Ideas are shared to inspire creative school settings beyond Hawaii’s current factory-like facilities
By Vicki Viotti
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 02:14 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2012
Learning can and does happen everywhere, but few now doubt an engaging setting for the students can help immensely. A group of experts in innovative school design recently have been telling Hawaii educators how profoundly the physical environment affects schooling, and they point out ways in which the state’s public schools fall short.
One of them, an architect named Stephen Bingler, has taken a look at some of the islands’ campuses.
“What I see are schools that were built in the 1950s and 1960s that are based on models that don’t work anymore,” Bingler said. Namely, these are schools in the “factory” configuration, in which cookie-cutter classrooms are lined up along hallways, each of them basically replicating the function of the one-room schoolhouse of the 19th century.
The factory model has been breaking down, he said, but since about half of all Hawaii schools are at least 50 years old, that’s what you find here.
These slides depict visions of how 21st-century schools can be modeled, with designs that are more space-efficient and settings that both fit the desired curriculum and are somewhat fluid, adaptable to different needs. Photos courtesy of Brainspaces.
Bingler was among the group speaking here recently at “Facilities Matter: The Case for 21st Century Schools,” a symposium held at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The event was hosted by the local think tank Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs and was presented by the professional association Council of Educational Facility Planners International. Both HIPA and CEFPI agree on the next step for Hawaii: prodding public policymakers toward a remaking of the state’s aging school facilities.
A common planning trend — and often a fiscally efficient strategy — is to locate schools adjacent to recreation and other compatible neighborhood resources and businesses, making them more integrated with the community, added David Edwards, CEFPI chairman.
Overhauling school facilities as part of a broader redevelopment strategy through creating a land trust for school properties is what HIPA has been studying for two years, said William Kaneko, HIPA’s president and chief executive officer. The state’s Public Land Development Corp., created in legislation last session, would deal with far more than school lands but is positioned to be the mechanism to accomplish it.
Up until this point, there’s been relatively little money spent to change the landscape of Hawaii schools. Mary Filardo is executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, an advocacy group that has studied school districts’ expenditures on construction and capital improvements between 1995 and 2008. Hawaii is at the bottom of the list for per-capita outlays.
“Hawaii was spending about $300 per pupil on it, and for the period from 2005 to 2008, the national average was $1,000,” she said. “So when you look at that many years of under-budget, you have a big hole that you have to climb out of. You can see it, in the condition of the facilities.”
A BILL now in Congress would provide $30 billion nationally for school facilities, she said; Hawaii’s share would be about $82 million. Filardo’s organization is pushing for more regular federal supplementation of school facility money to take some budgetary pressure off poorer school districts in particular.
Besides technology upgrades and a superficially engaging design, she said, the new approach assumes good air quality and other creature comforts. Among the other basic elements, she listed incorporation of natural lighting and views, and a location that suits the community.
Bingler founded a community-based planning and architectural firm called Concordia, best known in recent years for developing the Unified New Orleans Plan for the city’s rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina. Redesigning those schools further fueled his passion for creating spaces more attuned to contemporary educational needs.
“All these kids aren’t widgets; they aren’t born the same way,” he said. “Some are more visual-spatial in the way that they learn, and some are even kinesthetic in the way that they learn. They need to move; they can’t sit in rows all day long and just listen to a teacher.
“We’re in this new world, a new world of lots of different ways of thinking about what learning is, and more customized learning for every kid,” Bingler added. “And so, it stands to reason that the old factory model doesn’t fit some of these new ideas, and you can’t take new wine and pour it into an old bottle.”
What’s called 21st-century design tends to be more space-efficient and vertical, especially in urban facilities. The emphasis, said planner and architect Amy Yurko, is on making spaces that both fit the desired curriculum and are somewhat fluid, adaptable to different needs.
Yurko is the founder and director of BrainSpaces, a Chicago-based design company that specializes in architecture for education. She was named CEFPI Planner of the Year in 2011, and last year the company’s redevelopment of the Marysville Getchell High School campus about 35 miles north of Seattle won a major prize, the CEFPI James D. McConnell Award.
More about the project, including a video, is online (brainspaces. com/index_files/GetchellHS.htm).
Successful school redevelopment is an outcome that requires a close look at individual community needs, Yurko said, and the planning process should be a collaboration with the people who will use the facility. Federal funds for schools won’t be well invested without such planning, she added.
“It’s sort of more about assessing whether the project is shovel-worthy than it’s just shovel-ready,” Yurko said. “Is it going to make a worthwhile learning environment, or is it just going to make a school?”
The Jan. 14 symposium drew about 120 planners and educators, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie giving keynote remarks. In the crowded auditorium sat Randy Moore, assistant superintendent with the Department of Education Office of School Facilities and Support Services.
Moore agreed that urban properties such as Queen Kaahumanu Elementary School would be ripe for redevelopment, part of the land being used for a condominium and generating tax revenue to support that and other school projects. But Moore said after the event that budgetary realities may mean a much more gradual scheme will be needed, with renovating rather than razing the more realistic solution in many cases.
“It’s not what do we do with the new schools but how do we make the existing schools more responsive to the 21st century educational programming,” he said. Leveraging redevelopment money for school reconstruction is “one of the arrows in the quiver” but not the only one to be used, Moore said.
Lloyd Haraguchi, the first executive director of the new development corporation was also there, and found the presentations “very innovative.”
“I thought there was a lot of good in the concept of the 21st century school,” he said. “Going vertical is part of the whole thing — using the spaces more efficiently, using smaller areas for teaching, yet providing for the other needs, athletic needs, libraries, cafeterias.”
Haraguchi said his agency will be surveying the state’s 260 campuses to identify the best candidates for redevelopment, underscoring that some prospects may be on the neighbor islands as well as on Oahu.
Perhaps in preparation for that, lawmakers will be considering legislation that would enable revenue from any campus redevelopment to go to a fund dedicated for educational use, said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Education.
“My longterm hope is to amend the bill in committee to see that the Board of Education should work with the Public Land Development Corp. to determine what other uses, what developments would be most appropriate,” she said.
The concept of 21st century schools should be what guides school improvements, starting immediately, she said.
“The real hope would be we can move in that direction as we are making major repairs and maintenance,” Tokuda said. “The idea would be to do it right.”
Honolulu Star-Advertiser, January 29, 2012 - PDF