As president of the American Institute of Architects South Carolina, I hear regularly from our members about the grim economic environment throughout the state. The Governor’s idea to solve the state budget woes and the rising cost of college tuition with a moratorium on construction is short-sighted, especially since the universities have said that the lack of state funding, not building projects is the cause of rising tuitions.
Typically, the construction industry accounts for nine percent of the national gross domestic product and the state of South Carolina needs to do everything possible to put our large construction industry back to work. My husband and I are both architects and have had our firm for 21 years. In good years we pay five figures in South Carolina income tax, in 2009 we paid $44 and it looks about the same for 2010. If all the architects, engineers, surveyors, contractors and suppliers in South Carolina were fully employed, it would generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue and the state could appropriate more money for higher education to reduce tuition costs.
The fact is there is no better time for building projects: Interest rates are at an all-time low; construction companies are eager to work at very competitive prices; our state economy badly needs a stimulus; and fully employing our construction industry workers will boost state income tax receipts. Every $1 billion spent on building projects increases the state’s gross domestic product by almost $2.3 billion; creates 24,000 jobs with $720 million in personal income. We need jobs – not moratoriums!
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Election time in South Carolina is often one characterized by politicians offering up solutions that surely would worsen the situation they are attempting to address. In this vein, the American Institute of Architects agrees with gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley that “The best decisions that are made are local”. However, Candidate Haley seems to disregard her own policy when she endorses the practice of utilizing stock plans in building schools: “There is no reason to reinvent the wheel every time a school is built – using a single, template set of plans will allow us to put the money spent on architectural fees back into the classroom.” Likewise, Mick Zais, candidate for Superintendant of SC Schools, claims as part of his platform, that “One size doesn’t fit all”. He too has endorsed the flawed notion of stock school plans, which by definition is a one size fits all solution. Zais claims that school districts “need to be given flexibility in designing the academic programs to best meet the needs of the students.” Yet Zais does not include the flexibility to design the appropriate environments to fit those academic programs.
The American Institute of Architects South Carolina firmly believes that school facilities should be designed and built to address the specific requirements of the site, locale, and certainly the diverse needs of children and teachers using those schools. Stock plans or “scalable pre-designed templates” involve a multitude of hazards that have resulted in all 25 of the states that have attempted to use them ultimately abandoning the practice. Some of the explanations given include:
• Stock school plans increase construction costs. Due to the varying topography, climate, seismic and soil conditions throughout the state, stock plans will invariably encounter construction conflicts in the field, dramatically increasing change order costs and delays. These job and site-specific conflicts are regularly eliminated during the programming and design phases of school projects by qualified architects.
• Stock plans do not address different curricula and teaching methodologies among districts. Many districts have vocational/adult education requirements or art and science requirements that demand unique facility layouts and use; security needs are different; and special students’ needs are different.
• Stock plans are not free. They must be created and detailed to completion. For the school to function properly, an architect must be hired to modify the standardized school plans according to the site’s topography, location of roads, access to utilities, climate, and site orientation. Modifications of stock plans to fit local conditions typically costs 2/3 to 3/4 of the original fee. Results are that there is very little savings in design fees and the community whose tax dollars funded the school must live with a building that may be marginally adequate for their needs.
• Standard plans are contrary to a free market. Stock plans limit competition among building product manufacturers and suppliers. Lack of competition typically drives building prices upward. The standardization of specification forces many component manufacturers out of the bidding process. Schools are constructed with tax derived funds and all segments of the building industry provide these taxes and each segment should have its chance to participate in accordance with its competitive edge.
• Stock school plans increase life-cycle costs. Like snowflakes, no two school sites are the same – in most cases, they are dramatically different. Building design must take into account orientation to the sun, differing climate zones as well as district specific uses for the buildings. Each of these factors greatly influence school design, and when not appropriately considered, will result in increased maintenance and utility costs, decreased life span for the building systems, as well as inefficient and ineffective buildings that must be maintained for years to come.
• Liability becomes complicated when a stock plan drawn up by one architect is modified by another architect. In South Carolina it is illegal for an architect to sign or stamp construction documents that he or she did not personally prepare or directly supervise. An architect hired to use existing documents would essentially need to disassemble the plans and recalculate each element to be assured they are designed to his or her standard. The costs and time involved in such a task are considerable, and could easily outweigh the perceived benefits of using stock school plans.
Ultimately, we would pose the following question to candidates Haley and Zais: what school delivery model serves the children of South Carolina and those responsible for their education in the most beneficial manner? Is it a model that curtails innovation, limits competition and provides the bare necessities of a factory-like learning environment? Or is it a different model, as the American Institute of Architects South Carolina believes– one that promotes local engagement and free market principles that produce a well thought out learning environment for producing the leaders of tomorrow? We invite the candidates to reconsider what course is best for the future of our state.
When the founding fathers created our government, they decided that the public should elect officials who are more educated than the typical citizen to make decisions beneficial to the public’s wellbeing. Positions by current political candidates in our state have proven our elected officials are not more knowledgeable than the general public. Facing a failing economy, Superintendent of Education candidate Mike Zais and Anderson House of Representative candidate Don Bowen have noted that they support stock school plans as a means of saving money. This week gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley joined in, ironically after giving her support of charter schools because they offer a different approach to public education.
On the surface, it seems logical that developing standard prototypical building plans and specifications can reduce design and engineering cost. However, the American Institute of Architects estimates that the average building design cost is three percent of the total project cost. Prototypical plans do not eliminate the necessity for hiring architects and engineers. Each prototype plan will have to be adapted to fit a different site with different traffic patterns, topography, sidewalks, soil conditions, etc. Depending on the solar orientation of the site selected, the mechanical system may have to be redesigned. Besides, architects will still be needed to bid the projects and perform construction administration services to ensure that the contractor is meeting the intent of the construction documents.
In 2004, the state of Arkansas published the findings of a task force developed by their state’s legislators to study the benefits of prototypical school designs. The findings of that task force were that there is little or no savings for prototypical designs. Their findings were similar to a study in the early 1990’s by the Facilities Services Section of the Georgia Department of Education. Georgia mailed surveys to the fifty State Departments of Education and received forty-one responses. Only three states (Maine, New York and Virginia) reported that they had used prototypical plans in the past and none of those states were currently using standard plans for the construction of new schools. In the 1960’s, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to fund eighteen separate stock school plans. The state spent approximately $650,000 to develop nine plans. After the plans became available, only two schools were constructed.
Stock school plans are not feasible due to constantly changing building codes and regulations. Our state adopts a new building code every three years and updates the Office of School Facilities Planning Guide every year.
One of the biggest obstacles for stock plans is the liability risk. Architects and engineers design buildings to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. The design team receives training to design structures to meet architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical codes. The requirements of these codes vary depending on the part of the state the school is located. The design team holds responsibility and has professional liability insurance to cover themselves. An executive with Schinnerer & Company, a major insurer of architects and engineers, warns states of “confusing the lines of responsibility” and possibly violating the state’s own licensing laws by duplicating the same plan throughout the state.
The greatest reason to not build prototypical designs is that each community is as different as the children that it serves and the school should reflect the needs of the community. Some schools have very active PTA’s that raise large sums of money to help fund their children’s education. Some schools have PTA rooms for the vital organizations to meet and store their materials. Other, less fortunate communities do not have PTA’s and could better utilize space to teach GED classes for parents or social services organizations that serve their children.
Many of the same politicians who support prototypical school plans also support more choices for our children to learn. How can prototypical designs provide the spaces needed for the varying programs? Magnet schools such as Stone Academy for the Arts in the Greenville immerse children in a curriculum focused around the arts. It is doubtful that the state will provide a typical design for an elementary school with dance and music studios. Some schools, such as the new A.J. Whittenberg Elementary and Engineering School that just opened in downtown Greenville, utilize the building as a teaching tool. From their engineering lab, students can look out their window onto the roof below and view a green roof and photovoltaic panels from which they can calculate the energy gained from the sun. Stock school plans will not enable school designs to meet the specific needs of a school’s curriculum.
If legislators want to save money, they should encourage school districts to share resources and facilities. Traditionally, the really successful schools serve as the center of the community and the community is more likely to support funding of the schools if they see a benefit. Fort Moultrie Middle School in Mt. Pleasant has a beautiful arbor-type structure in front of the school. The City of Mt. Pleasant paid for the structure and uses it on Saturdays for a farmers market. Anderson School District Four built a full-size gymnasium at Townville Elementary School. The gymnasium serves to meet the recreation needs of rural, yet desirable area near Lake Hartwell. And Greenville County Schools has partnered with the Salvation Army so that A.J. Whittenberg Elementary can share site, facilities and programs with the new Kroc Center.
To the average citizen who is rightly concerned about the state’s economy, having prototypical school plans seems like a logical way to save money. History has not proven this to be true. We are affected by our environment and each school should be designed to meet the needs of each community. Politicians have been told of the pitfalls of prototypical school designs, yet they do not think that the voters of our state are intelligent enough to understand. In November, prove that our citizens are smarter than politicians think.
Scott E. Powell, AIA, LEED AP
Principal and K12 Studio Leader at Craig Gaulden Davis
Board member of South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Member of South Carolina Office of School Facilities Planning Board
Member of the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI)
Member of South Carolina School Board Association
Mick Zais, candidate for Superintendent of Education and Andre Bauer, Gubernatorial Candidate have both spoken in favor of stock school plans for the entire state. Stock plans are a one-size-fits all approach to school building that will not work for many reasons.
• Stock plans cannot address varying code requirements. Buildings on South Carolina’s coast require different structural approaches and materials from buildings in the midlands or in the upstate.
• Stock plans do not allow flexibility for curriculum changes, teaching methodologies, or unique community needs.
• Proper design can lower construction cost and help lower the life-cycle costs that occur once the facility is in operation. Architects are able to keep school building costs below other construction because of the constant attention to changing market conditions and adoption of the best materials.
• Stock plans take away local control form school boards who know what is best for their community.
For these many reason, those who have the communities and students best interest at heart should vote not vote for Zais or Bauer.
Architecture Month is designed to promote an understanding and appreciation of the art and craft of Architecture within the community of Greenville, SC in order to encourage an ever higher level of quality in the city’s built environment.
For more information, please see the official Architecture Month website