K-12 School Design Spotlight: Master Planning for Change

By Guest Blogger Jomay Liao

It takes a well-orchestrated process and communication to create and develop a vision, get support for that vision, adjust that vision, and finally, implement the vision. School Master Planning Process with San Diego Community, by LPA Inc.As I added to a recent forum thread, in a course I’m taking with the Council of Educational Facility Planners (CEFPI), my thoughts and ideas about change and K-12 school environments were solidified, and condensed so that you could enjoy them here.

In his book, Creating Communities of Learning, author Don Schon writes, “We must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’… systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.” As an educational facility planner, I found this extremely powerful. It places huge amounts of responsibility onto us planners and architects, as orchestrators and facilitators of the planning and design processes.

In my experience and observations, there are some key points to understand when it comes to a successful master plan—and a plan for change. 

Understand that plans CAN change. The beauty of a facilities master plan is that it is ultimately a plan and it’s developed through the information we have today. Of course, there are trends and case studies that help us formulate these predictions, but some of these plans are looking ahead at what educational facilities will and “should” be like in 10 to 20 years!

With the advances in technology and how we and the next generation are affected by this, it is quite difficult, as educators and planners, to predict what will really happen to educational delivery in the future.

Stakeholders need to understand this, and be willing to re-look at and update plans as time evolves. They also need to understand that revising plans doesn’t necessarily mean changing a vision that was set by a previous group. The fundamental goals of the vision can still remain intact (i.e. we can still provide the best facilities to educate our students, but the way in which we carry out the vision can and will inevitably change).

School Master Planning Community ProcessChange takes leadership. Because there are so many stakeholders (i.e. board members, teachers, facilities staff, maintenance staff, parents, students, the City, the government, taxpayers) involved in institutions—with different objectives, therein lies the difficulty to implement change.

All necessary stakeholders need to be included in the beginning of the process. In general, it’s not possible to include every single person in the process, but the key leaders and people that can drive the decision definitely need at least an update of the process.

People that don’t feel “plugged in,” won’t have much stake or sense of responsibility in a project and therefore may feel it’s just easier to follow original plans.

At LPA, we design K-12 schools that are flexible enough to adapt and evolve as the tools, ways to deliver education, and the learning styles of students, continue to change. Going back to Schon’s quote, “We must invent and develop … ‘learning systems’ … systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.” Even though the fundamentals of good education—caring, enthusiastic, and passionate teachers—may not change the facilities in which education is delivered must.

Jomay Liao is an Educational Facility Planner and Project Manager at California-based LPA Inc. Her experience includes work on more than a dozen K-12 Schools. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and active member of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International and the U.S. Green Building Council.