Setting the Bar

In the pursuit of facility equity, standards form the measuring guide for the assessment and forecasting processes. Setting detailed physical and functional standards can provide a real understanding of how existing school facilities compare within their state and the nation. They are also useful in applying best practices and lessons learned to new construction.

Standards can and do cover many diverse areas of interest, from square footage of white boards to preferred HVAC systems. Their content and detail varies depending on the needs of the particular state or district. When carefully and comprehensively outlined, standards can ensure educational adequacy, while laying the foundation for quality facilities that are cost effective and maintainable.

Typical Standards

Space standards define requirements for student capacity, square-foot allocations and use. For example, Florida Community Colleges set these standards forth in the Size of Space and Occupant Design Criteria Tables of the State Requirements for Educational Facilities (SREF) and in the Florida Inventory of Schoolhouses (FISH). Many other states have established similar standards. While some states require minimums enforceable by law, others provide only recommendations. Paramount is the establishment of the process for developing and implementing space standards to ensure adequate facilities on a statewide level.

Functional standards align the educational specifications for space and equipment with specific curricula requirements. These usually include requirements for teaching aides, spatial relationships and instructional technology. The rapid pace of technological integration and convergence in education requires special focus, often establishing technology as a separate category of standard.

Design standards typically include requirements for building system quality, performance, durability and condition. Physical design standards may also include recommended facility condition index and system life expectancy based on nationally promulgated recommendations. Statutory design standards include handicapped accessibility requirements and state building codes. Preferential design standards include an institution’s own design criteria.

Better Learning Environments

In recent years, substantial research has shown that the built environment has a direct impact on student and teacher performance. Students working in daylighted classrooms, for instance, have been found to progress 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests than those students with the minimal amounts of daylighting. The General Accounting Office has found that more than 15,000 schools suffer from poor indoor air quality, affecting more than 8 million students. As these issues gain attention, more states are taking notice and adopting standards for better learning environments. Cost-Effective Facilities

Standards can also produce more cost-effective and efficient facilities. Standardized MEP, building envelope and interior finish systems allow for the mass procurement of these items at the state or campus level. Replacement parts can be more easily and cheaply obtained at increased convenience to facility staff. Maintenance training is also simplified because of the reduced variety of systems and processes.

Life-cycle cost is another important consideration. Specifying a more energy-efficient or durable system at a slightly increased initial cost can be cheaper in the long run. By developing standards for durable, maintainable and cost effective buildings, states and districts can make better use of the limited dollars.

Setting Your Bar: Defining Your Own Standards

Standards can and should be customized to address the specific needs and priorities of states and districts. The concept of statewide standards is, then, very flexible and open to interpretation. The critical task toward creating purposeful and relevant standards is the development of a team that can study and weigh past successes and mistakes; future possibilities and projections; and efficient, durable construction solutions to devise the best plan of action. Facility operators, educators, administrators and students can provide a wealth of knowledge about their facilities’ current and future needs. By bringing all these various concerns to the table during standards review and development, you can ensure that the result will be a well-rounded, forward-thinking, lasting document that truly addresses your important concerns.

Miriam Bentley is a graduate of Rice University’s School of Architecture. She joined 3D/I’s Houston office in May, 2003 as a designer and researcher for the research and development team. You can contact Miriam at 713/871-7046.