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Secondary school buildings provide the setting for the second phase of a child's formal, compulsory education in the United States-high school or grades 9 through 12. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first enacted in 1965 and reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act, is the principal federal law that affects kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12). The Whole Building Design Guide includes "community" colleges in the secondary school category. Community colleges and high schools are similar in scale and connection to the community. Indeed, community colleges often serve as bridges between high school and a four-year college or university.
Brunswick High School-Brunswick, Maine
The site plan for this 1200-student school is a model of environmental responsiveness. Thirty percent of the total site area has been retained in its natural state. Water runoff is also strictly controlled. The water detention area, holding tank, wetlands, and ponds treat the water effectively and at the same time serve as a first rate environmental education lab for students.
Like elementary schools, secondary school buildings have the potential to enhance or undermine the learning process. They need to be comfortable, healthful, safe, and secure. Community colleges and high schools, often intended as joint-use facilities for other community programs, must provide accessibility, flexibility, and durability. Because of year-round use, it is particularly important to manage operational costs, and that requires life-cycle cost analysis. While all K-12 schools today need to accommodate computers, secondary schools have greater need for integrated technologies that support more sophisticated curricula and performance arts. Secondary schools are more likely to be used for community events, from public meetings or performances in the auditorium, to athletic competitions in the gymnasium, or the natatorium.
A. Types of Spaces
Fundamental space types for secondary schools include, but are not limited to:
- Swimming Facilities
B. Design Considerations
- Design for future flexibility, which enables spaces to be easily modified.
The importance of the physical appearance of a public school should not be minimized. A school building that is attractive and responds to and is consistent with the design and context of the neighborhood, builds a sense of pride and ownership among students, teachers, and the community. The exterior should complement the neighborhood and reflect the community's values. The interior should enhance the learning process.
- Use daylighting analysis tools to model the interaction of lighting and materials that reflect or absorb light.
Briscoe Junior High School-Rosenberg, Texas
Durable concrete masonry balances the extended design life inside and outside this 600,000 SF building, using approximately 925,000 concrete masonry units to resist weather and day-to-day potential for occupant wear and tear.
(Photo courtesy of the National Concrete Masonry Association)
School districts typically separate their capital and operating budgets and therefore have little incentive to factor in the long-term cost of a building when making decisions about its design and construction. However, to reduce the total cost of owning a building while ensuring its quality, it is necessary to balance the initial design and construction costs with the cost of lighting, heating, cooling, repairing and otherwise operating and maintaining the facility.
- Use energy simulation and analysis tools to optimize energy performance (integrate daylighting systems, high-performance HVAC, energy-efficient building shell, and high-performance electric lighting)
To foster students' sense of community and individuality:
- Provide a "home base" for each student and teacher.
To ensure flexibility and adaptability for changing programs and enrollments:
- Use operable walls to increase the efficiency of large, multipurpose spaces, such as the cafeteria and gymnasium.
- Accommodate technology upgrades.
Historic school buildings-those that are 50 years of age or older-typically were the centers of their communities and were designed to optimize natural ventilation and daylighting. Communities should study the history of their schools and become involved in the planning of new schools in order to make wise decisions regarding renovation versus new construction. All of the pros and cons of renovating an old school should be weighed, such as:
- Structural integrity
- Community access
- Building orientation-solar access
- Daylighting opportunities (i.e., large windows) and possible barriers (multi-story buildings)
- Other features that enhance or hinder visual/thermal/acoustic comfort
- Potential to upgrade for energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety and security, and technology
- Community landmark; historic significance
- Proximity to residential neighborhoods (potential for walking/bicycling to school)
- Site preservation vs. disturbance
For information about preserving, rehabilitating, restoring, or reconstruction historic buildings see WBDG Historic Preservation Branch.
Secondary schools should enhance the health and productivity of students, teachers, and staff.
- Connect the indoor environment to the outdoors by providing operable view windows in classrooms and easy access from classrooms to gardens and other outdoor areas that can be utilized in the curriculum.
Newberg High School Addition/Renovation-Newberg, Oregon
Sustainable features in this flexible, multi-use student commons area include: ample daylighting, natural ventilation, recycled materials including bamboo in the courtyard, and exterior sunshades.
Architect: BOORA Architects, Photographer: Michael Mathers
- Accommodate safe egress from the building in case of emergency.
- Provide opportunities for safe walking and bicycling to school.
Like elementary schools, the challenge in secondary school design is to incorporate high-performance design features and technology cost-effectively. But high schools and community colleges have even more sophisticated technology needs. Some school designs are featuring wireless hubs instead of computer labs. Network reliability is critical. Media centers will have more information technology and fewer books.
Joint-use facilities are more common. Opening schools to the community dramatically decreases the development footprint because communities are constructing and maintaining fewer buildings and parking. This conserves land, building materials, energy and other resources, and enhances the value of civic life.
In high schools, grouping and separating spaces for public functions facilitates access, improves security, and allows for HVAC zoning to control energy costs. Community-shared spaces also require upholstered, comfortable seating. Visitors need convenient, well-lit parking areas. Color coding serves a useful purpose in secondary schools as well as elementary schools, but signage is particularly important for public events.
Consider security screening technology for secondary school students in addition to visitors. Sufficient entries are needed to prevent congestion but these must be supervised. To counter crime and vandalism, facilities should integrate technology with security-based design strategies such as appropriate landscaping and Crime Preventing Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
Scientists, planners, design professionals, public officials, school administrators, parents, teachers, and students are informing the current dialogue about optimal school design:
- School administrators, parents, teachers, and students are focused on meeting new testing standards, which calls for an enhanced learning environment with state-of-the-art technology and comfort control systems.
Relevant Codes and Standards
- National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF)-Managed by the National Institute of Building Sciences, NCEF is the largest source of school facilities information in the world. NCEF provides information on planning, designing, funding, building, improving and maintaining safe, healthy, high performing pre-kindergarten through grade 12 schools and higher education facilities.
Department of Defense
Federal Government Resources
- State School Facilities Agencies and Organizations
- State School Facilities Planning and Design Guidelines
- ASHRAE Standard 90.1 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings by American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, 2007.
Building / Space Types
- Department of Defense Education Activity Facilities Branch
- U.S. Department of the Interior / Bureau of Indian Affairs / Bureau of Indian Education
- U. S. Department of Homeland Security / Federal Emergency Management Administration
- U.S. Department of Education
- U.S. Department of Energy
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC)-Resources for high-performance school building design and procurement.
- Sustainable School Architecture: Design for Elementary and Secondary Schools by Lisa Gelfand. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010.
Points of Contact
- Judy Marks, Hon. AIA, Director, National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF at National Institute of Building Sciences), 1090 Vermont Avenue, NW, #700, Washington, DC 20005; Phone: 202-289-7800; Email: email@example.com