Educational Facilities  



Following a general trend across many building types, educational facilities are becoming increasingly specialized. For example, we have come to understand that classrooms intended for pre-schoolers are fundamentally different from those that best serve high school seniors or the training of mid-career professionals. Today, even the traditional idea of "classroom" as an instructor-focused learning space is changing. The growth of computer-based instruction, video projection, and other telecommunication requirements is causing us to rethink traditional educational patterns and spatial relationships.

From an environmental perspective, concerns for the health and well-being of students—particularly young students—are increasing interest in the improved performance and fabric of school structures. Strategies including daylighting, the specification of sustainable and non-toxic building materials, and the use of renewable energy sources are gaining attention in school design. At the same time, resources for the construction, maintenance, and upkeep of educational facilities remain in short supply.


Young children playing on floor mats and at tables in a well-lit, window-filled child development center

Child development center in Des Moines, IA.
Photo Credit: Architects Wells, Kastner, Schipper

Education is a lifelong process. This is reflected in the range of educational facility types for which information is available in the WBDG:

Additional Resources

Federal Agencies



  • Advanced Energy Design Guide for K–12 School Buildings. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); Atlanta, GA, 2008. — Assists design teams in constructing energy-smart schools using off-the-shelf technology that can cut energy use 30 percent or more annually. It provides recommendations for various climate zones and implementation advice via a series of case studies. Also included are suggestions for achieving LEED energy credits and supplemental strategies for achieving advanced energy savings beyond 30 percent. Design suggestions from the guide include: 1) Daylight the classrooms and gym so that lights can be off most of the day, but design it carefully so that additional cooling needs are not required. 2) Design lighting that uses the most current energy-efficient lamps, ballasts, and integrated controls. 3) Control the HVAC system based on actual occupancy of each space at a given time. 4) Design a well-insulated envelope, including good wall and roof insulation and low-e windows. 5) Use high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment.

  • American School & Universities Magazine — Provides relevant information for school and university administrators responsible for construction, design, planning, retrofit, operations, maintenance, and management of educational facilities.

  • CHPS Best Practices Manual. Eley, Charles, et al. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), San Francisco, CA, 2006. — Offers guidance on creating high performance schools in California. The manual consists of six volumes. Volume I describes why high performance schools are important, what components are involved in their design, and how to navigate the design and construction process to ensure that they are built. Volume II contains design guidelines for high performance schools. These are tailored for California climates and are written for the architects and engineers who are responsible for designing schools as well as the project managers who work with the design teams. It is organized by design disciplines and addresses specific design strategies for high performance schools. Volume III is the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) Criteria. These criteria are a flexible yardstick that precisely defines a high performance school so that it may qualify for supplemental funding, priority processing, and perhaps bonus points in the state funding procedure. School districts can also include the criteria in their educational specifications to assure that new facilities qualify as high performance. Volume IV (2004) covers maintenance and operations. It provides M&O staff, teachers, and administrators with strategies for avoiding improper use of building systems and poor maintenance practices that can diminish the energy performance of a school. Topics covered in this volume inlclude cleaning and calibrating building systems, selecting cleaning products, and reducing waste. Volume VI (2006) covers relocatable classrooms, offering an overview of the pros and cons of relocatables, specifications for a high performance relocatable, and advice on requisitioning, siting, and commissioning relocatables.

  • College Planning & Management — An information resource for construction, facilities, business, and technology professionals serving the college and university market. It features articles on facility planning, safety and security, maintenance and operations, business, technology, and finance.

  • Creating Connections: The CEFPI Guide for Educational Facility Planning. Association for Learning Environments (formerly CEFPI). — Guides new and experienced school planners from the conception of educational needs through occupancy and use of the completed facilities. Chapters follow the planning, design, and occupancy processes in sequence as follows: forming the educational plan, creating community partnerships, establishing a master plan, writing educational specifications, addressing design guidelines, evaluating and selecting the site, infusing technology, integrating sustainable design, working with a design team, evaluating project delivery options, identifying cost and funding options, monitoring construction, integrating maintenance and operations, and assessing the completed project. Numerous references, photographs, drawings, figures, and a glossary are included.

  • Designing the Sustainable School. Ford, Alan. Images Publishing Group, Melbourne, Australia, 2007. — Profiles 45 K– Schools from around the world that combine good aesthetics, sustainability, and high performance design. The projects represent a wide range of design solutions, location, and scale, ranging from a three-room schoolhouse in Burkina Faso to a 2500-student high school in California. Plans and photographs accompany each example.

  • FEMA 424 Design Guide for School Safety Against Earthquakes, Floods, and High Winds

  • High-Performance School Buildings Resource and Strategy Guide, 3rd Edition. Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, 2008.

  • NCEF Safe School Facilities Checklist . National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, Washington, D.C., 2008. — A checklist that combines the nation's best school facility assessment measures into one online source for assessing the safety and security of school buildings and grounds. It includes over 400 measures covering school surroundings, school grounds, buildings and facilities, communications systems, building access control and surveillance, utility systems, mechanical systems, and emergency power. The checklist is updated frequently and may be used for planning and designing new facilities or assessing existing ones.

  • Renovate or Replace? The case for restoring and reusing older school buildings Hylton, Tom. Save Our Land, Save Our Towns Inc. with funding by the William Penn Foundation, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Historic Schools Task Force, 2007. — Helps school boards and communities assess their options when considering replacing or renovating an established school. Considering the renovation the school within the context of neighborhood revitalization is emphasized, as is the construction quality typical of older schools, the assistance design professionals can provide, the value of small schools, the benefits of walking to school, the environmental wisdom of reusing older buildings, and the potential for adaptive reuse of older commercial buildings as schools. Case studies and opportunities particular to Pennsylvania are included.

  • Report from the National Summit on School Design: A Resource for Educators and Designers . American Architectural Foundation, Washington, DC; Knowledgeworks Foundation, Cincinnati, OH, 2006. — Presents the results of the 2005 National Summit on School Design, convened by the American Architectural Foundation and KnowledgeWorks Foundation. The report details eight overall recommendations made by Summit participants on a range of school design topics: 1) Design schools to support a variety of learning styles. 2) Enhance learning by integrating technology. 3) Foster a "small school" culture. 4) Support neighborhood schools. 5) Create schools as centers of community. 6) Engage the public in the planning process. 7) Make healthy, comfortable, and flexible learning spaces. 8) Consider non-traditional options for school facilities and classrooms. Each recommendation is accompanied by brief case studies and a list of additional resources. Plans for advancing a national school design agenda are highlighted, and the results of a team exercise in solving the problems of five hypothetical school districts are included. The Summit's 200-plus participants are listed, including teachers, parents, students, school administrators, education experts, architects, community groups, mayors, and other elected officials.

  • Schools and Kindergartens: A Design Manual. Dudek, Mark. Birkhaeuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland, 2007. — Illustrates the specialized field of school design with over 70 case studies from Europe, North America and the Pacific Region. The design of schools according to varying educational theories is explained in the context of varying national and regional approaches. Among the key themes analyzed are aspects such as the impact of modern communication technology, urban integration or internal circulation. Various authors contribute chapters on spatial configurations, acoustics, lighting, sustainability, outdoor spaces, nursery design, and facilities under reconstruction.

  • Schools as Centers of Community: A Citizens' Guide For Planning and Design, Second edition . Bingler, Steven; Quinn, Linda; Sullivan, Kevin. National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Council of Educational Facility Planners, Building Educational Success Together, Coalition for Community Schools, Dec 2003. — This publication outlines a process for planning schools that more adequately addresses the needs of the whole learning community. It explores six design principles for creating effective learning environments, provides 13 case studies that illustrate various aspects of the six design principles, and examines the facilities master planning process for getting started and organized, including developing and implementing a master plan. It provides references, sources for additional information, photographs and plans.

  • School Planning & Management — Written for school district decision makers, architects, engineers, and construction managers on facility planning, safety and security, maintenance and operations, business, technology and finance issues.

  • Department of Veterans Affairs VHA PG-18-9: Space Planning Criteria, Chapter 402 Educational Facilities


  • Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK) — an interactive portal offering online access to peer-reviewed research projects and case studies in all facets of building, from predesign, design, and construction through occupancy and reuse.

  • National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) — Created in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Education and managed by the National Institute of Building Sciences, NCEF provides information on planning, designing, funding, building, improving, and maintaining safe, healthy, high performance schools and universities.