A Year in Review

December is always a good time to reflect on the events of the past year. No one out there will disagree that 2008 has not been without its challenges, but those of us who have grown up in the industry have met challenges like this before and won — and I am confident that we will again. In addition to the economy, there have been a number of items talked about in the past year. And, since there are more issues to cover than I have space, I’ve decided to limit my comments to the A-B-C’s.

A: Adequacy — A popular topic of discussion in recent years, we continue to see lawsuits being filed for “adequate school funding.”

B: Building Envelope — Limited material availability and the skyrocketing costs of concrete, steel, gypsum, and roofing materials is impacting the cost of building schools.

C: Collaborative Spaces — Varying teaching/learning styles and a greater understanding of how children learn has led to the creation of flexible, collaborative learning areas.

D: Distance Education — More than 37 percent of districts have students enrolled in technology-based distance education courses. As technology continues to advance and budgets shrink, this number will continue to grow.
E: Energy — The cost of energy and fuel has been skyrocketing. Studies show that by instituting energy saving measures an average school can save $100,000 annually.
F: Funding — Funding for schools is tight at best. In some states, more bond issues passed for school construction in November than usual, the question is will they be able to sell the bonds.

G: Growth — Enrollment is still on the rise. Pre-K through grade 8 is projected to increase an additional 12 percent by 2017.

H: High Performance — The green school movement is in high gear. A number of new initiatives like the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Green Schools Caucus along with state mandates are paving the way.

I: Impact on Learning — There is a greater understanding among many that spaces do influence emotions and enable activities. Facilities do impact learning.

J: Jobs — There is discussion that school construction may be part of a public works program to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

K: Kindergarten — Early childhood education, Head-Start, and full-day kindergarten are at the top of the list when it comes to programs to better educate and prepare our youth.

L: Legislation — A number of states are passing legislation that requires all publically funded building to be certified “green.”

M: Maintenance — Once again, in times of tight budgets, maintenance is on the list to be deferred, a short-term solution that created long-term problems.

N: Natural Disasters — Fires, floods, and hurricanes all a have widespread effect on school construction from availability of labor to the cost of materials.

O: Obama — NCLB was the Bush education plan. Expect the plan to be revisited with a new president in office.

P: Partnerships — Partnerships have come in many shapes and sizes from businesses who understand the value of an educated workforce are putting dollars into building schools; to community colleges, public libraries, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and other groups who are leading the charge on the joint-use of facilities.

Q: Quality — Indoor Environmental Quality (acoustical, thermal, visual, air) is the new buzz word — the goal is to produce healthier learning environments.

R: Retirement — Hundreds of thousands of teachers and administrators will be leaving the profession in the next few years as baby-boomers retire. Fewer are entering (and staying with) the profession and turnover costs are skyrocketing.
S: Safety & Security — Schools are a microcosm of society complete with violence, gangs, and drugs. Recent events like Virginia Tech have brought school safety to the forefront.

T: Technology — Success in the workplace is often contingent on being well-versed in new technologies, and schools are expected to provide that training.

U: Urbanism — The New Urbanism movement is on the rise - managing growth; raising the quality of life; and creating livable, walkable, sustainable communities (including neighborhood schools).
V: Vocational Education — Career Academies are playing an increasingly important role in job training and workforce development.

W: What Lies Ahead? — No question, we will face many challenges in the coming year. The script is in development, but the end is still to be written. If we operate in a vacuum or from fear, success in the coming year will be limited. If we take what we have learned and build on it, the sky will be the limit. X, Y, and Z are up to us.