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School District Facilities Master Plans – Long Range Building with a Purpose

By Michael Ginalski

School Superintendents are often faced with significant facilities challenges at some point in their careers. Imagine this scenario – a district has two 100 year old middle schools, which were designed for high schools when Woodrow Wilson was the President and became middle schools later because of a district consolidation in the early 60’s. There were no real playgrounds, a significant lack of food service and cafeteria space, office space is limited, and staff are in all available closets and storage areas as a result. Special education space is heinous at best and related service space was in hallways or any available area during a given time. Technology is severely restricted as a lack of wall and ceiling space coupled with a lack of electrical power necessary to power machines is also a major concern. These schools are completely landlocked and have been the focal point of many failed referendums which have significantly divided the community. By the way, these are two schools out of twelve …. all twelve of which are outdated and in desperate need of attention because none of them are appropriate for 21st century instruction.

I was faced with this scenario in my first year as Superintendent and as a result, we needed to take dramatic action quickly. We chose to develop a long range Facilities Master Plan which guided us through 15 years of successful construction which turned the school district around. The key was the plan we developed in the early stages which guided our work going forward.

Many districts which struggle to maintain their facilities share the same thread of no real identifiable and documented planning process. The pathway to decision making for many districts often looks like the disjointed, incremental planning based on the needs of “right now” at the expense of a solid planning process to set a district up to address future needs.

Facilities Master Plans should always be developed within an umbrella of a living, district-wide, multi-year plan as the foundation. The concept of the plan being a “living” plan requires annual review and adjustment to keep up with changes in state requirements, demographics, technology, and safety. New programming adopted by districts must be reviewed as well and considered in terms of impact and potential future facilities considerations.

A district must as one of the very first steps, hire an architect and construction management (CM) firm. The hiring of an architectural firm is an obvious step but the decision in terms of the CM can make or break a project. Having the CM at the table during planning is crucial. In traditional design, the general contractor will not review the design for issues of cost and constructability in the early stages of the work. In this scenario, without a CM owners lose the chance for oversight which can reduce construction cost, save time, increase the return on investment, and prevent costly maintenance expenses. The CM basically serves as the school district’s agent in overseeing and collaborating with architects during pre-construction, prepping all bid documents and once construction begins, overseeing all general and subcontractors. The CM collaborates with the Master Plan team during planning to provide feedback on potential schedules, validate budgets, cost management, and the phasing of work all of which are necessary to have a successful plan.

A solid Facilities Master Plan evaluates current school facilities through the use of the Building Condition Survey. The plan also serves as a communication vehicle to staff and the public regarding future facilities needs and the next steps associated with addressing those needs. These plans are generally five years in duration at a minimum but a district can create a quality 15-20 year plan if leadership is consistent. In addition to having your architect and CM as resources during planning, the school district’s financial consultant must be at the table to develop a parallel financial analysis to help Boards and Superintendents with decision making.

The key elements of a Facilities Master Plan include:

1. Community Analysis – describes the demographic and economic trends within the community which helps conceptually in terms of evaluating potential changes.

2. The Building Condition Survey is completed every five years and is the key component of Master Plan development.

3. The enrollment and projections section is generally a demographic study extending 15 years into the future. A demographic study is a necessity for long range facilities planning.

4. The instructional plan review is completed to ensure that buildings can meet the educational needs of today but also can meet the demands of the future as well. Utilizing a school district’s instructional personnel and leadership are key here.

5. The Plan is the culmination of all of the work noted above and highlights specific actions every five year period to ensure a district does not fall behind.

By spending the time to develop a Facilities Master Plan, districts can avoid the random “solve the problem of today” plan which can result in a waste of resources and ultimately, confuse the public. A good Facilities Master Plan allows districts to make the maximum and effective use of fiscal, human, and facility resources which align with and support the educational plan of a district.

Mike joins Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at mginalski@buildwelliver.com.