Bluffton school designs to consider curriculum, district says

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 7, 2013 

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Enrollment, the terrain of the construction site, potential natural hazards -- all can influence the design of a school building.

Another factor the Beaufort County School District is considering as it prepares to build two new schools in the Bluffton area is the curriculum and programs offered.

For instance, if arts instruction is emphasized, a school might be built with more studio space than a typical school.

To stem crowding concerns at Bluffton's schools, the district intends to build a school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and a high school by fall 2015. The academic programs for the schools have not been chosen, but a decision is expected by spring.

Tailoring their designs to the instruction offered follows a statewide trend, according to Delisa Clark, director of the state Department of Education's Office of School Facilities. The approach can optimize resources, so that classrooms and specialized spaces are built to proper dimensions and suitably equipped, she said.

The trick, though, is to avoid designing a school into a corner, according to district chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads. That's because class offerings and areas of emphasis will likely change during the life of a school building.

"We want to look far enough out so we can anticipate if things might change," he said. "We want some flexibility and the ability to be multipurpose."

That's a smart approach, according to Fred McDaniel, former president for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International.

"The big emphasis has been on designing schools around flexible space so that as programs ebb and flow and evolve over time the buildings are able to adapt," said McDaniel, who also is the chief planning officer at the Richland 2 School District. "Flexibility is the name of the game."

One way to achieve both flexibility and a degree of specialization is through "flex labs," superintendent Jeffrey Moss said.

Flex labs are large instruction areas that provide many utilities -- water, electricity, special ventilation and ample storage, for example -- and allow many specialties to be taught and activities to take place in the same space, said James Hite, whose firm has been hired by the district to design the two schools.

"We see these designs everywhere we go," said Hite, of North Carolina-based architectural firm Hite Associates. "These labs need to be flexible to allow for whatever the programs or curriculum may be."

This especially would allow for many different career and technical programs to help prepare students for jobs, Moss has said.

Hite said he hopes to have floor plans developed by the end of the month. The contracts with Hite for the two schools total around $3.3 million.

The school district has budgeted $25 million for the elementary school, paid for with money from a February bond issue. The high school has a projected cost of $42 million, which includes athletic fields, Moss said. It will be paid for with money the district is allowed to borrow without a referendum.

A flexible space model should not cost the district more, McDaniel said. It actually can help save money in the future by being easily adaptable and not requiring renovations, he said.

The district hopes to have programs for the schools decided by early spring after sending a survey home to parents to see what programs they prefer for their children. Moss has discussed having a career-ready program at the high school.

It is hard to argue against flexible space, McDaniel said.

"If you have a space that can accommodate the different programs and curriculum but also be flexible to adjust for future needs, that would be ideal," he said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Bluffton schools' design goes to NC firm familiar to superintendent, November 22, 2013

School board approves architecture contracts for two new Bluffton schools, November 19, 2013

School board selects Hite Associates to build new Bluffton schools, November 5, 2013

School district prepares to interview architects for new Bluffton schools, October 28, 2013

School board decides to build two new schools in Bluffton, October 1, 2013


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