessment division. She has managed many large-scale assessment and research projects, including multiple statewide assessments, and the research and development of new assessment and GIS software. She can be reached at [email protected].