By Aaron Jobson
Throughout California, school districts face a significant need to upgrade and renovate their facilities. Many schools were built in the post-war boom and are nearing their 60th birthdays. At the same time, significant changes in education are occurring as schools adapt to provide learning experiences that prepare students for success in college and careers in the 21st Century global economy.
Many of these changes require additional technology, new types of learning spaces and other upgrades. Compounding these issues are the recent cuts in school facilities funding and operating budgets that leave schools with limited options for funding these critical upgrades. To counter this, school districts, including 27 in the North Bay alone since 2010, and their communities are coming together to raise funds to upgrade their schools through local general obligation bond measures. Successful bond measures provide significant funding to upgrade school facilities and create a healthy, safe and inspirational learning environment for students and teachers.
When a community places its trust and tax dollars in a district’s hands, it is important for the district to have a clear plan to maximize that funding. The most effective way to go about this is to create a Facilities Master Plan. The goal of a Facilities Master Plan is to identify and prioritize facilities improvements to ensure the available funding is used to best address the needs of student learning. There are many ways to develop such a plan and the process should be tailored to meet the needs of each unique community, as well as the anticipated funding and time available. Nearly all school districts face more facilities improvements than they can currently afford and a Facilities Master Plan should include a process to prioritize the needed improvements.
Key components of a Facilities Master Plan include a(n):
- Assessment of the conditions of the existing district facilities to identify needed repairs and upgrades to existing facilities.
- Process for identifying what facilities improvements are needed to support the district’s educational programs and initiatives.
- Plan that creates a long term vision for each school and identifies the improvements needed to achieve that vision.
- Clear process for prioritizing improvements.
Regardless of the specific format of a Facilities Master Plan, it is important to engage the community. School districts often strive to create an inclusive, transparent and collaborative process that involves the entire community including parents, community members, students, teachers, administrators and others. This inclusive process often results in the best ideas and solutions, building understanding of the facilities needs and community support.
One example of a North Bay district using a Master Planning process to guide significant improvements to school facilities is the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District in Marin. In 2010, the district was facing some significant facilities challenges. They had aging school facilities that needed work, student enrollment that was growing beyond their capacity and a strong desire to re-imagine their schools as places for dynamic 21st century learning. Working with my firm, Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, and Greystone West Construction Management, the district undertook a master planning process to identify the facilities improvements necessary to meet these needs. Its Master Plan had four main components:
- Assessment of the district’s facilities’ needs, including a physical assessment of the existing facilities to identify needed improvements and evaluation of the projected enrollment and grade level configuration options to determine facility capacity needs.
- Development of an innovative 21st century educational program designed to prepare students for college and career success. To support this educational program, we identified a number of needed facilities improvements to allow students and teachers to implement these changes.
- Facilities Master Plans were developed for each campus, which identified needed improvements. This included significant renovations of Hall Middle School and Neil Cummins Elementary School, as well as the re-construction and re-opening of the former San Clemente Elementary School site as The Cove School.
- A Phasing Plan that prioritized these improvements and matched them to the available funding resources. The funding includes two bond measures, Measure A in June of 2011 and Measure D in June of 2014, and state matching funds.
All four of these components were developed with significant support and involvement from the entire community including staff, students, teachers, parents and community members. This inclusive and thorough process helped to engage, educate and inform the community about the changes the district was planning and to build strong community support for the district and the bond measures. As a result, Measure A passed with more than 70 percent of the vote in 2011. Last week, Measure D passed with 69 percent of the vote, which will allow for the second phase of updates and new construction to move forward. The planning and effort put into the Facilities Master Plan has resulted in a successful first phase of projects. The first phase of upgrades to Hall Middle School and Neil Cummins Elementary School were completed in 2013 and The Cove School will be completed later this year. The second phase of projects are currently in design and ready to begin construction in 2015.
The passage of the June 3 election school bond measures provides the much needed support to improve our North Bay schools. A successful Facilities Master Plan, developed through dedicated and thorough community engagement, provides a long term vision for each school and prioritizes the needed improvements with the available funding to enhance the learning environment and better prepare our students for success in college and beyond.
Aaron Jobson is a principal at Quattrocchi Kwok Architects in Santa Rosa, which provides master planning, design and construction administration services to K-12 and higher education clients. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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