Designing schools equipped for future adaptability

Instead of creating various rooms for specialty functions, schools are now incorporating educational spaces that can serve many needs.

By Doug Everhart January 13, 2020

Adaptability is a common term in today’s construction climate as more building spaces are becoming multi-functional. Instead of creating various rooms for specialty functions, schools are now incorporating educational spaces that can serve many needs. This helps districts future-proof with adaptable spaces that can be repurposed as needs change in the future.


At Henderson Engineers, we know the landscape of educational environments is constantly evolving, so we provide design strategies that account for inevitable shifts in curriculum and student populations. We make sure the building systems we design will support future flexibility.

Missouri Innovation Campus was planned with future adaptability in mind. A collaboration between Kansas City-area businesses, a local school district, and two nearby colleges, this facility was designed to provide high school juniors and seniors with real-world work experience. Students can earn a four-year bachelor’s degree within just two years of graduating from high school. The Missouri Innovation Campus program received national recognition from former President Barack Obama who called it, “a recipe for success for the long-term.” Here is how we helped the team at Missouri Innovation Campus create a flexible learning space:


Understanding that curriculum and student populations are ever-changing, our team is driven to design spaces that can change with them. We look at how the building systems are laid out and work with district leadership to plan for future needs. This approach helps protect the long-term operation of major pieces of infrastructure equipment while granting students and teachers flexibility in the classroom.

At Missouri Innovation Campus, we maximized flexibility and longevity with durable central systems and zoneable downstream control. Dependable and robust, the central system is fully equipped with air-cooled chillers and boilers, natural gas condensing boilers, and variable speed VAV handlers — making the system capable of zone-based control and future modification to ensure high performance and flexibility. Classrooms are outfitted with local controls to allow adjustments to temperature and lighting as needed. This same principle of performance and adaptability is applied to every building system in the facility. For example, many of the electrical receptacles in this facility are mounted to cord reels overhead which can be adjusted on flexible power busways and relocated should the layout of the room need to change at any point.


In the world of educational facility design, 21st century learning means that every space is a learning space. Additionally, career readiness programs require environments that are as close to the real thing as possible. As engineers, we have to expertly coordinate every building system and incorporate sophisticated controls where possible to achieve optimum functionality in these complex projects.

Because the Missouri Innovation Campus program incorporates vocational training, the building systems had to account for specialized systems in certain areas. For example, rooms like nursing labs required dedicated exhaust and power for specialized equipment while the broadcast technology studios needed unique lighting arrangements and dimming control in addition to an increased amount of power availability to accommodate mobile equipment. The open concept of the building makes it possible for even corridors to be used for group work and coordination, which enhances the demands of low voltage systems and wi-fi. Each area has unique requirements for specific systems and those systems must function both individually and as a whole for the space to be successful.


Ongoing coordination with facility managers is key to making sure the building systems in these flexible spaces are properly maintained — not only to meet the needs of those using the space but also the needs of those running it. Utilizing building monitoring and trending to manage these systems can help prevent issues and resolve them before they’re even noticed.

Incorporating highly maintainable, fully-automated building controls at Missouri Innovation Campus allows the facility’s staff to stay informed and have complete control over the building systems. This readily accessible system gives them the freedom and flexibility to make adjustments from anywhere, at any time. By equipping them with the information they need, the facility managers are able to maintain every detail of the complex building systems.

The key to designing adaptable building systems is inviting end-users to the table. That’s why we not only meet with teachers and staff to get input, but also step into their day-to-day to see how they interact in their space so our design meets their specific needs. At the end of the day, our goal is to bring an environment to life where learning can thrive both now and in the future.

This article originally appeared on Henderson Engineers’ website. Henderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner. 

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: If you need an expert in K-12 education design, look no further than Doug Everhart, a vice president and our K-12 practice director at Henderson Engineers. Although he is well-known for proactivity and responsiveness, what really makes Doug stand out is his awareness and knowledge of a client’s needs with a great understanding of the future of education design. Doug leads a team of education experts, and lucky for us, he is as talented in fostering a strong work ethic within his team as he is in designing innovative learning environments for the students and teachers who use the spaces he’s been creating for more than a decade. His calm and steady leadership throughout the design process makes him a favorite with clients. No surprise he’s a favorite of ours, too.