Building Needs Assessments: A Good Way to Plan With Involvement

As we continue to share a variety of stories about persons, processes and projects that “Walk the Walk,” this month we focus on a process to determine building needs assessments. There are many detailed and professionally oriented documents to use for conducting facility assessments. But, when you are trying to establish ownership for your faculty, staff and community into the short-term, as well as the long-term, building planning decisions, there seems to be a need for a more user-friendly instrument. The Concord Community Schools has developed an instrument that is both user-friendly and useful in establishing priorities and justifying facility needs.

One of the most difficult areas to quantify objectively in a user friendly way is to identify and prioritize facility needs and the educational benefits of those needs at each building. This task can be completed much quicker if only one person is doing it (like the building maintenance person or principal). However, if only one person does it, it is difficult to get ownership and agreement from the personnel in the building, and it is even more difficult to get other personnel from the rest of the district to agree as you look at the broader needs and the dwindling resources.

A more successful approach for ownership in the building assessment plan is to include members of the faculty, staff and community on the planning team. In order to do so, there needs to be some type of instrument that can be used to provide some objectivity to the process.

Concord Community Schools in Elkhart, IN, developed an excellent building assessment form that is used in each building by the assessment team. Each team, made up of the administrator of the building, custodial staff, faculty members and parents, works together to identify the needs of the facility, based on the educational needs, as well as the physical needs. All items are listed and then ranked, based on the rating scale. Each person ranks each item individually. The team then comes together, compares scores and discusses the rankings until they reach consensus. Once the plan is completed, it is sent to central office to be included with all of the other building plans. Representatives from each building are then brought together to review all of the plans and to learn about the needs at each of the schools. A similar consensus building process occurs.

An objective, prioritized, justifiable instrument for building assessments is a major asset in building assessments. Facilities are an ongoing expenditure. Too often, they are thought about in the community only at the time when a “big project” must be built. By including the public in the ongoing planning of the upkeep of the existing facilities, it allows them to be involved and to be part of being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. It also makes them aware of the conditions of the existing facilities, so when a major need arises, it will come as no surprise.