Making time for long-term planning can be challenging when immediate needs vie for all of our attention, but when we invest the time to envision the future we want, we’re better prepared to make decisions that take us there.
This is why I’m so excited about the work we’re doing with architect Derek Labrecque and his team at JK Architecture Engineering, creating a facilities master plan for Ukiah Unified School District through the year 2025. Since late last year, we’ve been working with a group of educators and community members to incorporate the future of learning into our facilities. Funding for new buildings is hard to come by, so we want to make sure we use every dollar as well as we possibly can.
If you think about the speed of technological change during the past decade, you can imagine how hard it is to plan for a future that looks nothing like the past. Sometimes it feels like new facilities are obsolete as soon as they’re completed—remember how exciting computer labs were twenty years ago? Today’s students can’t imagine why we would build such a thing: why on earth would they go to a computer lab when they can use their Chromebooks anywhere on campus (and beyond)?
As we work with the team at JK Architecture Engineering, I am confident that the designs they create will incorporate the flexibility required to serve students for years to come. They’ve modified the famous Louis Sullivan quote from “form follows function” to “form follows curriculum.”
The architects understand that educational spaces need to shift from teacher-centered designs to student-centered designs. Gone are the days when students sit quietly all day with their hands folded on their desks as they listen to teachers lecture. Although students need to listen attentively to lectures, they also need to collaborate with classmates, build things, use computers, and work independently—and our learning spaces need to facilitate all of it, often in the same classroom.
Because funding is an ever-present challenge, we’ve taken a practical approach while also shooting for the stars. First, we make sure our facilities are up to code—that they are safe. Second, we evaluate our facilities and estimate maintenance costs. We know our 20-year-old HVAC system won’t run forever, for example, so we plan for repairs and/or replacement. Third, we plan for transformation. We want facilities with natural light, access to technology, collaborative workspaces for students and teachers, and so much more.
We think about where we want to be in five years or ten years, and we overlay that plan on daily decision-making. If we have to replace a roof, let’s say, we review the transformational plan and incorporate skylights that add natural light and decrease energy costs.
Derek said, “We design from the inside out and we create plans so at each decision point, we can think about whether a small added cost could result in a substantial enhancement. What’s the return on investment?”
School funding is based on something called a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). The LCAP requires input from community members and it takes into account the unique needs and offerings of each school. Our facilities master planning will be based on our LCAP goals so we’re aligned.
Goal 1 is to design and implement an educational program that prepares students for success in college and/or career. Goal 2 is to create a safe, positive, orderly, productive, healthy and respectful learning environment that values diversity and collaboration. And Goal 3 is to engage our parents and community in a collaborative partnership that supports the success of our students.
As we build our facilities master plan, we’re identifying needs based on these goals. We want moveable furniture that can be used for group work or independent work. We want well-planned ingresses and egresses so we can control the flow of people to and from our campuses. We want fields in good condition for students and community members to enjoy.
We know schools are the center of local communities, so it is important that they work for both students and community partners. If you are interested in this process, please feel free to contact the UUSD Service Center for more information.