School Business Affairs November 2019

32 NOVEMBER 2019 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS for life in the larger world. After a few test fits in facili- ties along the I-495 corridor, school officials identified a vacant 40,000-square-foot office building in Marlbor- ough, Massachusetts, that was large enough to accom- modate the school and, with some renovation, to meet the academic, social, and developmental needs of the students. Planning as a Community Effort Designing a school to serve students with autism is a community effort that brings together the perspectives of clinicians, parents, administrators, faculty members, and students. The Crossroads School design process began with a school community charrette. The charette was valuable in many ways: • It helped designers understand the instructional pro- gram and the community perception of the school. • It helped set expectations about what could be accom- plished within the tight budget and the even tighter schedule. • It gave all stakeholders an opportunity to speak and be heard, regardless of their experience educating special-needs students. • It leveraged the enthusiasm of all stakeholders and gained their buy-in. The designers used value engineering—a group effort to obtain the best value at the lowest cost—to reconcile the community wish list with cost and time constraints. For example, they retained the office building’s heating and air-conditioning equipment to save money but invested in windows for the classrooms that would provide natu- ral light and potentially decrease the cost of electricity. The thoughtful approach to planning with a com- munity charette ensured that all the new learning spaces would be functional and sustainable—meeting the needs of current and future students. Designing for Students Students who are overwhelmed with sensory input often act out, affecting their own and other students’ ability to learn; consequently, they may need some quiet time in a separate space. Locating that separate space can some- times be problematic. Previously, when staff members had to take students long distances in the building to reach calming spaces, they often had a harder time helping the students settle. In the new facility, breakout rooms and time-out rooms are much closer to the classrooms. The 13 restrooms scattered throughout the school also make for less teacher and student time away from classrooms. Sound attenuation in the hallways and classrooms reduces noise levels and helps students focus. Wider hallways allow students and teachers to walk side by side, which helps teachers to better support stu- dents and also reduces students’ physical proximity to walls, which decreases the possibility of damage to the facility if students act out. What’s more, abuse-resistant drywall and durable doors allow teachers to concentrate on students rather than on damage control. Uniform classroom size allows for flexibility of the student population. The previous space was designed for students ages 4 to 22—classroom sizes varied, with smaller rooms designed for smaller children. However, because autism tends to remain unidentified until later, fewer young students were enrolled than expected, and older children were being taught in classrooms sized for much smaller children. Classrooms in the new Crossroads School are all the same size; teachers can use every classroom effectively for their standard group of six to eight children or youth, regardless of age fluctuations in enrollment from year to year. The now-larger classrooms also have a des- ignated “safe space” corner so students can take a break from social activity when needed. Simulated living, medical, and dental office spaces help students develop independence and feel comfortable in stressful situations.