Schools are some of the most complex and expensive public facilities built in America today. Beyond their stated mission of meeting a broad spectrum of educational needs, collaborative planning helps produce schools that are community centers.

Successful schools are the result of effective and efficient planning that makes use of the total available resources of the community. Serving as a hub of the community, a successful school can strengthen a community’s sense of identity, coherence and consensus, ultimately preparing students to compete in a global economy.

The U.S. Department of Education recently predicted that successful schools of the future would be integrated learning environments that meet the needs of the entire community. Serving as the center of community, school facilities should include governmental and/or secular services such as libraries, health services, fitness facilities and higher educational offerings designed to serve parents, businesses and senior citizens. A school construction program provides the opportunity to bring together community and business leaders, parents, educators, students and planning and design professionals to collaborate with a shared sense of purpose.

Working together as a planning team, they will identify the needs of the community, strategize how to address those needs, and generate public support for the bonding or levy effort that is essential to finance the project. It is the responsibility of every school administrator to ensure that the public funds used to plan and build public educational facilities meets the needs and expectations of the community.

Riverside High School, Kanawha County, West Virginia, serves as a true center of community activity and is the result of an extensive community planning effort. Decline in student enrollment and two existing facilities in poor condition contributed to the need for a new consolidated high school in this rural area. The absence of community services in the area was evident. Through a concerted community planning effort, state and local school officials met with community leaders, parents, athletic organizations, business leaders and service providers to identify the needs of the community as well as the available resources.

The resources of the local school bond were dramatically enhanced by funds brought to the table by other state and private entities. Embracing the participation of a local bank, the Charleston Area Medical Center and the State Library Commission, plans were initiated to incorporate a bank lobby and drive-through feature; a medically staffed, neighborhood health clinic; a wellness/fitness center; and a public library into the new school. Today, Riverside High School is a contemporary, flexible, technology-rich facility that opens its doors to the community for a variety of services and interests.

And the real winners are? Everyone involved in the collaborative planning effort.

The students point with pride to the innovative facility providing extensive educational opportunities as well as a variety of activities and services.

The community enjoys their new gathering place, offering a variety of new services, athletic programs, and community programs.

The agencies and private entities offer a broader spectrum of local services, with an appreciable savings in initial facility investment.

It is true that different communities need different schools — schools are the reflection of the community they serve. However, identifying those needs, strategizing methodologies to meet them and searching for the resources necessary to implement the plan are all components of an effective collaborative planning process.

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) has provided guidance to school planners since the early 1900s. The Council’s Guide for Planning Educational Facilities has long served as the model for developing comprehensive educational facility plans.

In June, CEFPI released a revised edition of this industry icon, newly titled Creating Connections: The CEFPI Guide for Educational Facility Planning. Creating Connections emphasizes the significance of collaborative planning. As with previous editions, the new Guide is accessible to the novice and veteran alike, to foster understanding and mastery of the discipline of educational facility planning and to achieve lasting, inspirational and fully functioning schools.