Educational Specifications

What does it take to create school facilities now, that can handle challenges in the 21st century? What will students and staff be doing in 2030 that is different from today, and how will the community be involved? How do you create facilities that will adapt to changing pedagogies yet not dictate programming?

These are questions that school district administrators nationwide ask themselves as they plan facilities for the future. The first step in answering these questions is to develop educational specifications.

Educational specifications outline essential educational concepts and detailed facility requirements. They also include information about student needs, current and future instructional strategies, the impact of technology on education and community use.

Students and teachers occupy most school buildings from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. That leaves a great deal of time for community use, such as adult education classes, civic organizational meetings, blood drives, mentoring classes, senior citizen programs and voting in local, state and federal elections. Therefore, school facilities must be planned appropriately to create a “community center,” while creating a safe and secure learning environment for students.

Developing Educational Specifications
Here is a brief synopsis of the development process:
  • Form an educational specifications committee: A committee comprised of teachers, administrators, support staff, special services staff, parents, students, central office personnel and community members assist in the development of the educational specifications.
  • Organize a visioning work session: This includes a discussion of trends in education, best practices in school organization and new concepts for school facilities.
  • Conduct planning lab #1: Participants work in their program areas (e.g. core academic, visual arts, physical education, welcome center) to define the size and number of spaces, describe the adjacencies of spaces, activities in the spaces and requirements for mechanical, plumbing, electrical, lighting, technology, furniture, equipment, flooring, doors, windows and any other special considerations. Each group presents its ideas, which fosters further discussion on topics such as flexible spaces, shared spaces and spatial adjacencies.
  • Plan a community meeting: Community members share their input on a variety of topics related to the new or renovated facility, including safety and security, technology, site issues, outdoor athletic needs, green/sustainable facilities, community use and aesthetics.
  • Conduct planning lab #2: Participants work in their program areas to review and further refine their plans to produce a summary of space sizes and building layout illustrations.
  • Prepare the educational specifications document: Organized into distinct sections, this document contains information necessary for the planning, design and renovation and/or construction of new school facilities:
    • Executive Summary: Provides an overview of the content within the document.
    • 21st Century Best Practices: Describes nationally recognized best practices in education as they relate to program delivery methods.
    • Planning Labs: Includes discussions from the labs.
    • Technology: Explains how technology will be integrated into the curriculum and facility.
    • Safety and Security: Provides overview of the safety and security plan.
    • Site Issues: Includes special circumstances or considerations to keep in mind, including building design, traffic flow, lighting, landscaping and parking issues.
    • Green Schools: Explains the design and construction of school facilities that are environmentally responsible.
    • Aesthetics: Describes the visual appeal of the school.
    • Community Use: Explains the integration of community needs into school facilities; various uses and programs are described.
    • Cost Analysis: Provides the associated costs to renovate or build the new facility.
    • Program Areas: Summarizes the type, number, and size of each instructional and support space, as well as spatial relationships to each program area.
  • District Approval: The board of education and/or the superintendent of schools should approve the final document.

Using this process, all stakeholders are able to contribute their best thinking about the programs and services that a facility can deliver not only to students and teachers, but also to the community.
Indeed, a genuine commitment to community involvement is integral to a successful development process. A shared vision among all entities expresses common goals and establishes an agreement with an altruistic focus to improve education and educational facilities. The secret to creating superior educational facilities is community involvement, from start to finish.

Kerrianne Smith, REFP, is a senior planner at DeJONG-RICHTER. She applies her experience as a licensed K-12 teacher and software trainer when preparing educational specifications and facility master plans for schools districts nationwide. For more information, contact her at [email protected] or 614/798-8828.