Making technological advances and new teaching strategies

Adaptable and energy-efficient learning spaces provide flexibility for the future

The latest K12 school designs in classrooms favor versatile and adaptive spaces to support blended and project-based learning, as well as other progressive education techniques.

Despite the financial challenges districts face, an estimated $41 billion was spent in 2016 on K12 construction and renovation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Renovation projects outnumber new building efforts by 2-to-1, although fresh construction is on the rise, according to the 2017 School Facilities and Construction report from School Planning & Management magazine.

With limited budgets, districts look to maximize capital investments, often relying on spending cuts made in other sectors by local municipalities.

Large, open classrooms with easily movable furniture continue to be popular as part of “an intense desire to make learning spaces flexible or future proof” says Jason Lembke, K12 education leader and principal at DLR Group, an integrated design and architecture firm.

The prominence of technology and blended instruction continues to affect design. For example, some districts have installed floating floor systems so utilities can be altered to make way for new technology without significant capital cost, says Lembke.

Other schools have carved out tech-free zones to provide students and educators distraction-free refuges.

Recent construction models reflect the eagerness to develop STEM/STEAM programs, with an increase in makerspaces, special labs and experiment-friendly classrooms. And more schools are creating areas where students can gather and collaborate as project-based learning continues to spread. Specially designed nooks and study spots are proving popular with learners.

Sustainability also remains a growing influence. Previous energy-efficient designs sometimes sacrificed aesthetics and the teaching environment to drive down costs. Recent layouts—marked by more appealing features such as larger windows that let in an abundance of natural light—achieve a better balance.

Overall, district administrators are customizing to suit their schools’ distinctive needs as they become savvier about the impact of building design on education. “Schools are about placemaking” says Lembke, suggesting a growing desire for uniqueness. “The days of ‘I visited this facility and I really want to copy it’ are coming to an end.”

Ray Bendici is special projects editor.

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