Across the nation, there are over 13,000 K-12 school districts, with more than 580 in Michigan. Each year, in-person instruction provides millions of students with hands-on learning, face-to-face connections, socialization and support. The safety and health of students always has been foundational to learning, but COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges to educational environments.
Even before a shovel hits the ground, the impact of COVID-19 is changing the way we collaborate with schools. For example, we were recently awarded construction management work at Birmingham Public Schools after completing a virtual interview as opposed to the traditional in-person meeting.
In a Brady Bunch virtual format, we are working to create team chemistry, open dialogue and collaboration. Another client, Northview Public Schools, successfully passed a bond election in May 2020 in the first mail-in election that relied heavily on social media, video and web content. Focus groups, design charrettes, construction progress meetings and pre-bond town hall events also are being held in a virtual setting.
There is a new urgency for education construction projects. Condensed schedules and faster turnaround as a necessity for new and improved learning environments remains at an all-time high. These are great opportunities for our construction teams to work creatively to deliver projects faster and more efficiently with safety remaining our No. 1 focus.
COVID-19 is not only impacting how we work, but it’s also informing the type of projects we’re completing. Since the pandemic began, many districts are updating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. New equipment and technology can greatly improve the quality of air filtration and ventilation to reduce air-born germs and viruses, resulting in healthier students and staff in addition to better learning outcomes.
From a design perspective, the 900-square-foot classroom made popular in the 1950s is not meeting the demands of social distancing or adaptable learning. As schools and districts grapple with their “new normal,” many spaces are being used for different purposes.
For example, cafeterias and gyms are hosting classes and meetings to meet capacity demands with classrooms serving as the central location for learning, eating and recreation. Flexible, multipurpose spaces — already at the forefront of educational design — have moved from a “want” to a “need” in a COVID-19 world.
This shift in building use will continue to influence future design and construction as we reimagine multifunctional spaces and the technology, furniture, finishes and equipment that allow them to adapt on an hourly basis.
While the demands on school buildings and sites may change, our goal remains constant — creating safe and healthy spaces that support and inspire students. At some point, COVID-19 will be gone, but its impact on how we learn will also remain.
“Touchless” plumbing and hardware, ubiquitous technology that can support remote learning when necessary, air conditioning that can help school districts flex calendars and enhanced HVAC systems are all solutions we are implementing today that will lead to healthier, more productive buildings.
As industry leaders, it’s imperative that we remain one step ahead, offering innovative, cost-effective and safe solutions that respond to our clients’ needs, even as those needs are changing faster and faster. For us, it all starts with the end in mind — the health, growth, development and education of our kids.