PBK’s Innovation Lab researches and implements the newest wave of technological, cultural, and environmental change.
Currently, we are working with Google and a community of world-class educators to create the School of the Future and advancing NextGen Learning. Follow along as we share our insights into the future of educational facilities.
With the initial shock of the pandemic in the rearview and all focus directed toward adapting and moving forward, the PBK Family of Companies has been actively assisting districts in developing strategies to mitigate the spread of the virus and optimize campuses for health and wellness. We’ve developed a range of best practices and planning strategies that promote healthy school environments and position districts to access federal and state funding.
As an organization rooted in the K-12 community, our Family of Companies has taken every step to support the school districts we serve in maximizing this funding in terms of optimizing facilities for wellness. Using funding from the original CARES Act, we performed assessments on over a hundred campuses to determine compliance with Center for Disease Control (CDC), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE), and local health department guidelines. Texas and California comprise of our firm’s major service regions and are projected to receive about $5.2 and $6.6 billion respectively from the new ESSER funding. Additionally, California will have the opportunity to apply for additional funds from Governor Newsom’s proposed $2 billion Safe Schools for All Grant Incentive Program.
“PBK went above and beyond in preparing our District for impact of COVID-19. The attention to detail in prioritizing the safety of health of our students, staff and community has given our District peace of mind as we navigate the complex issues of re-opening our schools. The PBK team thoroughly and systematically addressed all of our concerns and laid the groundwork for a healthier community. We are glad to have a trusted partner as we plan for the future!”
- Tom Pace, San Bernardino CUSD
Maximize Your Funding
Our team has compiled resources to assist districts in navigating new programs, maximize their one time use funds, and reopen schools to support student achievement. Examples of funding resources include:
Our COVID readiness services include:
- Asset Inventory
- HVAC System Inspections
- Plumbing Systems Flush
- Indoor Air Quality Measurements
- HEPA filter location and installation (MEP)
- Classroom Layouts
- Building Entrances and Circulation
- Gymnasiums and Assembly Spaces
- Administrative Spaces
- Support Services Spaces
Signage & Wayfinding
- Creation and installation of custom environmental graphics to promote social distance requirements and hand washing
- Furniture Movers
- Plexi-Glass Installation
- Wayfinding Installation
- Assist the district with a financing plan associated with Consolidated Appropriations Act and Safe Schools for All funding
PBK Family of Companies has assisted over a dozen districts in assessing campuses, preparing for reopening and supporting districts in minimizing learning loss as they navigate how best to adapt the built environment in response to the pandemic. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our COVID Readiness Services, please contact PBK at 1-800-938-7272.
By: Melissa Turnbaugh, Principal & Rebecca Luman, P.E., LEED, AP BD+C, Healthy Tweaks LLC
Technology continues to redefine the educational experience; nature is the constant.
Today's learners are increasingly engaging with digital platforms, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this increased screen time comes with a risk. In 2020, educators and students reported "screen fatigue" after the shift to remote learning. Conversely, time in nature was recommended as a break from screen time to maintain mental and physical health, and to serve its purpose as a teaching tool, as it has for over a century. Not only does outdoor activity positively impact the individual; gathering outdoors is an innovative solution for teaching in groups, allowing for continued social contact while social distancing, and providing a fundamental educational experience.
In our modern world, taking learning outdoors may at first seem contradictory to the efficient and dynamic technology used in modern schools; however, technology and nature can, and must, co-exist in the educational experience. Balancing classroom technology with the inspiration that only hands-on, active learning outdoors provides enhances the benefits of each. Getting students outdoors stimulates the senses, encourages physical activity, promotes mental wellness, and instills an appreciation of nature, all while effectively providing developmentally appropriate learning.
Outdoor learning spaces, natural schoolyards or green schoolyards can mean a number of things. The Children & Nature Network, a leading organization in the research and advocacy for this type of learning environments defines these spaces as “multi-functional school grounds designed for and by the entire school community.
Examples of these types of spaces can include: Outdoor Classrooms, Native and Pollinator Gardens, Storm Water Capture, Traditional Play Equipment, Nature Play Areas, Edible Gardens, Trails and Walking Paths, Trees and Shrubs)
Outdoor Learning Improves Health & Wellbeing
Outdoor learning promotes and provides opportunity for students to engage in physical activity. Why is physical activity important.
- Physical Development
Physical activity impacts developmental processes, structural and functional brain maturation, as well as physical psychosocial and mental health. Physical Activity is also strongly related tot he mastery of fundamental motor skills in children and adolescents and may in turn contribute to physical, social and cognitive development.
Outdoor learning spaces promote physical activity through curriculum that incorporates play and movement. Additionally, these natural environments can impact entire communities by providing a spaces after hours for physical activity in traditionally underserved neighborhoods where families may not otherwise have locations in which to exercise.
- Psychosocial Development
Learning in nature supports improved relationship skills. Research has linked outdoor activity in nature-based schoolyards with more cooperative play, civil behavior and positive social relationships displayed among children. Additionally, findings support the assertion that the use of outdoor learning environments contributes to the development of self-awareness and self-management, reducing aggression and discipline problems and helping students feel proud, responsible and confident.
- Mental Health
Learning in natural environments can significantly improve students' mental health. Children who live near trees and other greenery are shown to better cope with stress. Exposure to nature enhances positive and decreases negative emotions and also improves feelings of competence and increased supportive social relationships that help build resilience.
Outdoor Learning Improves Academic Outcomes
According to national education statistics, only 1/3 of U.S. 8th graders perform at or above standards of proficiency for science and math. Schools across the nation are seeking ways to improve academic outcomes for all students.
Intentionally designed outdoor learning environments promote academic achievement by enhancing the cognitive and emotional processes important for learning. Physical and mental health are both positively linked to academic performance and outdoor learning supports both.
Spending time in nature has been proven to help children focus their attention. In fact, the more natural the educational setting, the better the focus. Even simply seeing nature from school buildings can foster academic success.
In one study, 94% of teachers report that students are more engaged in educational experiences utilizing outdoor learning labs than in traditional classrooms. In another study, 33 of 40 (83%) of participating schools reported improved outcomes in science, math and language arts. Students performed better on standardized tests and had better overall grades. Nature-based schoolyards have also been shown to enhance attitudes and engagement with the school and support creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
Outdoor Learning Improves the Community
Not only do intentionally designed outdoor environments positively impact learners, they also enhance entire communities. Research shows that in low-income neighborhoods, outdoor learning spaces at local schools help address green space disparity in the community and provide public access to space for exercise, exploration and family activity.
Access to nature can become “the great equalizer,” providing free, universal benefits of recreation, physical activity, fresh air and exposure to the outdoors in communities that are traditionally underserved.
Outdoor Learning Improves Environmental Awareness
By engaging children with the natural world, outdoor learning environments foster environmental literacy and care for nature. Meaningful outdoor experiences inspire children to develop stronger connections to both the natural world and the people around them. According to the Children & Nature Network, children who are connected to nature have better health, higher satisfaction with life, and pro-environment behaviors.
From an operational perspective, intentionally designed outdoor learning environments provide numerous benefits. Cultivating the natural ecology of a space reduces the frequency at which the area must be mowed and maintained, which can in turn improve the surrounding air quality. These green spaces can also provide an alternative to large, paved spaces, reducing the urban heat island effect and in turn, minimizing costs of cooling the school building. Finally, allowing nature to propagate on a schoolyard increases the biodiversity of the area, allowing students to witness the return of native species to the area.
Organizations dedicated to advocacy for the benefits of outdoor learning environments in today’s schools have been engaging stakeholders in meaningful discussions for decades. In 2020, The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative collaborative formed and developed a library of tools for creating outdoor learning environments during the pandemic and beyond. School districts, non-profits, state agencies, and other entities are now, more than ever, working together to provide funding and resources for planning and effectively using nature for all its multiple benefits.
The information above is based on the following resources:
By: Gary Gery, Partner
For months now, the dilemma of whether the threat of the novel coronavirus outweighs the setbacks many are experiencing with remote learning has been difficult to reconcile. Overall, most districts are providing students with the option to return to in-person learning this fall and in preparation, have implemented extensive protocols for keeping campuses clean and safe.
Earlier this year, we released Healthy Schools, a resource for school districts in preparation for returning to in-person learning. Our MEP Division, LEAF Engineers also published Building Well, which provided recommendations for optimizing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for wellness. PBK-WLC and LEAF also worked with the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) on their Healthy School Recommendations document, published this summer.
This fall, we have been assisting districts in applying these recommendations for their campuses’ specific building systems. During the month of September, our California and Texas teams have combined resources to survey hundreds of campuses, assessing readiness for students’ return to school later this fall. This news clip features an overview of the assessments being performed at Sacramento City Unified School District.
The surveys involve reviewing existing HVAC equipment condition and operation, filtration and outside air damper control as well as building water flushing and collecting air sampling data.
The information gathered will be submitted by the districts to the Governor’s office as part of their current readiness plans, showing they are ready to have staff and students return to campus. For more information on these readiness assessments, contact PBK at 909-987-0909 or LEAF Engineers at 1-800-938-7272.
By: Hannah Hayes, Director of Construction Services – Texas
Architecture and construction are continually intertwined. Because of this, PBK’s Construction Services department is designed to be an additional set of eyes and ears on the jobsite. Merging expertise in design and construction, this division’s primary responsibility is to ensure that projects are constructed in accordance with the contract documents from start to finish, delivering the best outcome for our clients within the specified cost and required time constraints. Our quality control measures work hand-in-hand with PBK’s design teams, ensuring that our clients receive the end product they are expecting.
The role of the Construction Services team is to serve as a liaison between general contractors and architects for the end-to-end construction process. From 2 a.m. concrete pours to on-site meetings discussing current issues, this division is integral in both visible and behind the scenes success. Team members with a variety of backgrounds, including licensed architects, licensed contractors, and testing lab technicians, form PBK’s Construction Services department. Together, they conduct pre-installation meetings, attend concrete pours, conduct extensive site visits, coordinate on-site with consultants, and produce the project punch list.
Construction Services partakes and contributes to many different aspects of PBK’s projects. Considered the “first line of defense” for PBK’s project team, this group is integral in ensuring projects are completed on time and that inevitable questions are answered during construction.
One example of quality control is through conducting pre-installation meetings prior to a subcontractor starting their scope of work. During a pre-installation meeting, the team (PBK Construction Services, General Contractor, and Subcontractor) reviews the project specifications, approved submittals, and means and methods for the specified scope of work. Subcontractor coordination and the general quality expectations of the contractor’s performance during the construction phases is the overwhelming topic of the meeting. Inspection stages (by PBK, our Consultants, and Authorities having jurisdiction) and testing lab engagement is an important step in the quality assurance process. At this time, clients express scope specific concerns from prior installation issues to maintenance concerns. The primary goal of this is to ensure all required boxes are checked before moving to the next stage of construction.
Pre-installation meetings are especially important for a renovation project. Under these circumstances, the team takes time to discuss schedule and noise requirements to not disturb students and teachers. Interruptions of any kind are avoided at all costs. After the pre-install meetings are conducted, the subcontractors are approved to proceed and start work.
Potentially, the most valuable contribution of Construction Services is frequent site visits. Reviewing work in place and providing timely feedback is essential to the success of the project. After a site visit, observation reports are issued, which document not only work currently taking place but also any items that are deficient or requiring correction. At important junctions in the construction process, such as in-wall and above ceiling inspections, it is important to thoroughly document the correct placement of plumbing, electrical, blocking, and any other obstructions.
The design details that architects take their time to create must be executed well to produce a quality product. The physical schools we design go far beyond sketches and floorplans. They exist as physical buildings that will be filled with students, teachers, and staff. Ultimately, the construction services team provides boots on the ground at project sites to ensure projects are executed as intended.
"I enjoy being on the jobsite and seeing progress. I'm someone that the construction team trusts and the architect team trusts so I act as the center point of both teams. I love this job. I wouldn't do anything else." - Hannah Hayes, Director of Construction Services – Texas
Director of Construction Services Hannah Hayes and Construction Services Manager Darius Spurlock oversee the shotcrete process to the pool at Bellaire High School. The multi-phased, 385,000 square-foot project is set to be completed in 2023 and accommodate 3,100 students.
Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment: Designing Functional Learning Environments that Support Student Engagement
By: Joaquin Abrego, RID, LEED ID+C, Designer - Interiors & Emilee Keith, RID, Associate Principal - Interiors
Today’s schools should function not only as spaces that house learning but also as tools that enhance the learner experience. Much attention has been given to the effects of positive learning environments in terms of lighting, climate, sustainability and other features of the building. However, we do not as often see emphasis on the importance of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) in supporting and enhancing the learning and teaching atmosphere. These tools not only help meet the most basic needs required for classroom learning, but they also help create a sense of place and establish the function of the space in which they occupy.
As curriculum continues to evolve, project-based learning and instruction taking place in groups of various sizes warrants the need for flexible learning spaces that accommodate multiple learning styles. The increased use of technology also creates a need for more thoughtful consideration of FF&E in terms of placement and function. We believe that design is best approached holistically, considering not only the space but also the end-user and their overall goals.
Trends in FF&E generally mimic trends in overall design, which is influenced in our case by the latest in educational research. For example, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the most immediate and cost-effective solutions for offices and schools is to reconfigure existing spaces and incorporate temporary or permanent partitions. Prior to COVID-19 and still today, trends in FF&E include:
- Breakout spaces to support a variety of learning styles. These spaces can accommodate individual or group work.
- Efficient and flexible spaces, like large classrooms, that can be converted into smaller spaces
- Multipurpose spaces with flexible furniture to allow students to create their ideal spaces
- Technology friendly spaces
- Welcoming spaces with fluid layouts, bold colors and graphics
The incubator classroom at the Texas A&M University San Antonio Academic & Administration Building is a prime example of the next gen space. It has raised panel flooring to help maximize power and data flexibility. A magnetic dry erase marker board folding partition to open the space into one large room, or divide it into 2 smaller classrooms. The space has multiple technology components, bold use of color on the floor and furnishings. In addition, the furniture mix includes flip tables on casters, mobile marker boards, task chairs, power hubs, and soft seating options to accommodate different types of learning styles.
Located on-site, the Construction & Skilled Trades Technology Center serves as an industrial support facility to Lone Star College System's North Harris Campus. The facility offers multiple programs of study, including numerous workforce and education programs. Additionally, the facility is keenly focused on leading-edge technical job fields.
Also at the Texas A&M University San Antonio Academic & Administration Building, PBK used bold colors and patterns at the corridors and open collaboration spaces. Both areas allow students to sit, study, and power their electronic devices between classes.
While it is common to undertake the selection, specification and bidding process in-house or with separate vendors, we have seen that there are many benefits to working with the project’s architect instead. This can begin during multiple points of the drawing process but is generally started during the design development phase. Here, the furniture and equipment test fits with generic blocks in the floor plans begin and a rough FF&E budget spreadsheet is created. During 50% construction drawings, the furniture specs and selections have the biggest push forward. Formal quotes start to replace the approximate estimates. The coordination of power and data is an ongoing process from here until the end of the construction administration and furniture installation phases. While this is typical, the process can be flexible and accommodating to each project’s specific needs and timelines.
From a technical side, designing and selecting FF&E through the project’s architect benefits the overall design of the project because it allows the designers to work hand-in-hand with architecture and MEP to coordinate power and data placement. This reduces the amount of changes needed at the end of a project when the furniture is being installed. Lack of coordination to powering furniture is one of the most common issues when the FF&E and building design are not done by the same firm.
Just like each student, each district and school administration will have unique needs and preferences. Successful design and selection of furniture, fixtures and equipment can make all the difference in providing functional tools that enhance the comfort and performance of a learning environment.
The Smith Library Center at Southwestern University is the renovation of a previously underutilized area. As part of an initiative to encourage collaboration among students, the space includes dynamic finishes, technology upgrades and reconfigurable furniture systems.
The Archer College of Health and Human Services at Angelo State University consists of flexible spaces and testing environments for interdisciplinary use. The building provides high quality, professional learning environments for health care, rehabilitation and human service fields.
By: Melissa Turnbaugh, Principal
Today’s economic reality demands skilled, workforce ready employees. Many key industries, like manufacturing, technology, and healthcare, are experiencing significant workforce shortages and workforce needs constantly change with advancements in technology. As a result of this rapidly evolving landscape, it is realistic to say that students entering grade school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist. As educators realize the post-secondary trajectory of today’s learners, the K-12 experience is beginning to shift away from traditional pathways pointing directly to four year universities and colleges and instead, give students insight and even training for professions and trades that they may not have previously considered.
Designed to serve a capacity of 800 students in grades 9-12, the Alief Center for Advanced Careers offers students the tools to reach the next level of their academic and professional careers. This is achieved by modeling academic programs, courses and classrooms after professions and trades, giving students hands-on, real-world experience. The Center offers ten pathways ranging including advanced architectural design, automotive technology, construction technology, culinary arts, digital design, health science, industrial robotics, information technology, veterinary science, and welding. The Center also serves the community through end-user consumption.
"If you really want to experience Alief’s Center for Advanced Careers, you’re going to want to bring your car for an oil change, walk over to the bistro and have lunch while you drop off your dog to get groomed and cared for," said Jennifer Baker, Alief ISD's career and technical education co-director. "For about two to three hours, you can have a lot of fun at this center."
The Alief Center for Advanced Careers was designed for students walking into their future, whether that be secondary education or the workforce. The building design emphasizes transparency, technology and the building as a learning tool for the students and community.
The Design Process
From the beginning, the Center’s design focused on the community. The building’s planning and design resulted from collaboration and synergy with district staff, industry partners, community colleges, bond committee members and students. During the community workshops, district administrators, board members and the entire design committee team toured various CTE centers throughout the Houston area. Next, the district published an online survey to gather additional community feedback. The nine-month process engaged more than 5,000 stakeholders.
The Alief Center for Advanced Careers immerses learners in real world workforce activities via flexible learning studios that emulate today's work environments. By introducing a breadth of career paths and giving students the opportunity to earn professional accreditation, these next generation learners are motivated and inspired to work toward futures they may not have even dreamed to be possible.
Creating a Sense of Place
The campus design displays the real-world education taking place to inspire students and visitors alike. The building is designed around a central Main Street with technology, graphics and windows into the labs of each program. The goal of this design was for students to understand industries outside of their own field of study, looking for ways to innovate and collaborate.
Students and teachers have a heightened sense of connection to activities and instruction taking place in all areas of the Center. Extensive use of glass provides transparent learning. A barrier-free environment encourages innovation and opportunities to visually interact and connect within the learning environment. The building’s transparency also promotes cross-collaboration between students and programs as well as inspire visitors to the campus.
“We wanted all pathways to have eyes on each other,” CTE Director Jennifer Baker said, “so some classrooms and conference rooms are fully glazed. An open common area with visual access to the dining hall, classroom, administrative offices and computer lab also fosters off-the-cuff collaboration. Additionally, by exposing the space’s original columns, steel bracing and its polished concrete floor, the design was able to maintain an industrial feel, rather than an academic one.”
Access to power and data is essential for using the entire building for instruction and collaboration. Main Street, as well as every corridor and collaboration space, is filled with power to allow students to charge and work on their devices. Key technologies that the Center showcases include:
- CTE classes feature advanced technology and equipment for students to create innovative design and fabrication projects. Technology is applied in all classes throughout the building, from the information technology and digital design programs to the welding robotic arm, CNC machine, sophisticated automotive alignment tool and health science “smart” mannequins.
- Digital displays at the entry to each program and a large digital array in the center of Main Street, show the work and milestones occurring in each discipline.
- Conference rooms and every classroom are equipped with the latest technology, including 80+” interactive televisions.
Building as a Learning Tool
From personalized learning to large group instruction, all types of learning can occur throughout the entire campus, not just in the classroom. During the design process, the district encouraged the mindset that every inch of the campus should be conducive for collaboration and instruction. To achieve this vision, technology, furniture, and operable and writable walls are intentionally utilized. Students can learn anywhere, anytime.
Furniture for the Center came out of numerous collaborative meetings with instruction, industry and purchasing discussions. The furniture in the classrooms and labs needed to be flexible but also replicate industry standards. Computer labs needed height adjustable chairs with wheels, construction required stools and health science needed stainless lab tables. The same attention to furniture was found down Main Street and in all collaboration spaces. Flexible and mobile furniture allows students to gather in small or larger groups. The power-filled “genius” bar flanking both sides of Main Street caters to students interested in individual workspaces. Furniture is a valuable tool in the campus’ landscape of learning.
Operable glass walls throughout the campus provide the flexibility to separate spaces for intimate learning or expand spaces for larger programs and instruction. One key example is the interactive observation lab (IOL). The main lab can be closed for instruction and demonstration or can open into the Main Street plaza and allow for observation or even transportation of a vehicle from automotive tech. Walls down the corridors all have tackable wall surfaces to display student work or for quick pin-up space to discuss projects. Writable walls in conference spaces and on Main Street create spaces for impromptu sketching and innovation.
Community outreach generates a series of annual events such as Junior Achievement’s BIZTown, blood drives, Wellness First and STEM Day. The student-run bistro is an asset to the Center as well, hosting groups of people such as HCA Houston Healthcare West.
Students and teachers have a heightened sense of connection to activities and instruction taking place on campus because of the emphasis on transparency. A barrier-free environment encourages innovation and opportunities to visually interact and connect with the learning environment. This promotes cross-collaboration between students and programs, as well as inspire visitors.
Community outreach generates a series of annual events such as STEM Day, blood drives and Wellness First.
The district's vision was to design a school to prepare students for the careers of tomorrow. The environment at the Center emulates the industry so students can seamlessly transition from their program directly into secondary education or their industry of choice.
"The design of the Alief Center for Advanced Careers just naturally inspires those who enter. On the first day of school, when the students entered the building, they were astonished. From the architecture to the graphics to the furnishings, their eyes were wide and smiles were big. These same students now give tours to 6th and 7th graders in order to show them the program options that are available to them in the future. Watching these students talk about the Center and all it has to offer is gratifying because it is evident that they are truly proud to be a student in this amazing building."
- Jennifer Baker, Director of Career & Technical Education, Alief ISD
The community uses the Center for events, trainings and organized gatherings. For example, Junior Achivement's BizTown for fourth to sixth graders uses the career center's space to give students a hands-on experiment of entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness with the Center's programs as a backdrop of many of those very industries.
Purposeful and Practical: Results of Learning at the Center for Advanced Careers
The goal of the Center is to prepare students for the future, whether that be directly into an industry or a two- or four-year degree. The Center achieves this goal by providing an innovative, purposefully designed space and practical instruction. With these assets, students are equipped for their future.
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 72 percent of Alief ISD students from the 2017-2018 school year were college and career ready. After only one year of the Center being open, the TEA concluded that 85 percent of Alief ISD students from the 2018-2019 school year were college and career ready, a 13 percent increase from the previous school year.
Since the Center’s opening in the fall of 2018, the students of Alief ISD have not only graduated with experience in a state-of-the-art facility, but they have obtained over 194 student certifications annually that provide them with recognized benchmarks of skillsets far beyond the classroom.
These certifications by class include:
- Automotive Technology – NATEF Certification
- Construction Technology – NCCER and OSHA Certifications
- Culinary Arts – ServSafe, OSHA, Pro-Start Certifications
- Digital Design – Adobe Certification
- Welding – OSHA, AWS Qualifications and NCCER
- Architectural Design – AutoDesk, Revit, AutoCad Certifications
- Veterinary Science – Veterinary Assistant Certification
- Health Science – Certified Nurse Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, OSHA
The Alief Center for Advanced Careers is a place of limitless opportunities. The building functions cohesively, similar to the Center’s curriculum, ensuring a relevant, realistic learning environment that meets the needs of the modern high school student. At the Center, a variety of unique programs mirror the diversity of the student population. The space empowers students, enhances a community and elevates the future of bright, young individuals for generations to come. The concept and culture of the Center embody its motto, “Your Future Begins Here.” The Center is both a physical and symbolic representation of endless possibilities, shaping leaders for the careers of tomorrow.
Because the Center's curriculum focuses on careers, physically working is integral to both learning and teaching styles. Many health science students spend only a portion of their week at the campus and the remainder at the hospital in a job shadow program.
The Center has obtained over 194 student certifications annually that provide students with recognized benchmarks of skillsets far beyond the classroom. Construction Technology offers NCCER and OSHA certifications.
By: Richard Chi, Co-CEO
Modern infrastructure was not properly equipped to respond to the unpredictable onslaught of COVID-19. Nevertheless, educators, administrators and communities have shown incredible resolve in response to the pandemic and continue to adapt to evolving standards, policies and expectations.
We would be remiss to claim a universal solution for reopening schools at this point. However, there are certain steps and considerations that can be implemented to optimize learning environments based on emerging research.
As an organization rooted in the advancement of education, we feel a strong conviction to lend our expertise as a resource to the institutions we serve. Our Wellness Design Task Force has brought forth the following recommendations, originally outlined in the Healthy Schools! whitepaper, for educational leaders to consider implementing in reopening plans for the coming school year:
1. Social Distancing
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the best ways to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to disease-causing agents by refraining from coming into close contact (within six feet) of others. The following are recommendations for physical and behavioral modifications, adhering to the CDC's recommendation to practice social distancing:
- One-Way Circulation – Separate individuals and manage the distance between them by enforcing one-way circulation in corridors and using signage on floors and walls to indicate traffic direction.
- Signage and Displays – Incorporate large signs and displays reminding students and staff to practice social distancing.
- Sink Spacing – Ensure 6 feet of space is maintained between restroom sinks.
- Floor Markers – Show appropriate spacing (6ft) using markers on the floor at serving lines and other areas that hold large crowds.
- Isolation Room – Incorporate an isolation space in the clinic for individuals potentially infected with a communicable disease.
- Taller Partitions – Increase partition height in restrooms to better separate individuals and prevent spread of airborne particles.
- No Lockers – Refrain from incorporating lockers in hallways to avoid students interacting in close proximity.
2. Safe Surfaces
Inevitably, surfaces in public spaces are touched by hundreds (if not, thousands) of people each day. The following solutions are recommended for limiting the spread of germs on frequently touched surfaces:
- Sneeze Guards – Incorporate sneeze guards to separate individuals and block the spread of germs.
- Finishes on Handrails – Select finishes with antimicrobial qualities on handrails and other frequently touched surfaces.
- Cleanable Furniture – Utilize furniture that features cleanable and/or nonabsorbent materials and surfaces. Clean and/or wash regularly.
- Foot-pull Door Opener – Install foot-pull door openers to eliminate frequent touching on a common surface.
- Additional Hand-washing Stations – Include hand-washing stations in commons, gymnasia and other areas where large groups congregate.
3. Clean Air and Natural Light
When particles that lead to respiratory infections are present, all airborne contaminants may recirculate through the mechanical ventilation systems and spread within the building. Consider implementing measures to remove harmful particles.
- Improve Ventilation – Designs that achieve higher ventilation rates reduce risk; Dedicated units with ducted return lower airborne disease transmission; Increased fresh air quantities lowers CO2 levels in classrooms.
- Interior Greenery – Interior features like green walls and skylit planters can improve indoor air quality by removing harmful substances and replenishing oxygen.
- Outdoor Learning – Provide spaces for outdoor learning and dining, which promote wellness through fresh air and natural disinfecting properties of sunlight.
4. Touchless Technology
Use technology that allows hands-free operation and minimizes commonly touched surfaces:
- Touchless Restroom Features – Install touchless faucets, soap dispensers and hand dryers to mitigate the spread of germs on frequently touched surfaces.
- Automated Doors – Add automated doors that do not require touching a handle to open or close.
- Touchless Point of Sale – Use touchless point of sale systems in food service areas.
- Laundry Room and Custodial Space – Include a laundry room for sanitizing washable furniture and other materials. Incorporate square footage for additional custodial space and storage.
These recommendations are not exhaustive, nor operating under the assumption that research and technology will remain static. Rather, they are based on applications that have proven to be effective thus far. PBK serves as a leader in public education and continues to pursue solutions for the advancement of learning environments.
For the most part, modern infrastructure was not properly equipped to respond to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team of experts who developed the enclosed recommendations challenged ourselves to answer the following: What can we learn from COVID-19 and how can we better plan and design facilities that minimize the spread of communicable disease while maximizing the protection of our natural environment?
As illustrated below, our ideas and concepts evolved into four main categories, with some overlap in between. They are: Social, Surface, Air, and Technology. As research and expertise on the nature of COVID-19 - and communicable disease in general - evolves, so will the insights and recommendations we bring forth. The observations and recommendations offered within this document are not exhaustive or prescriptive; rather, they are simple solutions to consider in preparation for returning to in-person learning.
"PBK and the Texas School Safety & Security Council are to be commended for leading the way in developing best practices in school safety. This white paper should be read by all who care about the education of our children and this comprehensive plan answers the question that is often asked about who is responsible for school safety."
Dr. Greg Smith, Clear Creek ISD Superintendent & TASA President
It could happen anywhere, any time or to anyone.
When the school day begins parents walk in with their children, teachers may get a high five from students entering the classroom and students expect to learn new subjects and enjoy time with their friends. Everyone settles in for another day at school but then an unknown visitor enters the facility. History has proven everything can change in a single moment.
School administrators and teachers live in a world where they go to school each day often wondering if they are safe.
Since the tragedy of Columbine High School more than 20 years ago, 301 people have been killed and 461 have been injured in school shootings, according to Newsweek.
Implicit in the premise of our educational system is the belief, and trust, our schools will be safe havens where our children’s learning and academic, social and emotional growth develops.
It is difficult to imagine a more basic drive than the instinct to keep your child, or any child, safe; particularly in a school environment. Moreover, our schools exist as places of learning but only within the basic expectation that our schools will, fundamentally, be safe.
Educators, school administrators and counselors agree if a child is hungry at school, learning is unlikely to take place. Equally true is the theory if a child is scared for their safety or has a fear of violence, then learning is likely not occurring.
It would be myopic to assume any message on school safety focuses primarily on “active shooter” events; environmental threats represent a far greater threat to mass displacement, injury or death than any human threat we’ve experienced to date.
The intent of this article is to:
- Identify a proficient authority on safety and security in schools
- Provide clarity and eliminate the “Tower of Babel” confusion about school safety to cut through the noise and identify common sense safety and security best practices
- Provide a concise framework for engagement to improve school safety and security
Read the full whitepaper here.
By: Sean Elliston, P.E., Director of Sustainability Leaf Engineers
Energy modeling software has improved continually since it was first developed more than 30 years ago. As building mechanical and electrical systems become more complex, teams can better analyze them by creating energy model simulations. Energy modeling simulates building operation and produces useful performance data to evaluate design decisions.
Energy modeling has been gaining a stronger presence in building design. An energy model is most recognizably associated with a LEED certification or building energy compliance following the performance pathway under IECC and ASHRAE, but there is a growing need to integrate energy modeling into every project's workflow. In the past decade, development of net-zero commercial building has surged, and alongside every design is energy modeling. Net-zero buildings are driving the industry forward to a higher standard.
Education facilities -- K-12 schools, higher education and general education -- make up 37 percent of emerging or verified net-zero building in the United States and Canada, according to Getting to Zero: 2018 Getting to Zero Status Update and List of Zero Energy Projects. K-12 schools make up 50 percent of education facilities. Because K-12 schools serve as a lasting part of a community, the need to be designed to benefit existing and future generations. Whether or not the design target is net-zero, energy modeling can play a role in getting a project to the next level. Modeling helps identify aspects in a design to reduce energy consumption and determine which design options are the best fit.
THE BENEFITS OF ENERGY MODELING
Three key benefits of energy modeling are holistic representation, energy performance prediction and quantifiable results.
Holistic representation looks at the building as a whole. Design alteration affects energy performance. Sometimes this result is more obvious than others. Understanding some interactions may be tricky, but energy modeling overcomes this challenge by incorporating design features and simulating all compounding interactions together. This enables teams to better understand the interactions and carry out lessons learned when pursuing future projects.
Energy performance prediction is benefical before constructing a new building. Gauging energy performance enables a design team to avoid complications once a project is complete. As technology advances, design teams are more capable of incorporating new technologies into a model to fully predict whether energy performance increases or decreases. This eliminates guesswork and hesitation when taking on a new project. Additionally, energy performance prediction is critical for net-zero design because estimated annual energy consumption is needed to size the on-site renewable energy system. There are also more design options available with a higher level of control strategies. Using energy modeling ensures a team is on the right path for optimum energy efficiency.
Understanding the impact of results ultimately leads to better decision-making. Whether energy performance increases or decreases is only half the story. The other part is knowing how energy consumption changes with various conservation measures. That information is needed to make informed decisions. Quantifiable results enable various design alternatives to be measured for comparison and see how they will affect a building's energy performance. Once the amount is identified, planners can direct their focus to design strategies with the highest energy cost savings.
Some design strategies vary depending on building location, type and construction budget. Energy modeling creates an opportunity to explore and discover what fits for specific projects. This ultimately empowers design teams to make more educated decisions, including design factors such as return on investment.
STARTING THE PROCESS
Several resources are available to guide design strategies for reducing building energy usage. The Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings - Achieving Zero Energy has an entire chapter with a list of strategies to guide a building toward reaching net-zero. Even if a project's goal is not net-zero, these strategies help reduce energy consumption.
There is no perfect energy model. Many variables go into an energy model, and unfortunately, some of these variables have the possibility of misaligning with a building's actual utilization. The energy model is dependent on assumptions, human input, estimated occupancy and building behavior. Assumptions and behavior discrepancies always persist. The trends and comparisons observed in the energy model results may contain inherent deviation from actual construction, but still convey valuable insight. In the end, energy modeling is a valuable tool compared with the alternative of rudimentary hand calculations and intuition alone. Producing an accurate energy model requires extensive skill and experience.
The education building environment we create today builds the foundation that future generations will know and rely on for the sustainability of all building design. The level of design to deliver this reality comes hand in hand with energy modeling.
Energy modeling is the heart of the energy modeling software package, but there are additional features to some software packages to evaluate the indoor environmental quality. These include the ability to account for ambient daylight quality, quality views and thermal comfort control for a complete building performance simulation.
The net result is an environment that occupants enjoy and a system that is smart about the energy needed to operate the environment. Whether a design team's next project applies a single design strategy resulting in moderate improvement or applies a handful of design strategies that take the project all the way to net-zero, both building designs are moving forward.
One day all educational buildings will reach, then surpass the threshold of net-zero. It all starts with a single step. What is your team's next step toward a better building environment?
As published in American School & University Magazine.
“Function reforms form, perpetually.”
Stewart Brand, 1999
Learning is not a linear process; however, the design of learning spaces usually is. This disconnect often leads to miscommunication and flawed design. To put it another way, Don Norman says, “Good design is an act of communication between the designer and the user.” The fundamental problem is that both sides suffer from a communication gap. The language of design is hard to connect to the language of teaching and learning. Even expert teachers often fail to understand the relationship between their built spaces and what they are able to accomplish in class. This often results in a blind leading the blind kind of scenario.
There are a number of strategies that can be employed to try to mitigate this effect. One is to educate the designers and clients, particularly stakeholders on the instructional team. Workshops on how innovative teaching strategies relate to NextGen learning spaces can benefit both the design team and end users. Integrating this into the early stages of your design process can lay the groundwork for smooth planning going forward.
Another strategy is to employ design thinking principles such as those developed by IDEO to create a more iterative and inclusive design process. The IDEO method starts with empathy in which clients are walked through a series of scenarios that envision how they will make use of the spaces being designed. Then the design team goes through an ideation process and develops a set of prototypes designed explicitly to meet those requirements.
The problem with this methodology comes in the subsequent phases where testing of prototypes at any sort of scale may not be possible. There are workarounds for this. First of all, pilot spaces can be set up and then used by the faculty who will ultimately be the users of the new space. Our experience working on Houston Community College’s West Houston Institute indicates that this is highly desirable if you have enough time or can leverage a multi-phase project. However, time is a luxury not afforded to most building projects.
An alternative to new pilots is to see if there are existing teaching and learning innovation experiments occurring at the institution while developing the new space. In a seminal piece called Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows describes a hierarchy of leverage points, “the higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it.” In other words, questions that challenge core assumptions, especially if they come from outsiders, are likely to be met with resistance from stakeholders. We should not underestimate how much next generation learning spaces can challenge core elements of the way teaching and learning are done at an institution.
One strategy to overcome cultural or systemic resistance to change is to combine IDEO’s elements of empathy with an understanding of Meadow’s systems-thinking theories. If the designer can figure out what parts of the institution are already changing or are driving change, he or she can take advantage of any existing momentum for change and base designs around the needs of those innovators. This will increase the chances that those spaces will be adopted more effectively and willingly. In other words, it is critical to assess the cultural capacity for change before introducing too many innovative concepts into a design or risk those “innovations” falling flat.
Finally, to maximize your chances of success, a follow-on program of professional development is highly recommended. Too often teachers are dropped into unfamiliar classrooms under extreme pressure and asked to teach. This is a recipe for frustration and failure. Under those circumstances, it is not surprising when they revert back to familiar habits and try to reconfigure the classroom back to what they are used to, whether the design affords that or not. Identifying a core group of teachers and giving them targeted professional development, which they can then share with their peers, will significantly improve the uptake of innovative designs.
At the end of the day, any learning space design team has to approach its task in a holistic fashion. It needs to be sensitive to the likely communication issues between end-users, facilities decision-makers, and the design team. Most importantly, the designer needs to accept that learning must take place as part of the design process in order for effective learning to be an outcome of that process.