THE (HIDDEN) COSTS OF TECHNOLOGY

Let’s take a step back to 1990. If you were building a contemporary school facility in 1990, your“high-end” educational technology for that building was most likely limited to a school intercom system, simple sound system in the gymnasium, a“key” phone system for the administrators and a cable TV distribution system with VCRs and television sets in the classroom. Those systems and components would have an average cost $1.50 per sq. ft. and would be installed through the electrical contractor.

Today’s high-end educational technology includes LAN’s with hardwired and wireless access, voice-over IP phone systems, a minimal zonal paging system, higher-end audio systems for gym and cafetorium, classroom-based infrared audio sound systems, digital video content streaming across the network, LCD projectors in the classrooms, access control/video surveillance systems and computers all over the building.

You can organize the impact of technology on school design into five basic categories; additional space requirements, changes in classroom furniture, spatial relationships, building infrastructure which supports technology and budget impact.

Additional space requirements can be broken down further into two distinct categories — additional instructional space requirements and technical space requirements. The additional space requirements related to a classroom revolve around one technology component, the computer. When you analyze the width and depth requirements of a typical desktop computer with LCD monitor, you need 18 in. to 20 in. for a keyboard, 8 in. to operate a mouse, and room for paper to write on (10 in.) or an opened, medium-size book (16 in.), for a total minimum width of 36 in., and a depth of 24 in. When you add an adult sitting in a chair, it adds another 18 in. to 24 in. The result is that a single computer workstation with a person sitting in a chair requires a minimum 10.5 sq. ft. When we add the implication of empirical research on “How Kids Learn,” we find that primary grade level students work best in small collaborative groups — three to four students around one workstation. That minimum space requirement moves up to 24 sq, ft. for three students and 32 sq. ft. for four students. Adding five workstations to a typical primary grade level classroom adds 120 sq. ft. to 160 sq. ft. to those spaces.

All of these newer technologies require technical support spaces both at the “headend” location and wiring closets located throughout the building. The designer needs to add 150 sq. ft. for an elementary school, 225 sq. ft. for a middle school, and 300 sq. ft for a high school for the headend room (called the Telecommunications Room “TR” by the industry). Remote wiring closets (now called Telecommunication Closets “TC”) need to be located for data cable ports located more than 250 ft. from the TR and should be a minimum 6 ft. by 8 ft. in size.

The designer should also realize that the traditional (and inexpensive) tablet armchair is no longer appropriate. The proliferation of desktop and notebook computers, and an expected increase in quantities used by students, suggests that the true desk and chair arrangement is more appropriate. A 60-in.-wide by 24-in.-deep desk with cable tray and two chairs seems to work very well for two students with notebook computers.

Technology is also changing the relationship between spaces within the facility. Due to noise generation and dirty environments, vocational education was traditionally placed as far away from standard classrooms as possible. In today’s environment, there are exploratory vocational curriculums for all students that should be placed at the central flow point of the facility. Computer labs used by all students should be adjacent to the central flow point, while labs associated with content areas or academic houses are scattered throughout the facility.

Technology has a rather large impact on the facility infrastructure that supports those systems and components. The size and points of access for the electrical power distribution system must be increased, in addition to adding transient voltage protection to all distribution panels potentially used by technology (all 110VAC panels). A desktop computer generates heat almost to the level of a human. Adding five computers to a classroom increases the HVAC needs of the space by 20 percent and a computer lab with desktop computers doubles the HVAC requirements. The “technical spaces” (the TR and TCs) must be zoned separately from their surrounding spaces and provided with cooling capacity year round. The final aspect of a building infrastructure impacted by technology is the cabling pathways throughout the building.

The impact of technology on the budget for a new facility substantially affects the hard construction cost, FFE, and soft costs for that building. Related to the hard construction cost budget, the space allocation increase required to accommodate technology can add 160 sq. ft. to every classroom. At an average of $90 per sq, ft., that yields an additional $14,400 per classroom for an elementary school, yielding a budget increase of $576K. Another $30K takes care of the technical spaces.

The electrical scope of work has seen an increase of $1.25 per sq. ft. for new facilities due to the increased AC power and cable pathway requirements and at least $3 per sq. ft. for renovation projects. HVAC budgets have increased by 20 percent to accommodate desktop computers. The technology systems noted in the first paragraph typically bid at $3 per sq. ft. to $6 per sq. ft. All of these items yield an increase of 5 to 10 percent in square footages required to meet the program requirements, and another 3 to 6.5 percent increase in square footage costs for electrical work and technology system installation for new facilities. Renovation projects budgets increases have ranged in the 5 to 8 percent range. Technology has increased the hard costs for a new facility by a range of 8 percent to 16.5 percent. For a $6 million hard-cost budget, that yields an increase of $480K to $990K.

The FF&E budget is affected by changes in the furniture and technology components purchases. Classroom furniture that appropriately accommodates technology will cost 80 to 100 percent more than the old tablet armchair. Television sets, projectors, computers, and printers can range from $3 per sq. ft. to $6 per sq. ft., primarily dependent upon the student-to-computer ratio your instructional program requires. Technology accommodation can raise the FF&E budget by 20 to 50 percent.

Your soft-cost budget is affected in that you are adding square footage to the facility to accommodate technology, meaning your architectural fee will go up. Depending upon the level of complexity for your systems, you may need to hire a technology specialist to write specifications, manage the proposal process and provide contract administration/commissioning services. At a minimum impact, the architect will add those systems to their purview, have their electrical designer handle those systems and add that fee to their overall fee.

While technology affects square footage allocations, furniture, spatial relationships and infrastructure program requirements, it is very apparent that it has a huge impact on the overall cost of your facility. It is very important to include all of these factors into your cost estimate for a new construction or renovation project.

I would also like to remind school districts that there will be an equally large impact to their annual operating budget to pay for the additional electrical usage, technology consumables and support personnel to train the teachers and keep the systems operating.

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