Building Blueprints -- Administrative/Office Space

Administrative/Office Space

Michelle McGown, Keegan Jackson, RA, and Jennifer Baldridge, APR

What you need to consider when planning administrative and office space for a K-12 school?

In the midst of planning new space for school buildings, considerable thought goes into the programming and planning processes. What colors encourage learning and motivate a specific audience? What tone needs to be expressed in a room? In short, what is the strategy behind architectural and interior space decisions? Is the strategy born out of mutual understanding and collaboration with the people who use the space? These are just a few of the questions that stir and drive a design teams to arrive at solutions that intentionally meet specific audience-driven needs.

The administrative and office space can inspire, calm, and communicate a variety of qualities. However, it sometimes doesn’t get the kind of attention it deserves. If you think about it, this is the space where all audiences interact — sometimes at the same time. It can communicate partnership, cooperation, collaboration, security, hope, and encouragement, and should.

So much goes into planning and programming administrative suites.


True, it has become a no-brainer. Who considers building a school without a secure entry? A tiny, tight vestibule that you have to enter into doesn’t feel welcoming and makes it even more obvious that you’re trying to restrict access. If the architecture is open, welcoming, transparent, and strategically located in a functional area that provides passive security measures, it helps create a higher level of thoughtfulness for visitors and students.

Private offices should have two ways out of them. You do not want to have a situation where someone allows someone to be able to be between the administrator and a path of egress in an emergency.

A secure vestibule should be in place that forces visitors into the reception area from within the vestibule. The secure vestibule should be large and transparent, allowing students to sit in a secure area out of inclement weather. The overall building should be zoned so that after-hours use areas can be secured separately from the rest of the building. (The administrative suite should be located within this zone.)


Environmental Culture

The architecture can set a precedent for expected outcomes: how you approach a building and what the building and atmosphere conveys. These have an important role in promoting expected outcomes.

The goal is to think about how you can push to make the environment special. One way that this can be done is thru visual graphic design concepts — artwork and murals. We feel this component is critical to every space we design. Graphics and artwork can be used to foster a desired culture, promote educational concepts or character qualities, showcase the community’s history, express civic pride, and emphasize global issues and sustainable practices.

What are the checkpoints to ensure success? Such creative elements help bring continuity of theme, strategy, and design elements and tie everything together to the core messages so they are felt and understood on a variety of levels. More clever selection of carpets and laminates along with strategic creative art design should work hard to tie loose ends together. These strategies should enhance the rest of the finishes in the adjacent areas.


Collaboration and Space Sharing

The collaboration piece is going to be dependent on the school itself. Because our buildings are often zoned into public spaces and classroom spaces, the workroom and conferencing areas end up at the opposite end of the building as the classrooms. We typically designate this area within admin as a “home base” for teachers and then provide a satellite — a smaller version of those spaces — closer to the classroom.

Flexible, collaborative space should be provided throughout the school to accommodate a variety of uses and group size because community partnerships can rent these types of spaces for small meetings and retreats: (a) large group spaces: gyms, auditoriums, flex theaters, commons/cafeteria, lecture halls; (b) medium group spaces: extended learning centers, media centers, community/staff training rooms; (c) small group spaces: classrooms, seminar rooms, student learning centers, and conference rooms.

We designed the space at Rockville Elementary to be a professional looking reception area because it is visited more by parents than any other audience. We felt it should be a place that is inviting for students as well, so we requested that the desk have a lower height portion so the students can see over it.

In conclusion, here are some overall management concepts that need to be a part of the overall plan — concepts that keep administrators happy.

  • Improve visual control by making the building and site easy to navigate as a student or visitor.
  • Daylight improves test scores and overall attitude. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a window with a view. Corridors should have daylight that permeates from the sides, above, and throughout hallways.
  • Does the shipping and receiving area accommodate deliveries of all kinds? Is it separate from drop-off areas?
  • How many buses need to be accommodated? Is it a corral concept or a drop-off lane?
  • Can the hard play areas be used for overflow parking after-hours?
  • Do the building systems meet the performance criteria of the district? Are they easily maintained?
  • How is the building zoned for after hours use? Is the building rentable?


Michelle McGown is a project designer and Keegan Jackson, RA, is vice president and partner at Hollis + Miller Architects. Jennifer Baldridge leads our marketing and brand development. For more information, contact 913/451-8886 or [email protected]