I am grateful that the School Building Committee hosted me and so many interested citizens from our town last Thursday night at a community forum about the new Lexington High School project. We should all be excited that Mike Burton, the Project Director from Dore + Whittier, our Owner’s Project Manager (OPM), commended our town for being so progressive as to have decided on the building sustainability goals prior to selecting the architect—it is the first time he has ever seen this done so early in his long career! Congratulations to our town’s Sustainability Department and Committee for their tireless—and effective!—work.
I am confused and disappointed, however, as it seems we have not yet decided on what the learning outcomes should be for this new building. There was much discussion about being able to accommodate our growing student population—obviously a very important concern—but no mention of how we will ensure that our teachers will be able to keep up with the changing needs of our students over the next fifty years. What I learned from Jason Boone, the Educational Programming Review specialist at Dore + Whittier, is that each of the three short-listed architectural firms will present at their final interview alongside an educational consultant of their choosing.
This seems backwards. As they say in design, “form follows function”—meaning that a building should be in service of its purpose. Given that we are building a school, shouldn’t the learning outcomes for our students be fixed and everything else variable? Said differently, shouldn’t all of our decisions about this project be in service of achieving pre-identified learning goals—including selecting a designer/architect who can help us achieve those goals?
I am shocked to learn that in such a progressive town with such a strong commitment to education and so many educational experts in the community that we aren’t jumping to own the process to identify and engage with educational consultants. Instead, we are allowing designers to bundle this into their offering. What if the committee prefers the educational consultant from one firm and the design potential of a different firm? How can our community be assured that we are keeping our students’ learning and life outcomes at the forefront of our decision making?