Monday, May 16, 2011

Collaboration in Planning School Improvements

A new wave is passing over the traditional educational facilities culture.  It is perhaps new to people working in school facilities planning in the 1980s through the present, but not so new to those of us that predate the age of Disco.  Bellenger in a commentary entitled “Forging the Path” found in the January 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager advocates a fresh look at collaboration.

According to this article, 98% of construction dollars in the United States are spent on existing buildings, where the demand to become energy efficient takes precedent.   Hence, the standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings (USGBC) sets the stage for “going green” and using collaboration as a tool to achieve the high performance needed to decrease energy consumption.

The buzz term is “integrated design.”  What this means for school leaders (the proxy owners of schools) is that they must come to the table with design professionals, contractors, engineers, facility managers, and developers.  Finally, it is being recognized that the recent approach (I hesitate to use the term traditional approach) where the architect designs the building’s shape, orientation, and envelope, and then transmits the drawings to engineers and owners for their design, is the silo approach that misses the rich opportunities for optimizing a building’s performance through collaboration from the beginning. 

This presents a cultural shift in the building industry to transform the design process, but, according to Lynn G. Bellenger, it has to be done if the goal of net-zero-energy buildings can be realized.  As I have noted for many years, unsuccessful projects can be traced to failure of communication among architects, engineers, owners (educators), and contractors. 

In education, the educational community has given design for efficiency and learning over to architects, contractors, and engineers, assuming they know more about educational learning spaces than the educators themselves.  We must consider value engineering that includes the variable of how much does the green building really influence learning.  Does it in any way hinder learning and teaching? 

To ensure success for everyone, it is imperative to cultivate stronger communication skills and demand collaboration among the design team’s members as they work to enhance building performance.  Why not include building performance and student performance in the equation together?  Educators can only work successfully with the design team when they have been trained in educational facilities planning, design, and management.  This part of the university curriculum for educators has all but become extinct since the 1980s.

Collaboration with equal influence on the design team is a new challenge and opportunity for education!

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