Final Thought

One of the major obstacles to change in the design of educational facilities is state laws, codes, and regulations that prohibit some innovations, encourage following design practices of the past, allow obsolete facilities, encourage cutbacks, fail to fund“non-instructional space” such as offices, and categorize functions so that funds can be used only for K-12 activities.

It’s not that state education departments are necessarily opposed to innovation, but often their formulas, codes, rules, and legislation were put in place decades ago and therefore reflect schools that were fine in the 1960s but do not work today. The following are some quick examples.

? I took school board members from New York to visit a school in Pennsylvania. They admired the use of interior glass that allowed light to flow from corridors to classrooms, also making it possible for teachers to see long distances within the school. When they got back to their own district, they described what they had seen and asked that it be included in their new school. New York State codes, however, would not allow extensive use of interior glass.

? More recently, I listened to a speaker describing how a high school of the future might work and the kinds of facilities that would be needed to house it. One after another, architects from different states waved their hands vigorously to warn that what was being proposed wouldn’t be accepted under the codes of their state.

? I received a telephone call from a concerned citizen. Her school board was planning a new school with 650-sq.-ft classrooms, which she considered too small. But the state allows them. Undersized classrooms are allowed — and often encouraged — by states that see it as a way to build less expensive schools.

? In another state, the architect and school board planned a daycare center within a new elementary school. The state would not allow it, as those are two different programs. Daycare has to be in a separate building with a separate entrance.

These are just random examples, but they make a point. If we are going to have facilities to support 21st Century educational programs, state laws, codes, and regulations that inhibit what is good for education — and allow what is not — must be reexamined and changed.

A Big Job for CEFPI

That’s a big job and it’s going to take a big organization to do it. My nominee for taking leadership in changing state regulations concerning school facilities is the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International (CEFPI).

Why CEFPI? There are two reasons. First, it is an independent organization with the purpose of improving the places where children learn. Let’s not get a government task force involved.

Second, CEFPI is about to have new leadership. (Tom Kube, CEFPI’s executive director for 10 years is stepping down. Tom has done a wonderful job of building the organization and positioning it as a major force in school facilities design, setting the stage for the organization to make an even greater impact.) Any change in leadership opens up opportunities to undertake new objectives.

CEFPI has been in the forefront of introducing, presenting, and creating important information on school facilities. It has been a strong advocate for green schools for more than a decade, and well before that was holding seminars on how to bring technology into schools. My own region, the Northeast, introduced the book“Breaking Ranks,” (published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals) as a guide to high school planning, and that has become a theme of many presentations at national and regional conventions.

If one wants to hear about the brightest and best ideas in educational space planning today, if one wants to see examples of schools that break molds and that provide better, greener, more technologically advanced space, then go to one of CEFPI’s conventions or browse its Website. But, as good as the ideas are, architects and planners who want to emulate them constantly find themselves hampered by state rules and regulations that make innovation difficult or impossible.

CEFPI, with its new leader, should commit itself to take on the task of getting the 50 states to reexamine their codes, regulations, funding, and attitude towards school construction and design, and to adopt new ones that will permit, even encourage, school districts to design their buildings for the realities of today, rather than the outmoded ideas of the past.

I hope the organization’s new executive director makes that a first priority.

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year."