The multi-state regional devastation that occurred as a result of hurricane Katrina must now be rectified by a multi-level, whole-systems approach to economic and community redevelopment. Education, and particularly educational facility planning, will have a very important role to play in this process, and as a result, can provide an invaluable social stabilization role.

The redevelopment of the tri-state region impacted by hurricane Katrina will parallel in social and economic magnitude Britain’s Greater London Master Plan after World War II. Back then, in addition to rebuilding the greater London area after the massive devastation to the war torn central city, a multi-regional strategy, comparable in size to the Katrina disaster area, undertook the redistribution of London’s population and economic influence to numerous new town developments throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. These new towns were built along with their necessary social and economic infrastructure in previously barren pastures in the English countryside. It was not easy and it took time. But the complex mission of establishing economic vitality and the feeling of community in these desolate regions of England, traditionally needing generations to accomplish, had been met in mere years or decades. Now, on a fast-track basis, America’s Gulf States must accomplish a similar mission to reestablish social structure and economic viability in only months and years. This is a daunting task at best and one that demands a whole-systems, multi-level strategy of which education and school facility provision will play an important role.

To be successful, it is critical that any reconstruction and new town development must be seen as a focus on people in neighborhoods, which create sustainable communities, not simply rebuilding buildings along streets with adequate power and sewers. Constructing buildings is relatively easy. Creating a symbiotic long-term sense of social order and economic stability is the true mission and is much more difficult.

The rebuilding of education and educational facilities must operate with an understanding of county, multi-county, and regional redevelopment strategies while also remaining committed to the “grass roots” local control of the neighborhood school. In short, the incremental one-step-at-a-time traditional process, which has been the historical foundation for education provision for generations, needs to be more flexible in its approach. City and neighborhood redevelopment activities, including educational provision and school facility construction, must now, more than ever before, coincide with regional considerations impacting the macro-level economic and community redevelopment of a multi-state region.

Educational systems planning must be holistic in approach and think far beyond being simply student centered. Thinking must be community centered. This will require, however, that educators, unfortunately devastated by the hurricane aftermath, think “out of the box” and not just rebuild what has been destroyed. They must see this unfortunate event as an opportunity to rebuild a social infrastructure that can ultimately be far better for its students, the emerging new communities, and the economic picture of the entire tri-state region of the southern United States.

 

A Multi-Regional Planning Framework

To be successful, educational redevelopment planning and particularly the planning and placement of educational facilities should consider the following overarching goals:

  • County and Multi-County Regional Oversight: Macro-level educational strategies, emphasizing county (Parishes in Louisiana) and multi-county redevelopment planning will be required to assure the most economical and phased location of educational facilities, continuity of K-12 curriculum and instruction, and realistic strategies for program and design flexibility as populations of students return to revitalized Gulf Coast states.
  • Rebuild Schools for Strategic Flexibility and Expanded Community Use: Simply replacing traditional configurations of elementary, middle, and high school facilities may not be a practical or appropriate solution under these unique conditions. It will be important to plan educational infrastructure that can be flexible to provide grade level and multi-enrollment transition over time while also providing joint-use community and recreational facilities and supporting other social programs necessary to the establishment of stable community redevelopment and growth.
  • Local Neighborhood Control: The cornerstone of education in this country has been the close relationship of education with the communities in which it operates. Communities and schools are inextricably connected. During a time of trauma, and particularly such massive community restructuring, the role of education must be seen as critical in terms of social stabilization during the rebuilding of established communities and the building of new replacement communities.

Ten Educational Planning Concepts to Consider

The ten macro- and micro-level educational planning suggestions below will encourage the flexible integration of education with the regional economic and community challenges facing the Gulf Coast states.

Multi-County Oversight Including Education and School Facility Construction: Multi-county redevelopment oversight should include economic redevelopment, infrastructure redevelopment, and very importantly, the coordinated development of social services, including education and school facilities. A multi-level team approach, which includes school construction planning, can support the most focused allocation of capital construction resources to those areas where economic redevelopment and housing will occur first. This may require that school district planning temporality put aside traditionally established local boundaries and pre-hurricane community boundaries in favor of a more free flowing economic and community-wide outcome that better corresponds to the demands and pace of long-term, large-scale regional redevelopment.

Since many of the residents have already relocated, and may not return, softening the restrictions of established geographic and historically demographic boundaries may not be as difficult as it seems.

Joint-Use Facilities Between Schools and Community: School planning should coordinate with community facility redevelopment to provide the fastest and most economical infrastructure replacement possible. This may require rethinking of traditional financing methods on the part of local municipalities and school district finance officers. Options to consider may include, but not be limited to, the inclusion of the following programs within traditional K-12 educational facilities and sites:

  1. Health care facilities
  2. Recreational facilities
  3. Multiple housing and school site co-development
  4. Community libraries
  5. Interim community college facilities

K-12 Schools – Cross Curricular Flexibility: In the hardest hit areas, where redevelopment will take many years, consideration may be given to providing K-12 schools in lieu of the previous traditional building grade configurations. Such a strategy, although only recently emerging in many school districts, provides numerous flexibilities worth consideration, such as:

  • Single-site economical construction
  • Proximity to and influence upon nearby residential redevelopment
  • Maximum flexibility and economical building expansion across all grade levels while retaining curriculum continuity
  • Opportunity to create “small schools” to emphasize individual student needs and student emotional stability
  • Minimize costs of administrative overhead in favor of teachers and student-centered support staff.

 

Flexible Designs for Grade Level Reconfiguration: If K-12 schools are considered in certain instances, planning may benefit from considering design flexibilities for future conversion to K-8 schools as enrollments reach appropriate break-points justifying high school construction. As regional enrollments increase, high school construction will be size justified. This flexible design solution will maintain the continuity of K-12 education in the short term, provide a stable “small schools focus”, provide economical site development, and result in minimal construction material waste during a time of high construction material demand.

State and Federal Funding: A multi-county regional approach to education and facility planning can provide a more structured organizational framework for expenditure and auditing of resources for education generally and educational facility infrastructure replacement specifically.

 

Modular Buildings: Although modular buildings are not considered by some as a favored approach to educational space shortfalls, they may be particularly appropriate during this time of rebuilding. Modular buildings, when properly planned and placed on site, can create a very successful “village” atmosphere, rather than the historical military barracks appearance.

Recently developed modular buildings are larger and have improved in energy efficiency, technology acceptability, and internal flexibility, not to mention outside appearance. They can be an important and acceptable transitional solution.

Never Ending Communications with the Public: A public relations campaign during a time of extensive rebuilding may be important to ensuring community support for education generally, remaining focused on the mission of educational excellence, remaining sensitive to the social challenges of community redevelopment, and maintaining sustainable economic stability through strong family ties. Maintaining a positive long-term social and psychologically localized commitment to redevelopment may be as, if not more important than, simply the replacement of buildings. Public relations toward providing this important social stability will be an important secondary role for education.

Reusable Design Prototypes and Systems Construction: A reusable prototype design may be a necessary option during the early phases of reconstruction. A flexible design for either K-8 or K-12 schools may provide economies of construction and expedite placement on similarly circumstanced sites in numerous simultaneously redeveloping communities. Trying to avoid a replacement mentality of replicating what was once there may be difficult, but essential. Since many of the new residents will not have previous local history, there is less connection to previous school designs. Future planning may better focus on educational performance within the new context of the future, not the past.

A regionally developed team of qualified educators/planners/designers can create a very successful flexible and functional prototype design in a short pre-planning time frame. Construction could begin within 2-4 months depending on size and location.

Disaster Sustainable Design: Although many schools in the region have been designed for hurricane-force winds, a post-hurricane evaluation may reveal opportunities for design improvement. Any new facilities should be designed to better serve neighborhoods during future hurricanes.

“Shopping Mall” Schools – really out-of-the-box thinking: Massive economic redevelopment after a disaster is not pretty. Previously thriving neighborhoods and economic hubs of activity lay idle and become “pastures” of open space that separate and isolate emerging replacement neighborhoods. Education’s participation in redevelopment planning may have to create new delivery models never before considered. This may even include utilizing safe-to-occupy shopping centers or malls for interim educational use. Properly planned, otherwise not immediately economically viable facilities in the short term can provide large volume spaces for physical education and libraries, adequate parking, and classroom “store fronts” close to revitalizing neighborhoods. Such a short-term lease approach to educational provision can also provide economic stability to landlords otherwise facing bankruptcy from extended vacancies.

Educationally Appropriate Options for the Future

The southern state regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama will rebuild. That is our human nature and that is our national priority. Having worked extensively in the planning of educational facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi, and other southern states, I am confident that such rebuilding, if planned comprehensively within a community-wide redevelopment framework, can actually result in an enhanced educational product. As tragic as this natural disaster was and as challenging as the rebuilding will be, the end result may actually rectify once and for all the historical social and educational inequities that have plagued this region of the country for generations.

From here forward, planning and rebuilding must result in 21st-century communities, stable regional economics, and educational excellence that supports a quality and sustainable regional environment and social future for the Gulf Coast states.

Franklin Hill, Ph.D.
Franklin Hill & Associates, International

Franklin Hill & Associates provides district master plans, facility master plans, and educational specifications for new and remodeled buildings for school districts, universities, and corporations. They often work directly with the educational client or as part of an architectural design team.

Frank has unique qualifications in urban planning, curriculum, and educational facility planning. He was facility planner for the countywide 100,000-pupil Duval School System in Jacksonville, Florida. He has urban design qualifications from England supported through a World Bank scholarship, which included a focus on the post WWII implementation of the Greater London Master Plan and Britain’s new town developments. Frank’s practical experience also includes being a VP for both an architectural and program management firm. He has been a consultant to several new town developments nationally including the Disney Development Corporation’s Celebration K-12 School outside Orlando, Florida.

Please send your comments and ideas directly to Frank@franklinhill.com or visit his website at Franklinhill.com.