Strategic planning is an essential component of efficiency models for facilities in nearly every industry, but especially K-12 education. A program management firm’s planning services division partners with its clients to conduct planning assessments, which it uses to create options and recommendations for facility needs.
We often use the analogy of a four-legged stool in which the seat represents the facilities, and that seat is supported by four legs. The legs include:
● Educational Framework: Curriculum, Programs, Delivery Models, and Policy
● Demographics: Enrollment and the data that impact enrollment
● Condition: Physical Condition and Educational Adequacy
● Funding: Ability to fund and find sources of funding
Although one of the legs of the stool often necessitates the call for a plan, each carries an equal amount of importance when developing a facilities master plan. Add the element of community and stakeholder involvement, which reflects the culture and values of the district, and sets the foundation for a successful planning process.
Developing Of An Educational Framework
The educational framework of a district is perhaps the key characteristic that makes each district unique. At the onset of the planning process, understanding the operational structure of the district, such as what grade configuration best fits the community, how big/small the schools should be, what are the ideal models to deliver early childhood services, etc. are just a few of the myriad of questions a district should ask themselves, as this sets the parameters or “rules” for planning.
This framework should be developed by key stakeholders, specifically relying on internal
educational experts and then seeking buy-in from the community the district serves. This insight and data combined can provide the cornerstone for a successful planning process.
The Assessment Phase
When beginning the planning process for a K-12 school district, the first step is to conduct an Educational Adequacy Assessment. This is done by meeting with various faculty groups to develop standardized components necessary for an effective educational space. Planning services teams conduct a facility walkthrough and rank each component on a zero-to-two scale to assess if it is present in the space. This assessment only quantifies the presence of a component, such as a security system, and not if it is currently operational. This is crucial because you can’t measure if a component works if it’s not present.
A Facility Condition Assessment analyzes the condition of buildings and their systems as they have moved through time. Using graphs along with adequacy and utilization metrics, the assessment shows the deferred backlog and cost of maintenance for each facility. There is a 20-25% project cost increase if a school district does not conduct an Educational Adequacy Assessment before the Facility Condition Assessment, which underscores its importance.
Long-Range Facility Planning
After all assessments have been completed, the planning services division develops an
additional document called the State of Schools Report, which gives stakeholders a snapshot of the relevant data and information that has been gathered about each building. The report includes data covering current enrollment, space and building utilization, demographics, enrollment history, and area demographics, all organized into clear and digestible graphs. Planning teams provide the results from their broader data gathering and analysis on area demographics, facility conditions, programs, and budget.
Facility Options And Recommendations Development
In addition to the reports and assessment results that a planning services division formulates, it also provides each K-12 client with multiple options for their facilities so they can determine which course of action best meets their needs. These program options include conducting renovations, consolidations, or building new additions to the existing facilities. For example, when enrollment in the district is too high or large renovations are needed, it may be difficult for the district to decide how to effectively allocate its funds. Planning services teams will also create charts that analyze feeder patterns and school area boundaries if a school is currently overenrolled.
Once the developed option plans have been presented to the district’s administration, it is important to hold community meetings to explain the data-gathering process and convey the options for the school district project to community members. Planning teams ask those community members to raise potential benefits and challenges—there is not a community vote. Community members are given short surveys that include comment boxes. This helps alleviate challenges and create more suitable options for the community that will meet their needs, as well as those of the district administration.
Finally, the client and community input is used to develop recommendations for service, with a focus on the prioritization of goals. The recommendations plan shows the services that are needed, when they are needed to be conducted and how much each service will cost the client. The entire planning process culminates in a 10-year facilities management plan that the client can use for current and future program initiatives.
Why Does Planning Matter?
Planning services divisions play a critical role in client satisfaction and overall project success. For example, a school district represented by HPM was facing declining enrollment and an abundance of capacity, specifically in secondary schools (middle and high schools). In an effort to keep the existing facilities operational we looked at options that included exploring different grade configurations that would utilize buildings from a capacity perspective, bridge middle to high school programs such as fine arts and CTE, and provide a clean feeder pattern from middle to high school facilities. A 6-12 and 7-12 grade configuration concept was introduced to the community, which received a lot of resistance and pushback due to the wide age range of students in one facility.
HPM listened to the community feedback and developed other concepts that utilized program alignment along with geographic boundary realignment that would balance secondary enrollment, allowing each facility to rise to an enrollment that met both operational and educational efficiencies. Once HPM addressed the community’s concerns and presented options to the public, their worries eased and the school district was able to move forward to adopt a long-term solution for underutilized facilities.
As previously mentioned, community involvement is a key component of the planning process. Superintendents and school board members are public-facing figures and must do what they can to make choices that positively impact their community members, who ultimately decide reelections. The comments that are received from community surveys are a key tool to help program management firms identify issues and can serve as a temperature check on community support for a project before any major decisions are made. It is not uncommon for planning services teams to read through hundreds of pages of comments, which are utilized to understand the public’s beliefs around the proposed plans and gauge what hurdles may have to be cleared before winning approval.
Tracy Richter is Vice President of Planning Services for HPM and has over 25 years of teaching and planning experience. He leads a team of specialists focused on providing a comprehensive approach to capital and operational building programs. Tracy has worked in 26 states and with hundreds of school districts across the country to create educational standards and long-range facilities plans that assist districts in successful facilities improvement programs. Tracy knows firsthand that the planning process must be driven by a motivated team of knowledgeable problem solvers who demonstrate expertise, guidance, and direction that come from many years in the industry. He has helped owners develop plans with a systematic process that combines key data analysis with community participation and feedback.