Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Change Can be Good

Looking back to prepare for the future.

As one year comes to an end and another is about to begin, we tend to review the events that were important to us during the past year. I decided to go back a little farther and look at what was important to education. Here are some of the stories that we were writing about in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

  • Effective school design and lowering costs were major concerns in the early ‘80s. One driver was the energy crisis of the ‘70s. Architects and planners discussed energy conservation methods such as the compact building and alternative energy sources.

  • Shifting populations and decreasing enrollment had many districts facing the closure of several of their school buildings. Districts found creative uses for surplus school spaces, including health centers, elderly housing and private office space.

  • Technology began to influence the planning, design and use of educational facilities in the mid ‘80s. The use of computers in schools grew as microcomputers were introduced into the classroom. On the facility side, the use of CAD and computer-based design became the standard. Simulation programs were developed to estimate school facility cost.

  • In the mid- to late-‘80s, articles about the design of specialized spaces — science and computer labs, libraries, gymnasiums — became popular topics. Classroom spaces were developed to match the specific needs of the students and the type of learning.

  • In the early ‘90s, we saw a growing interest in inclusive classroom design of spaces for exceptional children. This was prompted by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, instituted to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

  • Throughout the decade, research focused on the impact of facilities on learning — Dr. Harold Hawkins and his colleagues at Texas A&M with the Interface Project; Dr. Glen Earthman and his colleagues at Virginia Tech with research on the relationship between school buildings, student achievement and student behavior — all recognizing that facility design has an impact on teaching and learning.

As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, the one constant will be change — and that should include changes in our educational facilities. Those of us who prefer status quo must remember that a school facility that does not change to keep up with everything around it, is a sign that the program and the students within are not being served well. Change may not be easy, but it can be good.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of School Planning & Management.

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