By Charlie Jahnigen, AIA, LEED AP
This is the second post in a two-part series based on SHP’s facilities master planning process with Sycamore Community Schools. Click here to access a PDF of SHP’s presentation of the process from the 2019 EDSpaces conference.
As I mentioned in my first post, SHP has had the privilege of assisting Sycamore Community Schools with its facility master planning process. Now several years and several hundred people in the making, the district’s momentous efforts have paid off: its $127 million levy passed in November 2019, garnering 62% of support within the community.
While the Sycamore facilities master planning process was considerably more robust than many school districts may believe they need, the key elements of its success would benefit any school district of any size. So, without further ado, here are three more factors that led to a plan the community rallied behind.
Challenge Everyone to Keep an Open Mind
This may seem obvious, but let’s face it: as humans, we are notorious for making assumptions and letting past experiences sometimes unfairly distort our take on current matters. It’s imperative for all involved in the process to fight these urges. Truly listening to others and doing one’s level best to empathize with their point of view—especially when at first we feel the urge to dismiss it—is necessary.
Individual and collective open-mindedness is what ensures the process and the solution don’t get robbed of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.
Transparency Pays Dividends
Throughout the process, the Sycamore school district went out of its way to keep the community informed. All of the data collected was shared in various public sessions and posted online.
For example, during the facilities assessment portion of the process, the cost of renovating (versus replacing certain schools within the district) was calculated. The figures were posted online for all to see. Another example: when we were at the point in the process in which specific plans were being shared in public sessions, we equipped participants with devices that allowed them to express their opinions on certain matters. What’s more, the results of these “in the moment” polls appeared on a screen, in real-time, for all in the room to see.
This sort of transparency builds trust in the process and its ultimate recommendation. While not everyone will, of course, agree with every single element of a final plan, at least they’ll know that the recommendations were not simply cooked up by a few people in some smoky backroom.
Don’t Assume Community Buy-In
No matter how much or how often you involve members of the community in your facilities master planning process, you can’t assume a victory at the polling booth. Despite the deep and wide community involvement in Sycamore’s process, the district still invested the time and effort necessary to build and maintain a large, well-organized campaign committee. “The opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings” –and this process isn’t over until the funds are secured to realize it.
SHP has helped dozens of school districts of various sizes with their facilities master planning. If your district could use an experienced partner to help you approach the process in a manner that aligns with the best practices noted here, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you.