Questions about the design of facilities abound in discussion groups. Will media centers as we know them be built 20 years from now? Will classroom and mobile technology trends make physical space irrelevant? Continuing and rapid changes in program staffing, program delivery, and technology are a given, making it challenging to design a facility to meet future program needs.
Above all, what is needed is to think not just about a place but about multifaceted environments planned to support a range of activities. Media centers, which are being increasingly described as “learning commons,” must have multiple teaching and learning spaces to accommodate large and small groups and individuals. Nowhere else in the school is there a place that potentially supports all students and curriculum in such a significant and varied way. Planning must be done with flexibility and potential reconfiguration in mind as needs change. The physical design of the facility shapes and may also limit the program’s direction and delivery.
The Value of Hindsight
Hindsight, both the “what works” and the “we should have” types, about new facilities I was privileged to be involved in planning offered me much to think about. The media centers my school district built in the first decade of this century are beautiful and well-used. They are functional and should serve the students well for many years. Knowing that change is a given, how long is “many years”? Media specialists and others planning new facilities have much to consider.
Convenient access and a welcoming environment make my district’s new media centers places that students and staff want to be. They are inviting, open, comfortable, and safe gathering places as well as the information and go-to centers for the school. Central location remains crucial even as virtual access and classroom technology increase. A new K–4 media center would have been built less expensively and in a less convenient location if some arguments had prevailed. Recommendation: Don’t assume planners fully understand the necessity of central locations and amenities. Bring that concept to all planning sessions.
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