GIS in School Facility Planning

School district officials who are developing and implementing a facilities master plan have a critical task in front of them. Not only do they have to make crucial decisions about the fate of their school properties, but they also have to do it in an efficient and accurate manner. Modern technology can now aid school planners and administrators in district planning.

With the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), decisions that once required weeks and months of planning can be made in seconds. For instance, when determining the location of a new school, administrators would usually perform hours of research to find available and affordable land. Not only that, but they would also have to determine whether the student population is in the vicinity of the potential property. This process for collecting the data can take weeks, and there is still high potential for innacuracy. With GIS, current aerial photos can be analyzed to determine suitable land for a new school. Also, a parcel layer, which can be overlaid on the aerial photo, often contains information about the acreage and current appraised values of the land. Next, the planners will use GIS to overlay student populations to determine if the students are living close to the property in question. All of this can be done in seconds with an extremely high rate of accuracy. When looking at this, anyone can come to the conclusion that GIS saves hours, days and even weeks of time for school districts when planning.

What Is GIS?

GIS is an organized collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data and personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze and display all forms of geographically referenced information.

A GIS System is a complete computer system that links information about where things are located with information about what particular data represents. Unlike a paper map where ‘what you see is what you get,’ a GIS map can combine many layers of information.

As on a paper map, a digital map created by GIS will have dots or points that represent features on the map such as cities, lines that represent features such as roads and areas that represent features such as lakes (see figure 1).

GIS has been referred to as smart mapping because users can identify feature attributes on a map just by a click of a mouse. Behind the scenes, each feature on the map is connected to a database that stores information about that feature. For instance, one can click on a school point on a map and find out the school name, address, phone number, acreage, capacity and current enrollment.

GIS can be used in educational facility planning to help plan for attendance boundary changes, to determine if there are other potential causes of special education population, to develop an integration plan for desegregation orders, to plan for future school sites, to develop transportation routes, to analyze where students live versus where they attend school... the list of possibilities is extensive. The power is that one can see a broad picture of information in seconds, and it is in a form that is easily understood.

Matt Cropper is a GIS analyst at Dejong & Associates, Inc. in Dublin, Ohio. He can be reached at 614/798-8828 or