Planning for Educational Specifications by Bob Valiant

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Designing learning environments involves many people across a wide range of disciplines but must include, in our opinion, a much greater role for the clients (teachers, students, and parents) who will actually use the building. We have outlined here a process that we believe gets planning off on the right foot. The process is ordinarily called the development of Educational Specifications.

Educational Specifications serve as a written communication from the school facility planning team to the design professionals describing the educational activities that the school facility should accommodate for the present, and to the extent possible, the future. We prefer to use a participatory process that involves community, parents, educators and, in some cases, students. We often begin with a “Futures Forum” where community, parents and staff come together to help provide a vision for the future the school program must address. This Forum also results in a theme for the school that helps the architect design a building that supports the vision.

A step we always include in the Educational Specification process is the review of the District Strategic Plan, Technology Plan and any other long-range planning documents produced by the District. A matrix of the ideas supported in these documents is used as a template to test proposals for the new facility. The result is a general educational philosophy for the grade grouping to be housed in the facility.

A major portion of the Educational Specification document is comprised of the area-by-area description of the various spaces in the building. We accomplish this important task by beginning with a training session for the building design team where everyone learns how to use a data gathering form. Several of these forms are completed during the training session with the help of our trainer and a “User’s Guide.” We then use a combination of group meetings with departments or grade levels and individual consultation to complete the document.

For some clients, we have developed an Educational Specifications Checklist. This document lists each of the facility requirements specified in the Educational Specifications and asks the client to supply a priority rating for each item. Completion of the checklist helps the client understand the difference between wishes and true needs and guides the architect in the design process.

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