Most people in the United States are only familiar with the schools in their neighborhoods — the ones they attended or their children or grandchildren attend or attended, so they wouldn’t be aware of trends in the planning, building and maintaining of these facilities. The following six people have made it their business to know what is going on with educational facilities and have agreed to share what they have seen.


In an effort to reach every child, educators are adopting nontraditional teaching methods aimed at engaging every student on more personalized levels, such as individual learning, project teaming and group advisory sessions. This educational transformation challenges traditional building layouts, and school designers must rearticulate educational facilities to provide nontraditional instructional spaces for new educational delivery programs.

Craig Mason, AIA, a principal in the Seattle, office of DLR Group


ADA accessibility issues are becoming an ever-important part of today's education facilities. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, the awareness of accessibility requirements has steadily increased, and today’s facilities are expected to be ADA accessible. The cost for ADA accessibility compliance is extremely low compared to the potential risks of one or more lawsuits. One of the major issues with existing facilities is that the owners do not know the ADA requirements or the potential low-cost solutions available. Many companies offer consultants who provide a free ADA Accessibility Assessment that will identify potential ADA noncompliance issues and then provide solutions that meet both the door opening and ADA requirements. With all of the requirements placed on today’s door openings — integrated fire/life safety, security, safety, productivity and the like — it is essential that the right ADA solution meet the requirements of the total opening. This requires a multilevel approach to ADA accessibility, based on an evaluation of the school’s current needs. From this foundation, a qualified consultant can engineer a solution to match the school’s unique requirements and recommend scalable ADA accessibility solutions that have the ability to grow with the school’s changing needs.

Ron Ratell is program manager for IR Security & Safety Americas, located in Carmel, Ind.,


School business officers are showing more concern for funding and budget issues. They say they are dealing with the stress of trying to do more with less. Eighty-nine percent of those who are members of ASBO say their current state budget crisis has had an impact on their school district, while 93 percent don’t expect their funding to improve for two or three more years. They are constantly trying to find ways to deal with significant cutbacks from the states and provinces as they work to meet increased demands for school and district accountability. During the past year, for example, 11 of the 31 states that cut spending to balance their budgets targeted K-12 education. Many districts compensated by cutting their academic year, programs and staff, putting a freeze on hiring, closing or merging schools and eliminating building and bus maintenance.

Anne W. Miller is the executive director of ASBO (Association of School Business Officers) located in Reston, Va.


An increasingly serious issue affecting new school construction, especially in large metropolitan areas, is a shortage of affordable land. Add to that the fact that many neighborhoods object to new schools being built in developed/established communities and you’ve got a problem.

One solution that has emerged is to add a middle learning center to the elementary schools using the same site. Another version of this solution is to add a primary learning center to the elementary school, essentially expanding to lower, instead of higher grades.

These middle learning center sixth, seventh and eighth grade and primary learning centers tend to be smaller facilities than their stand-alone counterparts and use existing property.

The greatest advantage of this is the use of land. A typical middle school takes up approximately 17 acres of land — a considerable chunk of property in an urban or developed area. The school districts already own the property the elementary schools are built on, so this is also a cost savings.

Another advantage is that these expansions increase the chances of families having most or all of their children at the same location during the school year, and they seem more comfortable with the arrangement.

Paul Zilio is a vice president with Bliss & Nyitray, a structural engineering firm in Miami, Fla., and John Junkin is president of PJB Architects, also located in Miami, Fla. Both have experience in elementary and middle school construction projects.

Energy Management

With record high enrollments expected to continue, schools are focused on their facilities’ futures. Many districts are now concentrating on lifecycle costs, rather than initial construction costs, because it is financially beneficial in the long run. A new approach to school construction and renovation ensures high facility performance through energy management solutions that maximize savings. Integrated systems that are installed are more efficient up-front and down the road, resulting in both reduced initial and future energy costs.

Schools now have access to solutions that simplify operations, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Web-enabled building automation systems give facility directors a tool to seamlessly link building controls, security systems and other management databases. By integrating systems, schools can pull together information from those different systems to provide a better“snapshot” of what is happening in the facility — transforming system data into more useful information. This improved ability to monitor and use systems allows for improved energy management. For example, Web-enabled building automation systems can automatically link with a school’s calendar database to turn on and off the lights and heat in a school building that is being used for a weekend event, eliminating the need for duplicate entries, processors and operators.

While commercial buildings have been going“green” for awhile, K-12 schools are increasingly building with energy and the environment in mind. Through sustainable design and highly efficient building systems, schools not only save energy, but also improve students’ learning environments, which in turn, improves student performance. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that 6,000 new schools will be built by 2010 and reports that 50 percent of existing schools are in need of renovation. With the benefits that sustainable facilities provide students, green schools are becoming much more than a trend.

Schools are beginning to realize that students and faculty are some of their most valuable resources when it comes to energy management. When schools encourage students and faculty to learn how their individual energy choices and environmental stewardship can help reduce energy consumption and improve the environment, everyone wins. Students and faculty feel a sense of empowerment to make a difference through activities that positively impact the school and surrounding environment, while schools benefit from the extra attention and effort put toward energy savings. With the growing energy crisis, schools see that it is necessary to bring the national discussion closer to home.

Jeff Crenshaw is the director of Public Sector Business for Johnson Controls, Inc., headquartered in Milwaukee.

Interior Design

What we are seeing in school interior design can be categorized in three main areas — flexibility, technology and variety.

Historically, flexibility has meant tons of built-ins, but now we are using mobile units to make classrooms more flexible. These can be cabinets on wheels or small file units — the kinds of storage can be more specific if it is mobile. Instead of building large numbers of these mobile cabinets, we are also incorporating adjustable shelving so the teacher can set up the classroom to hold the type of materials he or she desires. Most classrooms are now being set up to multifunction, allowing teachers to decide what method of teaching they want to use.

Technology is a pretty big driver for design in the classroom in terms of space and dollars. You will certainly see more digital boards and televisions. Many schools have wireless technology. Some schools pass out laptops, while others require that students bring their own. Of course this technology places new demands on the teachers, and the school administrators and districts need to understand their responsibilities to properly train thir personnel in these new technologies to make them cost effective.

Finally, in terms of variety, we spent the ‘70s and ‘80s closing up windows to save on energy, and now we are either opening up the windows that were closed or building schools with larger, and more, windows.

We now have seen the advantages of indirect lighting and are using it in classrooms and also have been trying to make sure that lighting can be moved or changed to accommodate the method of teaching that is being employed.

Another form of variety is evident in the way we are trying to set up different-sized classroom spaces — while the classrooms are of similar size, we create variety by supplying different sized spaces for smaller groups or larger groups. The challenge is finding a module that will provide for a variety of spaces.

One other trend is the that we are seeing more teacher planning spaces that resemble professional office type of space where they can get together with other teachers or one-on-one with students.

Jan Lintner, associate and director of Interior Design, Kaestle Boos Associates in New Britain, Conn.