Recession or not, in the education business, as long as there are students, there must be schools. In California, where student enrollment continues to grow, and with new state rules that make the passage of school bonds less prohibitive than they were only a few years ago, the building of new schools in some parts of the state continues unabated.
Experts say the process of building new schools is not much different from the process used to build a new house. A district must decide what it wants, have plans drawn up, permits acquired and a contractor hired. But while the process may be similar, the stakes are higher, and the prospects for failure greater.
Districts building schools have many constituencies to consider and regulations to follow while overseeing construction projects grand in scope. Fortunately, growing districts that have been building schools for years have many lessons to share for those less accustomed to the process.
One such district resides in California's central San Joaquin Valley. Since 1986, Clovis Unified School District has passed five school bond measures--more than any other district in California--totaling $454 million. This money, when leveraged with matching state funds and developer fees, has generated $850 million for construction of capital facilities, allowing the district to build two new high schools, two middle schools and 16 elementary schools so far. The district expects to build another high school, middle school and four to five elementary schools in the next five years.
Clovis Unified's school building experiences have run the gamut, garnering both designer awards and construction lawsuits, while utilizing multiple architects and construction firms.
CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Facility Services Roger Oraze, the district administrator who has overseen the entire CUSD building program since 1991, has an important role in building Clovis' schools: "My main role is to bring together the wants and wishes of the education team and communicate them to the architects, while the director of construction and engineering oversees construction [in order] to ensure that the builders build what the architects design."
Oraze operates according to two guiding principles when planning schools. "We have multiple programs and multiple facility needs." The resulting challenge is "to try to meet the needs of as many people as possible without creating any significant barriers for anyone." He adds, "At the same time, you need to think beyond the current fads because you want the schools you build to serve students for the long term and not become dated."
What school communities want in new schools
While creating the right learning environment so teachers can teach and students can learn is a high priority when constructing schools, there are many other constituents to consider. Over the years, Oraze has listened carefully to all of them and knows what they want from their neighborhood schools:
* Site administrators are more interested in safety issues. They want good lines of sight and security cameras on their campus.
* Classroom teachers are interested in gaining as much space as possible, giving them the flexibility to apply different learning strategies and have increased access to technology and the Internet. High school teachers are less interested in large department offices than large classrooms. Teachers also want more cabinets and data outlets in their classrooms.
* School nurses today do so much more than their predecessors. The services they provide make them more akin to a health clinic, so they need larger spaces as well as a private office, because they also provide one-on-one counseling.
* Special education is currently stressing mainstreaming, so they want classrooms that can meet the needs of students with more severe disabilities and offer access to all school facilities. …