6 Considerations for Effective School Architecture

When we are designing school buildings, one of the crucial factors is cost. It’s necessary to work within budgets, which are becoming increasingly restricted as public funds tighten. Lower budgets are often associated with lower-quality schools.

Yet the quality of our schools has a direct impact on the quality of education we provide to our children. Low-quality and poorly-designed education facilities deliver inferior quality environments for learning and make it difficult to attract high-quality teaching staff.

Is it possible to design a low-cost school building that promotes high-quality education?

Here are six factors to consider in the design and construction of affordable school buildings.

  1. Create the master plan

The first step in the process of creating a new school building is to produce a master plan. We must consider the area of the site and the vision for education after the school has been built.

We must also figure out effective phasing of construction so that new construction does not disrupt continuing education.

  1. Design the building blocks of school life

A single classroom is the basic module of any school building. Hence deriving the size of the classroom based on the intended curriculum and their teaching methodologies is very crucial.

One way to help you decide on how big the classroom should be is to consider your curriculum and teaching methods.

The classroom is the building block of the school. Therefore, it is essential that we design classrooms that not only allow effective teaching of the curriculum but also enable us to maximize area within a structured framework and grid design.

  1. Design for environmental comfort

No one wants their children to be educated in a dark and cold school. It’s not good for their physical or mental wellbeing, or for their quality of education. Thus, it is also crucial that we consider how to maximize natural light and ensure climatic comfort, and make schools environmentally friendly.

We must design buildings in which sunlight invades all corners, corridors are light and airy, and the harshness of the hot summer sun is minimized while warmth is invited in during the winter.

  1. Plan for expansion

We should also consider the future needs of the neighborhood and the potential for the school to grow. By designing the school with this in mind, we can reduce the complexity and costs of future construction needs.

For example, we should design a school building around its services and circulation cores: electrics, plumbing, heating and cooling, bathrooms, etc. We also need to be mindful of the length of piping and ducting, and how this might affect performance and running costs.

  1. Mindful use of materials and building methods

We can reduce construction costs with the thoughtful use of innovative materials and modern building methods, such as modular construction. But we must never forego the quality of construction. While some compromise may be made, we must always ensure that school buildings are designed for the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of all who use them.

  1. Total cost of use

We shouldn’t restrict our school building budget or plan to the cost of construction. We must also consider the cost of use. When we budget for cost to build and future cost, our thinking is likely to change dramatically.

We must be mindful of future maintenance costs when designing our schools. Walls, floors, and the fabric of a building all come under rigorous testing when hundreds of kids are in corridors, schoolrooms, and communal areas. We must consider the costs of materials and the cost to maintain them.

For example, marble floor tiling costs an average of $14 per square foot. Premium vinyl composition tiles (VCT) cost around $3 per square foot. If considering only these costs, there is no competition ─ VCT over marble in the construction of schools every time.

But if we then consider maintenance costs and longevity, we arrive at a quite different conclusion. Marble floors are more resilient and far cheaper to maintain ─ at less than a dollar per year per square foot. VCT flooring costs nearer $2 per year to maintain. Marble floors last an average of 50 years, and VCT only 10 years.

Over 50 years, then, marble floors will cost around $64 per square foot. VCT floors will cost around $115 per square foot. Marble is almost half the cost of VCT when considered as a long-term investment.

Similarly, we should also consider energy costs and how to improve energy efficiency in school buildings. For example, installation of solar panels may push initial build costs up, but how much could a school save on its energy usage in years to come?

The bottom line

When designing schools to be low-cost, we must consider all aspects of the build. We should consider affordability not only in terms of initial costs to build but in the wider context of cost to use and run the school. We need to consider the vision for the future of the school, and ensure that we do not construct for savings today, but instead for cost-effectiveness over the building’s lifetime.

Architects who design school buildings with vision are those who provide the greatest long-term benefits and value to federal, state, and city budgets ─ and, most importantly, to the children on whose education our future relies.

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To learn more, contact ACB Consulting.

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