DESIGNING HIGH-TECH K-12 SCHOOLS

March 28, 2019


We all wish for our children and grandchildren the very best education available to them whether it’s public or private.  Local school districts many times struggle with maintaining older schools and providing the upgrades necessary to make and keep schools safe and functional.  There have been tremendous changes to needs demanded by this digital age as well as security so necessary.  Let’s take a look at what The Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine tells us they have discovered relative to NEW school trends and designs that fulfill needs of modern-day students.

  • Technology is touching all aspects of modern school systems and is a key component of content display and communication within the classroom. Teachers and students are no longer static within the classroom.  They are very mobile and flexible which creates the necessity for robust, flexible, and in most cases wireless infrastructure that responds to and does not distract from learning.
  • Multiple-purpose use facilities with large central areas which can serve as cafeteria, theater and even gymnasium are key to this trend. Individual classrooms are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment must be flexible for the many-purposed uses as well as being able to quickly transition from one to the next.
  • SECURITY is an absolute must when considering a new school building. Site access must be limited with movement throughout the building being secure with in-service cameras and a card access.  This must be accomplished without the school looking like a prison.
  • Color tuning, a new word for me, is accomplished by painting and lighting and creates an atmosphere for maximum learning. These efforts facilitate a more natural atmosphere and are more in line with circadian rhythms.  Warmer color temperature paints can increase relaxation and reduce stressful learning.
  • IAQ-Indoor Air Quality. According to the EPA:
    • Fifty percent (50%) of the schools in the U.S. today have issues linked to deficient or failing IAQ.
    • Deficient IAQ increases asthma risk by fifty percent (50%)
    • Test scores can drop by twenty-one percent (21%) with insufficient IAQ.
    • Schools with deficient IAQ have lower average student attendance rates
    • Cleaner indoor air promotes better health for students and teachers.
    • Implementing IAQ management can boost test scores by over fifteen percent (15%)
    • Greater ventilation can reduce absenteeism by ten (10) absences per one thousand students.
  • School administrators and school boards demand facilities that are equipped with sufficient lighting and sufficient fire protection. Heating and air conditioning as well as the electrical systems necessary to drive these pieces of hardware must be energy efficient.  Emergency generators are becoming a basic requirement to facilitate card readers and emergency door access.
  • Voice evacuation fire alarm and performance sound and telecommunication systems must be provided and must be kept active by emergency generators if power failures occur.
  • More and more high schools offer advanced placement generating college credits required for admission to universities and colleges. State-of-the art equipment facilitates this possibility. We are talking about laboratories, compressed air systems, medical and dental equipment, IT facilities, natural gas distribution systems, environment systems supporting biodiesel, solar and wind turbines, and other specialized equipment.  Many schools offer education at night as well as in the daytime.
  • All codes, local, state, federal and international MUST be adhered to with no exceptions.
  • Construction costs account for twenty to forty percent (20-40%) of the total life-cycle costs so maintenance and replacement must be considered when designing facilities.
  • Control systems providing for energy savings during off-peak hours must be designed into school building facilities.
  • LED lighting is becoming a must with dimmable controls, occupancy/vacancy sensors and daylight harvesting is certainly desirable.
  • For schools in the mid-west and other areas of our country, tornado shelters must be considered and certainly could save lives when available.

These are just a few of the requirements architects and design engineers face when quoting a package to school boards and regional school systems.  Much more sophisticated that ever before with requirements never thought of before.  Times are changing—and for the better.

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