Dr. Douglas Huntley, a retired superintendent, and our design teams answer how COVID-19 might impact the design and renovation of educational facilities.
When New York State Governor Cuomo announced earlier this month that school facilities were to close through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year due to COVID-19, the return to normalcy became more unknown. Fortunately our remarkably resilient school system has largely continued despite buildings being closed since March 18.
Still, educational facilities fulfill a vital need and reopening efforts are well underway. Partnering with school leaders to support their reopening planning efforts, CSArch is exploring what this all means for the future of the built environment in a post-coronavirus world.
In collaboration with Dr. Douglas Huntley, a retired school superintendent, we asked our design teams how COVID-19 might impact the design and renovation of educational facilities now and in the future. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
Dr. Douglas Huntley, Retired Superintendent at Queensbury UFSD
Q: How can school buildings of the future be designed with pandemic preparedness in mind?
A: Like the response to the Ice Storm of 1998, Hurricane Katrina, and 9/11, our public school system has once again proven its resilience in the wake of COVID-19. Each of these catastrophes caused the need for our schools to respond and adapt into newer models, increasing and expanding their roles and assuming greater responsibilities.
As schools engage in building projects in the future, they may wish to design their facilities to be more adaptable. For instance, certain school buildings like a field house or gymnasium could be designed to be easily converted into temporary space for emergency shelters or hospitals. High schools are “good conversion options because they are found in almost all communities, are big enough to house 200-500 patients, have wide corridors, have mostly nonporous durable surfaces, and are designed for adults,” according to a Building Design + Construction Magazine article on how to turn a high school into a patient care center.
Though the design of hospitals is inherently different than schools, the ability to convert space to accommodate hospital overflow patients could become a new community function of schools in the future.
Years from now when we look back on the impact of COVID-19 on schools, we predict these physical modifications to the built environment will pale in comparison to the major changes in education that could be seen in the coming months and years. What we don’t expect to change is the way schools and their learning environments provide a sense of stability, connectedness, spirit lifting, and daily focus. For that reason, we expect the reopening of school facilities to be a day of cautious celebration.