Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

Designing and Planning Space for the Frontline of Education

Admin Teacher SpacesIt is paramount to give thoughtful consideration to the work environment for those who spend their days caring for students and leading our schools. When designing and planning administrative offices and teacher spaces, be sure to do your homework: This includes research, observation, analysis of best practices, and focus groups and surveys.

Here are a few areas to focus on.

Reception/administrative offices

Today’s schools face the difficult contradiction of needing to be both friendly and secure. In the past, the reception area and administrative offices were centrally located to provide easy access to the limitless number of students, parents, teachers and aides who interact with the administration and staff each and every day. However, recent threats to the safety of students and staff have created the difficult challenge of needing to provide a central, welcoming yet secure point of entry, well equipped to deal with emergencies.

Admin Teacher SpacesA video intercom system allows office staff to screen visitors before allowing them into the school. By establishing a visitor’s identity before providing access, potentially dangerous and escalating situations can be reduced. Once visitors receive access into the building, they should pass through or by the reception area, before being granted access into the school. Some schools will want to provide additional security for office staff by incorporating a transaction window. Panic buttons make it easier for school staff to notify law enforcement than to call 911, and often simultaneously communicate with the district’s alarm company and the rest of the school.

Too often, the planning and design of reception and office areas is too focused on the visitors who only spend minutes at the school. It’s important to consider the unique needs and responsibilities of those who provide support for the education of our students and the teachers who guide them. Space that is accommodating to the various assigned projects, and lighting that matches the tasks, will be a welcome gift to our frontline of defense, hospitality and provision.

Administration staff will also need space that allows for confidential conversations, secure storage of records and quick access to the thoroughfares of the schools. Efficient and effective space planning is critical.

Workrooms

Teacher workrooms should provide enough space for multiple teachers to prepare, create, and assemble materials. Depending upon the grade level of the students, equipment such as cutting machines, copiers, laminators and computers are likely to be utilized. Being certain there is enough space for multiple teachers to work independently or as a group, is key. Parent volunteers, teachers and teacher’s aides spend a good deal of time collaborating. Having a space that is conducive to both complete the work and enjoy the interaction is important to creating a strong workplace culture. It’s wise to observe the way existing teacher workspace is being utilized in your schools to be sure any new space meets and exceeds the current workspace.

Storage AreasA common complaint in schools is the lack of adequate storage. Providing easy access to storage space for the numerous supplies that are in demand is an important consideration when planning and designing workspace. With the short window of time that teachers have during planning periods and between classes, efficient use of space will result in efficient use of time. In addition, given the fact that storage space is too often converted to teaching or administrative space as needs increase, it may be wise to configure the storage spaces so they cannot be repurposed.

Break areas

Break areas should be centrally located for the teachers they are designed to serve. The spaces should provide proper sound and visual barriers to reduce distraction from student traffic and create a welcoming environment. Easy access for administrators can facilitate better connections with leadership, while plenty of electrical outlets and natural light can provide for recharging… both electronic devices and teachers. Seating that allows for both group interaction and alone time can accommodate different needs and temperaments.

Teacher Break AreaAcoustics

Schools can be loud environments with hundreds, if not thousands, of students. In addition, with band, choir, sports and more — it’s a recipe for distraction. Both teacher workspaces and administrative offices should be acoustically protected to provide an environment where individuals and groups can focus on their specific responsibilities.

Acoustical products like ceiling tiles, fabric wrapped wall panels or acoustical foams will reduce ambient noise levels. As well, sound-blocking materials can be incorporated into the design for the walls and ceiling of the room. Properly designed walls and doors with low STC (sound transmission coefficients) will reduce room-to-room trespassing of noise. Careful selection of exterior windows can help cut distracting noise in urban settings.

Caring for the heart

Collectively, we are eager to educate the next generation, the future of our world. But, we do that by being sure the heart of our organizations — teachers, staff and administration — have the proper environment to enhance their ability to do their jobs well.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Catherine Cruickshank is a senior project designer at Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. (www.hoffman.net) and has over 20 years of experience designing educational and residential facilities.

Jody Andres, AIA LEED AP, is the K-12 Market Leader and a Senior Project Architect for Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. (www.hoffman.net). Andres is a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) and a past President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Wisconsin. Andres has worked with more than 50 school districts on PreK-12 educational facilities, providing needs assessment, planning, programming, and design services.

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