Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Public Trust is Essential

Planning, designing, constructing and keeping a facility in acceptable condition are formidable tasks, but, garnering the necessary support to fund these projects may be an even bigger task. The perceived failure of our education system has made the public wary of supporting future investments. The tendency to dwell on the negative has made it more difficult for institutions to gain public trust and needed financial support.

To regain community trust and support, we need to provide data gathered by our planning and evaluation processes that verifies we are managing risk and provides evidence of need. This includes the development of comprehensive facility master plans, capital improvement plans, post-occupancy evaluations and the use of facility condition indexes.

Often, the first challenge is convincing leadership that time and money should be spent on a comprehensive planning process, and that effective planning includes the representation and involvement of the entire community. Today’s educational institutions are becoming centers of community, facilities for early childhood programs, job training/retraining and workplace development. In order to garner the necessary public support and enhance accountability, local citizens should have a voice in the type of their educational facilities. This collective vision will result in a facility that: represents the needs of the community; is the collective responsibility of the community; and is supported by all of the people who helped create it.

It is also important that everyone understand that opening a new building is only the beginning. Next comes the need for post-occupancy evaluations, facility condition assessments and the development of a capital improvement plan. In my opinion, too few institutions perform post-occupancy evaluations. There is a lot we can learn from our buildings, and performing a post-occupancy evaluation can reveal limitations in the current design and prevent costly mistakes in the future.

The recent recession wreaked havoc on education funding. Jobs were lost, new facility construction decreased and maintenance of existing facilities was deferred. Despite a recovering economy, the funding for education remains low. The trend has shifted from building new, to taking care of what we have and prioritizing projects.

To regain financial support for education we need to regain the publics’ trust. Community involvement in the planning process, and defensible data, are necessary in order to support the messages we send — messages that must be sent by educational leaders who display competence, exhibit integrity and are true to their word. It is always easier to gain trust than to restore it.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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