SD8 - A Feasibility Study for Model School Design Plans

Executive Summary:
Senate Joint Resolution No. 400 requested the Department of Education (DOE) to study the feasibility of the commonwealth providing model school design plans for elementary, middle, and high schools. The resolution further requested input from school divisions and other interested persons. As a result of this request, a sample of school division superintendents, educational facility planners employed by school divisions, architects, and engineers were surveyed relative to their positions on the feasibility of providing such plans.

The survey asked about the feasibility of providing such plans, whether or not the commonwealth should do it, and the possibility such plans might have for providing economies for school divisions. In addition, the respondents were asked about the impact model plans might have on community involvement in the planning process. The use of prototype school building plans also was investigated.

The results of the survey indicated that there was not a clear picture on the use of model school plans. The superintendents and educational planners believed such plans might be feasible and useful, but the architects and engineers thought differently. The majority of all group respondents believed model school plans developed by the state would not fit the educational needs of a school division. Further, there was some concern that if such plans were used, community involvement in the planning process might be limited.

During the process of gathering data from the survey, respondents provided commentary about the use of such plans. These comments provided insights into several problems the commonwealth might face if model school design plans were implemented. Perhaps the most important problem was the educational program for which the school plans would be designed. Most respondents felt that it would not be possible to develop models plans that would fit the needs of a locality and that the re-design might increase the total cost to obtain architectural plans for a school. The matter of architect/engineer liability entered into this problem because all of the decisions made on the original model school design plans would have to be re-visited by the architects and this would include all of the calculations and specifications. The architects seemed to feel this would add to the overall cost of producing documents that could be used for bidding purposes.

Perhaps the most pressing problem would be trying to decide what educational program would be the basis of the needed specifications that would be used to prepare the model school design plans. There is not a standard educational program beyond the minimum basic requirements specified in the Standards of Quality and the Standards of Accreditation that would be representative of all school divisions around the State. It is the additional program offerings that each school division develops to meet their needs and goals that expand the minimum requirements to a unique program in each school division.

Another problem in trying to provide model school design plans is related to the size of the building. One set of model school design plans would not be sufficient to address the variety of sizes of school buildings needed. The Department of Education has developed 16 different sets of space recommendations for schools of different sizes. Any model school design plans would have to address this need. As a result, any economies would result only if more than 16 schools were constructed from these plans. The history of the use of model school design plans has been that such plans are typically not used by a local school system.

Community involvement in the planning process of new schools was an issue in the survey; superintendents and educational planners were divided in their thoughts about this issue. The architects and engineers were adamant about their feelings that the use of such plans would indeed limit community planning. The thought was that if a school division is using a model school plan, there is little reason for new input from parents.

Almost all respondents assumed the reasoning behind the use of model school design plans was that some economies would accrue. Some believed there would be no savings, and in fact the cost would be more than what originally developed plans would cost. The fee charged for the development of the model school design plans would simply be a shifting of the cost from a school division to the commonwealth. The architects and engineers stated that their fee for re-design to fit the new site and the local educational program would more than offset any possible economies.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 400 requested a determination of the feasibility of the commonwealth providing model school design plans for elementary, middle, and high schools. Providing such plans to school divisions is indeed technically feasible. The real issue, however, is whether or not such plans would be used or accepted by the school divisions. The evidence points to the belief that such plans would not be used or accepted because they would not meet the needs of the local educational program. In addition to this, there are some major problems associated with the use of such plans that would more than likely negate any possible savings that would be realized. The only savings with model school design plans would be in the architectural fee, which is a small percentage of the total cost of a building, but again, the preponderance of evidence would indicate there would not be any savings.