SCHOOL FACILITY PLANNING
Effective school facility planning produces an environment in which teachers can teach and students can learn effectively and efficiently. As the largest tool of instruction, the school facility may either enhance or detract from the educational program. The school facility strongly impacts the educational program; it is not just housing. A well-designed facility will enhance the program by supporting the instructional design and providing a warm, dynamic setting in which to provide educational experiences. The school facility includes school buildings, school sites, and fixed and moveable equipment which support the learning activities of the school. For a well-designed facility to provide optimal support for the educational program, effective planning must be a joint endeavor by the school officials and the project architect.
The operation of the facility requires additional planning. A school facility does not open for the first day of school and function automatically. The manner in which a school facility is operated indicates the extent to which instructional leadership is present within the school.
School Facility Planning: The California Perspective
The California Department of Education is deeply involved in the planning, design, and funding of public school facilities. Currently, the state is supposed to provide 50 percent of the funding for a public school facility with the local school districts responsible for the remaining 50 percent. However, the ability of the state to provide its share is dependent upon the financial condition of the state. A local school district has the option of seeking a local school bond issue to cover 100 percent of the cost of the new facility. Regardless of the split on funding, the Office of State Architects reviews the plans for the school facility to insure that they meet state guidelines and codes for school construction.
The cost of constructing a school facility may be covered by different methods. A general obligation bond issue may be proposed by a local school board. Though this currently requires a two-thirds approval by those voting in the election, there are efforts underway to reduce this to a simple majority. An additional source of funding is through a Mello-Roos tax, where developers or homeowners vote to impose an additional tax on themselves for the purpose of constructing new schools. A third source of funding is the district special tax approved by the voters of a school district to cover the costs of school construction. Bond and facilities issues are complicated enough to require Sections 15000 through 17903 of the California Education Code to explain them in general terms. Additionally, facilities are addressed by Sections 39000 through 40000 for elementary and secondary education.
The California Education Codes are not the only codes and regulations which must be followed in planning for a new facility or retrofitting an existing facility. Additional codes and regulations affecting school facilities include the California Code of Regulation (formerly the California Administrative Code), the Access Compliance Standards, the Uniform Building Code, and the California State Fire Marshall Construction Materials Listing.
To handle the many facets of school facility planning, many school districts hire a school facility planner. The planner's job responsibilities are to oversee the planning for new schools, define possible new sites for the schools, help prepare the information needed to seek funding, oversee the construction phase, conduct post-occupancy evaluation, and supervise the overall maintenance of the school facilities.
School facility planning in California is an intensive process involving local school districts and the California Department of Education. While there are still imperfections in the process, California is one of the few states that does make extensive use of the school facility planner in the school facility planning process.
The extent to which the school district facility improvement plan contributes to or detracts from the educational programs depends upon the long-range planning that the school district has taken. Proper planning ensures that the school building will serve the unique educational programs of each school district in the best way possible. All of the school district board members, administrators, teachers, and non-certificated staff should be actively involved in the ongoing development of a school facility improvement program. Local educators must play a key role in identifying the specific educational programs to be housed in the district and the community. It is important to involve parents, students, and community leaders in the planning process in order to ensure that their needs and their perceptions of what constitutes a school are being addressed.
The planning required in determining the facility needs of a district involves several important actions and steps. At a minimum, these steps include conducting a school survey and developing and writing educational specifications.
The school survey is an important tool in the development of a school facility planning program. The school survey is in effect a needs assessment for the school district. It can be a self-study directed internally by a designated school official or externally by persons with expertise who may be brought into the school district to assist with the study. How the needs assessment is conducted, who conducts the study, and the nature of the community involvement in the study should be controlled by school officials, including members of the school board. The study is ultimately the board of education's responsibility. Some of the data collected from a survey are outlined in Table 11.1.