Guidelines for Mississippi School Facility Planning

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A Proposal for a Development Process
School design guidelines are important in raising the quality of school facilities and thus impacting on the quality of education. The Mississippi Department of Education and the Educational Design Institute of Mississippi State University are collaborating to develop a set of new school facility guidelines for Mississippi. MDE and EDI propose that these guidelines be developed through a collaborative process with all groups concerned with the use, construction and design of school facilities. The final document, available both on the web and in print will cover school facility issues from planning new facilities to maintenance.

There are several broad goals we propose in developing these guidelines.

What should the guidelines cover?
In order for educational facilities to aid in improving the quality of education, the facility design must support the educational goals. While the environment that education occurs in is only one factor in providing a quality education, an unsupportive educational environment can create obstacles and distractions to learning, eroding the quality of instruction. When an environment supports educational goals, that environment goes beyond eliminating the obstacles and distractions to learning; such an environment actually suggests new opportunities for learning, with the facility playing a role in the thinking about the curriculum.

To understand the different ways that the physical environment can affect the learning process, the environment can be broken down into design factors. Design factors are conditions of the physical environment that affect human activity, in this case education. Some design factors are the width of corridors, the floor surface of different instructional spaces, the temperature and humidity of the air, the type of natural daylight let into multimedia spaces, or the how instructional spaces and media resource spaces are related.

Hierarchy

Design Factors
A hierarchy of design factors results from categorizing their specific their relationship to an educational activity. The hierarchy can be thought of as a pyramid, with health & safety factors at the base, ambient environmental factors at the next layer and curriculum based factors on top.

  1. Health and safety design factors: include sanitary, air quality, fire safety, accessibility, and product guidelines. Many of these factors are already covered in basic building codes. These codes can be augmented by the guidelines to better fit school facilities. Health and safety guidelines design guidelines must be mandatory with little leeway in implementation.
  2. Guidelines for ambient environmental factors: will include natural and artificial lighting, comfortable temperature and humidity, acoustical qualities, qualities for walking and working surfaces and other conditions related immediately to our senses. These guidelines are performance based for the most part, not setting out a specific product but a level of quality or quantity to be achieved.
  3. Curriculum-based factors: include the requirements of an instructional space for a particular approach to learning, the issues for a media center, or the role of support spaces such as cafeterias or theaters within the school. The aim of these factors is to provide various models of arrangements that a school board and their architect can adopt to their particular educational aims. The models in this section will give a direction to follow with background information, but leave a great deal of flexibility to the local school board and architect.

With this approach, factors such as security and technology can be addressed on a school-wide and community-wide basis rather than room to room. New relationships to promote sharing of resources between programs and rooms can also come out with this approach.

How do the guidelines work?
The guidelines are voluntary, written more as a guide and learning tool for school boards and their design professionals. This guidebook approach will help both architects and school boards ask the right questions about the schools they are planning, but not dictate solutions. The definition of design approaches, the advantages, the disadvantages, questions to ask, and further reference for different approaches will be identified. The guidebook approach neither punishes nor rewards an approach; the aim will be counseling rather than compliance.

How will the guidelines be developed?
In developing new facility guidelines, MDE and EDI recognize that there are a diverse range of issues that need to be addressed. There are not only issues of maintenance, durability and basic functionality but also of community use, compatibility to educational program and future flexibility. The diversity of issues involved argues for a process where many professional and academic different viewpoints that impact school facilities are considered. One mechanism will be to divide these issues and assign them to focus groups.

MDE and EDI propose that three focus groups be established corresponding to the different levels of the pyramid model outlined earlier; health & safety, ambient environmental and curriculum-based design factors. The groups will consist of ten to fifteen in a group with potentially 30 to 45 persons involved in the entire process. These groups will include students, community leaders, engineers, architects, teachers, administrators, school boards, and the Department of Education. Moreover, the groups are active participants in setting priorities and writing the guidelines.

The process of developing these guidelines may be divided into five phases: preparation, research, vision, development & documentation, testing and final publication. MDE and EDI will structure the entire process and document the products that result. The entire process will be documented on the World Wide Web so the focus groups can communicate easily and see the progress of the project as a whole. The final document will also be published on the Web.

  1. Preparation Phase:
    EDI and MDE will recruit focus group members, define issues to form focus groups around, do preliminary research (currently being done), and set up a web site.
  2. Research Phase:
    Focus groups will collect current literature to better understand the issues for their group. Facility guidelines literature has been collected from other states by EDI. Additionally, literature on "best practice" for educational design and facility maintenance is being collected. All the focus group members will place this information on the project web site to allow for easy access.

    A second objective of the research phase will be for the focus groups to co-ordinate and share ideas. A focus group meeting is scheduled for the middle of the research period for all the groups to get together and meet with each other in a round robin fashion to co-ordinate direction.
  3. Vision Meeting:
    The Vision Meeting is a round-table meeting where the different focus groups will present their research to the entire group. Then, all the groups will map out a vision for the final guidelines. Issues to be discussed will be the focus of the guidelines as a whole, the structure of the guidelines, and the amount of flexibility desired. The focus group chairs will gather all the research and write a summary report of what their focus group found and an outline of the guidelines to be written.
  4. Development and Documentation phase:
    The recommendations of the focus groups will be shaped into a document at this point. A review and comment period will follow where focus group members will post questions and concerns. A revision and second review period will follow.
  5. Testing Period:
    Testing will be done by applying the guidelines to schools that have been identified by each of the focus groups as successful in their design. The guidelines can then be assessed as to whether they lead to desirable results or miss important design factors. The guidelines will then be revised to reflect the assessment.
  6. Final Publication:
    The final document will be both a paper and web-based product. The entire guidelines document will be on a World Wide Web site maintained by the Department of Education. In addition, five hundred paper copies of the document will be printed for distribution by the Department of Education.
  7. Training & Workshops:
    A series of 5 training workshops will be held in each of the congressional districts for school administrators and design professionals.

Personnel
The project will need the following personnel and time commitments:

Educational Facilities Planner: Jeffery Lackney, EDI
The role of the planner will be to guide the process of creating guidelines for the focus groups. The planner must have excellent knowledge of facilities planning issues, trends and group facilitation experience and skills. The Planner will also be the main point of contact for the focus groups and the various groups involved. The planner will help to identify members for the focus groups, edit background information for the groups, set up a framework for the focus groups work, run the meetings, edit the recommendations from the focus groups, provide input to the guidelines production process, and design an assessment instrument for the guidelines.

Hours required: 200 man-hours.

Project Manager: John Poros, EDI
The Project Manager's role will be to have day-to-day management responsibility for the production of the final document, provide technical information, and participate in the focus group process. Specifically, the Project Manager must have experience with technical building issues as well as some experience in facilities planning. The Project Manger must also guide the Graphic Designer. The Project Manager will participate in the focus group meetings, research existing guidelines, edit recommendations from the focus groups, conduct further research on recommendations, set up the framework for the guidelines document, set up the framework for the web site, write guidelines, research technical questions, edit guidelines, guide the design of the document format, participate in the assessment of the guidelines and revise the final document.

Hours required: 300 man-hours.

Graphic Designer: MSU Student
The role of the graphic designer is to produce the guidelines document and design the web site layout. The graphic designer must have architectural and graphic design skills with the ability to use desk-top publishing, photo-editing and Internet software. The responsibilities of the graphic designer are to design the document format, place all the material into the document format, input revisions, create new graphic material for the document, design the format for the web site, and make final revisions.

Hours required: 400 man-hours.

MDE Project Investigator: Robert Campbell
The MDE Project Investigator's role will be to provide information on state requirements and procedures, technical information, and participate in the focus group process. The Project Investigator will participate in the focus group meetings, edit recommendations from the focus groups, write guidelines, research technical questions, edit guidelines, and participate in the assessment of the guidelines.

Hours required: 200 man-hours

MDE Project Assistant: Tanya Tremonte
The role of the project assistant is to assist the Educational Facilities Planner, Project Manager and MDE Project Investigator with the focus group work and day-to-day demands of organizing participants. The project assistant will also help to write and edit the document throughout the entire process. Excellent organizational skills, writing and editing ability are important for this position. The project assistant will help recruit focus group members, assist in planning the focus group meetings, assist with running the meetings, edit recommendations, help writing portions of the document, assist with the testing of guidelines and edit the final document in both paper and web form.

Hours required: 400 man hours.

MDE MIS Technology Leadership
MDE MIS Technology Leadership will co-ordinate and link the web-based activities of the project with the Department of Education's site.

Hours required: 40 man hours