A Planning Model for Developing Educational Facilities

by C. Kenneth Tanner


                  A model involving major aspects of developing, providing, and maintaining school learning environments in the public education sector of the United States is introduced in this chapter.  It is derived partially from the literature, while giving special consideration to our personal experiences in the planning, conceptual and architectural design, construction, and management phases of school buildings and outdoor learning environments.  We contend that such a model is needed because the school and community must see school facilities as environments having specific influence on learning experiences and student and teacher behavior.  This is especially true if we are to grow beyond what Bingler (1995) called conventional wisdom.  “The conventional wisdom … is that educational facilities simply provide the containers in which learning occurs, but that the form of the containers, and even the process of making them, has little to contribute to the real purpose of education, which centers around the curriculum and instruction delivered by the educator and received by the student” (P. 23).  Perhaps we can somehow flavor conventional wisdom with research-based wisdom. 

We envision a comprehensive model having a wide application to various school systems –large, small, rural, urban, or suburban.  As in all situations pertaining to the complex process of developing and providing school facilities, finding resources and relevant information is the main concern.  Therefore, one assumption for a comprehensive model is availability of relevant information and resources for planning and decision-making.  Relevant information is not enough, however.  The interpretation of the relevant information, in light of political and shared decision-making reality, becomes cumbersome, requiring a structure that encompasses social design theory – working with people rather than for them and involving them in critical, relevant aspects of the process.

With the available textual materials, including this book, and the Internet search engines, information on almost any planning topic may be easily retrieved.  However, sometimes Internet information is incomplete and too condensed to be of value, but as in condensed hard copy publications most web sites offer some useful information.  The conceptual planning model that we propose here will be effective if the correct data and information are collected, analyzed, interpreted, and properly utilized in the process.  Proper utilization of information encompasses the perceptual, political, and leadership aspects applied to the process as well as the technical skills of the people involved.  For example, will the governing board, the state, the architect, the planner, and the community understand the importance of learning activities involving various philosophies?  Or, will only one philosophy dominate?  Consider essentialism, for example.  Historically, some school leaders may have been educated under the ‘blank tablet’ method - teachers lectured and students listened and responded through pencil and paper tests as measures of learning and accountability.  If decision-makers favoring the essentialism philosophy or any other single philosophy dominate the decision process, then the community could be left with a school facility accommodating only one way of thinking for 50 years or more.  Therefore, one important aspect of developing facilities is educating decision-makers regarding teaching and learning.  The process of providing decision-making bodies with a balanced perspective requires strong leadership from the planning team and school leaders.


Since a primary concern for any model is its basis, we offer eight foundational premises for developing school facilities.  These are appropriately integrated throughout the book to provide connections and clarify relationships among the various functions of the planning model. 

                  Premise 1. In providing physical learning environments we contend that strong leadership is essential.  Furthermore, the importance of leaders knowing about the impact of school facilities on student behavior and learning is vital.  It is significant that the leader should create an atmosphere where people within the organization can assist in the complex job of developing school facilities.                    Individuals in charge of developing, providing, and managing school facilities should be knowledgeable in the basic aspects of school facilities and also be able to communicate the goals of education and the nature of the relationship between the community and the school.  They must have the ability to lead the school system toward its ideals.  Those in leadership have inherent responsibilities to the public they serve.  Exactly who takes the lead depends on precisely where the process is within the context of all activities necessary to design and build a school.  For example the curriculum planner might not be the best person to lead a group on school funding.  Leadership may be situational as the various tasks are addressed in the development process.  However, it is usually the chief school officer who makes recommendations to the governing board, the final decision-making body. 

Premise 2. The second premise is that the school system has a defined  direction - a mission and a vision.  We assume that the people in leadership have developed strategies to actualize this direction.  The mission and vision must be clearly defined and understood by the school and community, especially when school development is on the agenda.  Above all, direction must include basic concerns for school facilities planning and design – a vision for learning and teaching.  Somehow, within the mission statement and master plan for school leadership we must see that educational facilities exist to contribute to the accomplishment of the mission. We must work to ensure the connections among student behavior and learning and the natural and built learning environments. Lack of this connection may represent a ‘black hole’     in our educational system.

Premise 3.  School facilities are provided after long-range goals and objectives are established.  Because schools may last for 50 years or more, they should be seen as community resources and architecture.  Therefore, long-range planning means searching for various possibilities in terms of program and economics – cost benefit analysis of all phases of a capital project need to be specified as a requirement in the long-range plan.  Expected student enrollment and value engineering are examples of two important aspects in the decision-making process for future school building projects, helping to circumvent errors that reduce benefits to learning, and that minimize overall costs.  But, long-range planning may be difficult to maintain in an atmosphere where school boards serve short terms, and chief school officers have ‘high turn over’ rates.  It becomes the responsibility of the community to guarantee that long-range goals and objectives are monitored and revised as leadership changes occur. 

We all know of sudden changes in direction of goals and possible reorganization when leadership at the top changes.  These changes certainly influence the development of school facilities.  When a new school superintendent is employed, we often hear about “reorganization and re-direction.”  According to Townsend (1970), reorganizing should be undergone about as often as major surgery (p. 146).   He exhorted the wisdom of Petronius Arbiter who stated, “I was to learn in life that we tend to meet each new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization” (p. 146).

Premise 4.  The educational program’s goals and objectives are linked to physical places for teaching and learning.  Planners and architects should clearly understand what the implications for the curriculum and instructional program are with respect to school learning environments.  The physical environment does influence student behavior; therefore, learning is also influenced.  The places where students learn are important elements of curriculum and instruction, and should be addressed in research and professional conferences of leadership, curriculum, and supervision of instruction.  

Activities pertaining to premise four have been called the ‘educational programming’ phase and extend all the way into design development and construction documents.  The curriculum will certainly change and the way teachers are expected to teach will also change over the life of a school.  Therefore, a review of the present and expected curriculum and instructional program is important to prevent obsolescence of the school in relationship to course content, student learning, and teaching methods.  Such concerns bring up the need to plan for flexible and developmentally appropriate learning spaces, school furniture, and technology.

Premise 5.   Planning and design activities are integrated.  While the majority of planning methods found in the historical literature are linear, the model suggested here is comprehensive, allowing for interaction across leadership and stakeholder lines.  We concur with McGuffy (1973), who “… suggested that careful management of the planning, design, and construction processes will provide for a comprehensive, overlapping, non-linear approach to the delivery of a facilities project” (p. 2.4).   The management of time for planning, designing, bidding, and constructing the project is vital.  Hence we suggest a modified version of Kowalaski’s (1989) idea of an integrated planning model.  This modification includes the leadership component; a data, resources, and information base; and the specified involvement of the community and educators.   Moor and Lackney (1994) proposed a similar procedure entitled “ an integrated educational facility development model” (p. 84). 

Integration means more than compressing the time between steps.  It also means shared decision-making and collaboration in both the educational planning, programming, and the concept design phases.  The distance between planning and concept design represents perhaps the largest gap in the entire school facilities planning and building process.  Often people in the school and community have complained that they participated in planning and concept design, but when the school buildings were completed they were shocked to see nothing of their work.  This should never occur, given proper leadership and information in the world of school facilities today. Our model encourages and requires involvement in planning, programming, and concept design and continues through the design and construction phases.

Premise 6.  The minimization of crisis occurrence through effective crisis management is greatly needed in the information age.  Therefore, we contend that management is systematic; data, and goal driven.  The management system should include accountability, the comparison of stated goals to outcomes.  This is the glue that holds the organization together.  Sometimes the manager is a leader and sometimes the leader is a manager. Managers and leaders must know what is to be done, have a strategy ready to do what is planned, and recognize how the final outcomes compare with the expected outcomes.  They also must recognize that the landscape for developing and providing schools is often confusing and messy. 

The development model we introduce here should help produce schools that meet the goals of learning and teaching.  The performance of even the built environment can be measured in terms of stated goals and objectives. Although measurements of effectiveness may be taken in post occupancy evaluations, this activity may be too late if then a design is shown not to facilitate learning and teaching.  The political reality is that unless all parties share the stated goals for learning and teaching students in the beginning of the process, the end results may not be built environments that facilitate the educational goals and objectives.  We all know stories of where architectural plans were not completely followed because the contractor did not want to build in a certain way – leaving out a window here and there, failing to put a vent in a certain space, and skimping on acoustical and insulation treatments, for example.  General management goes beyond the planning, design, and construction phases in providing school facilities.  It encompasses the messy political environment of these activities.  Under the general umbrella of management, we find operations and maintenance of the structures and land that supports the buildings, playgrounds, nature trails, and other outdoor learning environments.  Management of operations and maintenance starts with planning and design. 

If you have an interest in a conceptual model for educational facilities planning, you are invited to click here to find a comprehensive treatment of this important subject.