Selecting an Architectural Firm for your next Education Project

Article | 02.03.2021

Well-designed schools drive student success. What steps can you take to select an Architectural Firm to help you realize your vision to provide students in your District with Next Generation learning spaces that enhance student engagement, facilitate learning, and foster creativity? 

1. Identify your Needs

Does your District require help conducting an assessment or facility study? Wish to renovate or build an addition or new facility? Be sure to identify operational needs relative to sustainability, maintenance, and future fiscal viability.

When planning Next Generation learning spaces, determine what activities will take place and the square footage required. Account for furnishings, fixtures, or equipment necessary. Address concerns relative to safety, barrier-free access, acoustics, and thermal comfort. What technologies can enhance interaction amongst students and teachers or allow students to celebrate their successes virtually? Support social, anytime learning opportunities that can occur anywhere inside or outside the facility. Offer agility and flexibility by affording teachers the ability to present from multiple locations in a classroom while allowing students to watch the lesson from any vantage point. Design features should contribute to the value of the activity undertaken and lessons learned. Should students in the learning space feel calm and assured or energized and engaged? Is quiet reflection desirable? Is social interaction encouraged? Learning spaces should meet the needs of teachers and students while supporting trust, respect, and interconnectedness.

2. Conduct Relevant Research
Examine recently completed similar projects. Note what you like. For example, does the spatial configuration of the learning space work well? Are the materials and finishes utilized both highly durable and aesthetically-pleasing? Is ample daylight provided? How would students feel in the learning space? What design elements evoke that feeling? What was the cost of construction or timeline for the project? If needed, identify a consultant to assist you in generating your RFP or RFQ.


3. Set your Goals and Objectives
Referencing your research, summarize your primary goals and objectives. Establish your preliminary project budget. Budget control should start before the documentation process has begun. Set your Timeline. The Firm you select can help refine your schedule to meet project requirements. Scheduling will require the collaboration of the District’s Representative(s), Owner’s Representative, Construction Manager, and Architect. It should account for the design process, identifying project timeline goals, the elements of design duration, bidding and construction, construction material delivery, labor availability, and all construction activities, including post-construction.

4. Identify the Best Firm
To identify the Firm best equipped to take on your project, seek answers to the following:

  • Will best practices regarding the delivery of education and visioning for Next Generation learning environments be implemented?
  • Will you be welcomed as an active participant in the design process?
  • Do the Firm’s key professionals collectively hold decades of K-12 visioning, planning, and design experience?
  • To increase student performance and enhance community engagement, will architectural opportunities for your District’s facilities be explored that surpass warm, safe, and dry?
  • Will teacher and student objectives and experiences be noted when planning the learning environment?
  • Will lessons learned from past projects and knowledge garnered from participation in industry associations such as The Association for Learning Environments (A4LE) be shared?
  • To pass a bond issue, will a unique process that is citizen-led and community-driven be implemented? Will a compelling message that targets all segments of the community result in a win?
  • Are planning services such as facility assessments, educational visioning, or master planning executed in a manner that builds trust and ensures all team members feel their opinions are valued?
  • At the outset of the project, will assistance be lent to determine stakeholders, identify decision-maker roles, set clear project goals, and establish control to define actions?
  • Will you be offered the guidance necessary to make informed decisions regarding how you want to spend your District’s available funds and where you want to place value.
  • Can services needed be rendered in-house? Do consultants need to be brought on board?
  • Will information regarding the Firm’s fiscal health, work protocol, team, and fees be openly shared?
  • Will project quality and efficiency be enhanced through a set of standards that minimize errors and omissions and ensure timely completion of the construction documents?

You should feel confident that the Architectural Firm you select will deliver on what they have promised and help you envision, plan, fund, and design Next Generation learning facilities that equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. You should also feel assured that they will work collaboratively to develop a unique solution focused on your District’s needs while delivering maximum value relative to available resources.