There are many things to consider in determining the amount of constructed area required to set up a school. We refer to the constructed undercover spaces in the school as “Ground Floor Area” or GFA. This is used in determining student capacity as well as costs for construction.
To state the obvious, if you have a large budget you might have big classrooms, wide corridors and an overall larger footprint in your school design. Schools with a smaller budget will have smaller classrooms, larger class sizes, less flexible learning areas and schedules that are particularly tight and demand efficient use of space. This article aims to help you think through the important factors in determining your floor area requirements as well as the land area required to set up a school.
Determining Overall Gross Floor Area (GFA)
For new international schools in the premium sector, we would normally consider 65-70% of the gross building area to be used for instruction and 30-35% to be ancillary space. Ancillary space is referring to administration, rest rooms, circulation, storage and constructed walls.
As a rough guide in the early planning phase we normally use 10-12 m2 per student as an average when calculating the required space or capacity. We are again referring to an international standard school with comprehensive facilities. Remember that different functions of the school and age groups have different requirements so this average is just a guide. For example: 1500 students might require between 15,000 – 18,000 m.
When we consider modern day learning spaces we don’t just think about classrooms in simplistic ways. In fact students learn in classrooms, they push out into break-out spaces, they work online and in many different forms and types of locations. The internal learning spaces, how they are used and their function is obviously a crucial factor in determining the area required to set up a school. To keep things simple however, we usually apply the following standards to high quality international schools with an assumed capacity of 25 students in a room:
Standard Classroom – min 75 m2
Standard Kindergarten Classroom – min 95 m2
Standard Science Lab, Art or Drama room – min 95m2
*Children in the early years obviously do not sit at desks in chairs and they learn in a play based environment with lots of mobility. Science labs and other practical spaces similarly require a lot more space for activities.
Floor Area Ratio (FAR)
Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is a calculation used to determine how many square metres (or feet) can be constructed on a piece of land. It is a method used to control construction density. For example, if a local law allows construction on a property with a maximum FAR of 0.20, then the total area of all floors in all of the buildings cannot exceed 2/10 of the total land area.
The school design will need to fit within these guidelines which determine how “built up” the constructed school will be. Another way to look at this and a measure used in some contexts is “how many hours of sunlight will enter classroom windows on the shortest day of the year.” In some locations where land space is readily available eg. rural Australia, buildings are just 1-2 stories and spread far apart. In cities like Singapore and Hong Kong space is a premium. This factor will influence land area, floor area and the cost of a school’s construction.
Determining Land Area Required
There are many considerations in determining land area including the FAR (see above), the potential of shared facilities (see below), and the functions and purpose of the school type. We normally allocate approximately 10 m2 per student as a rough guide for outdoor play and sporting areas. If you add the constructed building foot print + this outdoor area you can generally determine the land requirements. The following example might apply for 1500 students:
GFA over 2 floors = 15,000 m2 i.e. 7500 footprint.
Outdoor Areas: 15, 000 m2
Therefore Total Area: 22,500 m2 or 5.56 Acres
Strategies to Make More Efficient Decisions in the use of space
Shared Facilities: Many schools are now being designed in partnership with other organisations in communities to ensure efficient cost sharing of under utilised spaces. eg. It just doesn’t make sense to have several Olympic sized swimming pools, Athletic Tracks and other large facilities that are only used for parts of each school day, in a community when fewer can be shared by several groups of people.
Split Schedules: Knowing that teenagers function better at different times of the day it can be helpful to split the schedules of K-12 schools including different start and finish times for students. Lunch breaks and recreational time can also be scheduled differently so that the same spaces (cafeteria’s, gyms, playing areas) can be better utilised in rotation. Schools can also be used in the evenings or on weekends for other functions including adult learning, clubs, businesses or recreation.
Schedules/Timetables: Especially in secondary schools a highly professional timetabler can improve space utilisation by scheduling classrooms at maximum efficiency. While primary/elementary schools can be relatively efficient, secondary schools usually reach just 85-90% utilisation. Never assume that 20 classrooms designed for 25 students represents a capacity of 500 students. It just doesn’t work that way.
Use Professionals in the Design Process: It is imperative that your design team is represented by outstanding Architects as well as educational leaders who understand “use of space”. Space is valuable both in terms of cost to construct as well as utilisation. Taking extra time in the planning phase is invaluable.
If you want to learn more about the steps required to set up a school check out some of our other articles:
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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.
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