School Renovation and Construction: Safeguarding the Learning Community and Experience

Providing a healthy and safe learning environment while school is in session is a core component for all educational institutions. This is also a key objective for DLR Group when designing a renovation project on an active campus.

Three elements can make a project that spans multiple school years both memorable and manageable:

  • regular communication;
  • seizing opportunities for learning; and
  • ensuring safety of everyone onsite, including students and staff

Regular Communication

From the very beginning of the planning and design phases we initiate comprehensive client-centered communications, digging deeply into the needs of the school community by listening, questioning and learning. Once we gather the specific needs for each project, we consider the impact to the students, faculty, staff and all stakeholders during each phase.

For example, we pre-plan a schedule to provide temporary areas to assure continuity and uninterrupted programs. In a recent renovation, this meant setting up a provisional space for a woodshop to remain operational, and bringing in a transitory air-conditioning “plant” to keep students and staff cool while their own system was under renovation.

Day-to-day communication elevates safety for all concerned. While each campus may communicate differently, the essential key is that communication is well timed, two-way, inclusive and continuous. Immediate communication, such as social media, guarantees that all stakeholders stay informed up to the minute. In addition to social media, some schools create project pages on their website or blog to update their school community on construction progress. Daily messages can explain that certain pathways or areas around construction will be blocked or off-limits for a period of time.

Learning Opportunities

Ongoing construction shouldn’t be viewed as a disruption; rather it should be celebrated and integrated into the curriculum. In every project, we search for learning opportunities to engage students in the design and building process. In one recent project, a math teacher took advantage of the construction activity occurring just outside his classroom window to teach sequencing, timelines and process, making this a real-world example as part of his daily lesson.

Ensuring Safety

First and foremost, we start and end with safety considerations during construction. A few of the critical means we use include:

  • Separating construction from student learning areas;
  • Restricting risky work such as overhead construction to summers, weekends and evenings when those spaces are unoccupied; and
  • Visually and physically securing construction zones.

Continuous operation is achievable when well planned and executed. Our goal is to minimize disruption to the learning process, and even enhance learning during a renovation.

About the Author

Amber Beverlin, AIA, LEED-AP, is a principal at DLR Group, an integrated design firm providing architecture, engineering, planning and interior design, specializing in corporate, educational, justice, sports and entertainment facilities.