Meeting Demands

Few would question the effect of quality built environments on the success of a given task. As the public continues to demand accountability and excellence in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, the importance of quality school facilities for all students is increasingly important, as well. Older schools may not accommodate innovations in curriculum development, instructional strategies, and content development, as a recent policy brief issued in the United Kingdom points out (Higgins, Hall, Wall, Woolner, & McCaughey, 2005). In the United States, 21 percent of schools are more than 50 years old and an additional 50 percent are at least 30 years old (Office of Education Research and Improvement, 2000).

Around the Globe 

Around the globe, governments acknowledge the need to assess and improve the quality of their educational infrastructures (Lange, 2005; Leung & Fung, 2005; Office of Education Research and Improvement, 2000; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007; Ridolfi, 2001; Tibucio & Finch, 2005; Watson & Thomson, 2005). As a result, the need for new construction and renovation has increased (Chan, 1979; Earthman & Lemasters, 1996; Kjærvang, 2007; Phillips, 1997; Tibucio & Finch, 2005).

This new construction and renovation may be in response to growth of the student population, changing community demographics, aging and deteriorating school facilities, the need to upgrade facilities in response to new technologies, requirements for adaptations to accommodate special needs learners, and/or government standards and building specifications.

National Estimates of Need

American School and University’s 35th Annual Official Education Construction Report estimates school districts spent a record total of $29.1 billion on school construction in 2004, with $13.2 billion spent for new construction, $5.6 billion for additions, and $10.3 billion for modernizations (Argon, 2005). School Planning and Management placed the total somewhat more conservatively at $20.2 billion in 2004. In their 2005 report, they estimate $21.6 billion, estimating $12.8 billion in new structures, just less than $5 billion for additions and $3.9 billion for renovation (Abramson, 2006). The needs of school building construction and repair present a tremendous challenge and, at the same time, an extraordinary opportunity. With the investment of such large expenditures of taxpayer money comes the responsibility to be thoughtful as we approach the issue of school design and construction, in addition to the long-term maintenance of our investment. Cutting corners at the time of initial building or through deferred maintenance may have heretofore unforeseen costs in student outcomes.

Still Making Do 

Despite the recent increases in school construction, one in four schools continues to “make do” with poor quality buildings (Mead, 2005, p.1). Even as evidence mounts regarding the detrimental effects these poor conditions have on students and teachers, school district leaders struggle to convince federal policy makers and local taxpayers of the need to invest resources in replacing and/or renovating inadequate school facilities. It appears many remain unconvinced about the seriousness of the problem. And yet, according to leading experts in the field, We already know what is needed: clean air, good light, and a quiet, comfortable, and safe learning environment. This can be and generally has been achieved within the limits of existing knowledge, technology, and materials. It simply requires adequate funding and competent design, construction, and maintenance. (Schneider, 2002, p. 16)

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Implementing a Learner-centered Philosophy