42 / BUILDING DIALOGUE / September 2020 ELEMENTS Reopening Schools Design Strategies to Help K-12 Schools Reopen amid COVID-19 K -12 school systems face a remarkable challenge this fall: Providing safe, com- fortable and effective learning experi- ences for students while also adhering to nec- essary safety guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Districts recognize the value of bringing students together for in-person learning, but there is no clear roadmap through the pandemic. Whether a district chooses tobring studentsback in full or ahybridvari- ation, they’ll need to forge paths throughnewhurdles relatedtovirtual learningat scale, social distancing, ca- pacity restrictions and more. In the face of these chal- lenges, designandoperationsplanningcanbeanasset. Here’s a look at key areas where it can have positive impact: • Capacity. Critical to districts’ success this fall is understanding how many students can fit in school environments with appropriate social distancing. For example, classrooms that could typically hold 25-30 students will nowonly be able to accommodate about half that number. As standard classroom capacity is reduced, schools will look to cafeterias, gymnasiums, libraries, art, and music classrooms and reshape them formore core academics. As districts make these shifts in their facilities, they should consider emerging capacity dashboard tools that can help themanalyze specific spaces and overall buildings to determine the appropriate number of stu- dents for eachsetting. These tools ensureeachdecision related to student capacity is informed by data and vi- sualization. • Ventilation and engineering systems. One area whereK-12schoolscanmakeanimmediateinvestment and impact is their mechanical systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning has published a report with seven recommendations and strategies facility directors should consider when determining readiness and operations for existing school facilities after shutdown. ColoradoK-12 districts areusing the report as a guide to ensure all systems run at peak performance. It cov- erswhat should be verified now, in theweeks immedi- ately leadingup to reopening, andonce school is opera- tional. These lists cover checking building automation systems, ensuring filters are changed, and training maintenance staff. • Circulation. Focusing on circulation can facilitate social distancing in a K-12 facility: Many schools are creating one-way paths through- out buildings students and staff must follow. To make these paths successful, extensive signage andwayfind- ing is introduced. Minimize student travel throughout the building and interaction with others by bringing art and music programs to their “home classroom.” School lunches will need to be served with minimal contact, either they are picked up by the students or delivered to eat in their classrooms. There won’t be groups of students sitting and eating together. With concerned parents and fewer students able to safely ride buses, most likely, more students will be dropped off via car than in normal years. This likely will increase congestion during peak hours. Schools should plan for how they’ll facilitate this in advance. • Active learning. In recent years, architects have been grouping classrooms to create learning suites that empower students to move, be curious and ex- plore as they learn as opposed to the traditional class- room experience of sitting in rows of desks all facing the front of the room. This is a positive shift and can help during the pandemic. The fact that the state of Colorado is considering adopting the cohort model to organize students and classes is further evidence that Anne Weber, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C Practice Leader, Pre K-12, Cannon Design Active learning suites allow for community and collaboration.