How multipurpose facilities are shaping the future of k-12 education

Multipurpose facilities can be utilized for a broad spectrum of activities, sports and community events.
Ryan Gregory
Ryan Gregory
Ryan Gregory is a partner at PBK, an architectural and engineering design solutions firm.

On March 10, the roughly 2,500 students at Central High School in Keller, Texas, were welcomed to school with the opening of a new multipurpose facility. The Indoor Extra-Curricular Program Facility was designed not just to support sports training and other outdoor extracurricular needs during inclement weather but to also provide students a unique space to pursue the arts and sciences, socialize with their peers, and access meaningful opportunities outside the traditional classroom.

From Keller to cities across the nation, the way we approach education is changing. Educators are increasingly taking a more holistic approach that recognizes extracurricular programs as inseparable from the traditional classroom experience, but school districts must also recognize these facilities as a necessary element of student growth. Investing in non-traditional and multipurpose educational facilities that support students’ athletic, creative, and interpersonal needs is an essential piece of the educational puzzle. As the educational landscape changes, facilities must evolve alongside it.

The quality of the spaces students occupy has a direct impact on educational attainment, from academic to extracurricular programs. Facilities and infrastructure also play a crucial role in implementing activities and programs that maximize student growth. Students in districts without dedicated spaces for athletics, performing arts, and other extracurriculars miss out on the depth of the educational benefits they could experience.

Why multipurpose matters

Decades of research underscore the importance of these spaces in improving student performance. The fact is that students who participate in extracurricular activities routinely have higher test scores, are more likely to graduate from high school, and are more likely to attend college.

Moreover, activities such as sports and the performing arts support holistic student development. They provide students with the opportunity to explore their interests and passions, develop leadership skills, and build relationships with their peers. Extracurricular activities help students develop social and emotional skills that are critical for success in higher education and the workforce.

Indoor multipurpose facilities can also lead to improved health and safety outcomes. Traditionally, participating in outdoor activities such as sports exposes students to harsh weather conditions. Year-round facilities allow students to pursue these enriching extracurricular programs throughout the academic year without climate constraints and they prioritize students’ safety as well.

In the United States, more than 9,000 high school athletes receive treatment for heat-related issues each year. While this is most prevalent in football, students who are outside for any extracurricular activity may be exposed to harsh conditions, whether extreme heat or cold temperatures. Additionally, artificial turf, often installed as a cost-saving and low-maintenance option, can reach temperatures of up to 180 degrees during hot summer months.

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A multipurpose facility brings outdoor sports activities into an indoor, climate-controlled space, allowing students to utilize the space during inclement weather situations that previously would have forced cancellations. Now, coaches, directors, and administrators no longer have to make last-minute decisions based on fluctuating forecasts; the facility can provide a reliable venue rain or shine, and students and parents can count on safe and reliable practice and rehearsal schedules.

In other words, multipurpose facilities allow for continuous student development and for programs to be implemented exactly as they were always designed to be—to maximize their efficacy and deliver the best possible experience for students.

Taking a whole-student approach

However, the benefits of investing in non-traditional educational facilities go beyond just supporting students. Multipurpose centers can be used for a plethora of community events, including seasonal festivities, job fairs and hands-on training courses, and cultural programs. In other words, not only does the space serve students by hosting their extracurricular activities, but it also contributes to the empowerment of all people in the community through commercial, vocational, and social opportunities.

Multipurpose and non-traditional academic facilities can also offer financial benefits for school districts seeking to trim excess costs. For example, natural and synthetic surfaces that are climate-controlled and sheltered from the elements incur fewer expensive repairs and replacements than those that are exposed to harsh conditions outdoors. This is especially true in regions that experience extreme heat, prolonged snowfall, or excessive rain.

Additionally, the strategic design of these facilities allows them to be utilized for a broad spectrum of events, activities and sports. Rather than needing to build, pay for, and maintain multiple facilities to support various programs, a multipurpose facility can be designed to accommodate many different activities at one time. In turn, facilities can increase accessibility to and enrich the quality of learning opportunities for students across school districts.

For thousands of students across the nation, multipurpose facilities are already becoming a central part of their lives. As we continue to take a more whole-student approach to education, we need to ensure the facilities we teach in are part of the conversation. It’s time for more school districts to fund these multipurpose educational facilities, and in doing so invest in the next generation of academics, athletes, performers, and community members.

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