Where engineers, students cross paths
School buildings have changed quite a bit over the past several months, and engineers are tasked with designing for these fluxes
The education market has been changing over the past several years, and the change accelerated when COVID-19 started having a dramatic impact in 2020. New construction and modernization efforts for K-12 building projects look to remain strong. School districts realize that students need more room to spread out.
Aging buildings have older heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to go with the building’s age, which often requires an entire overhaul to help mitigate COVID-19 issues. Schools are considering various mitigation methods and new technologies that require extensive changes along with facility staff training.
Higher education also took a hit in 2020. College and university dorms and classrooms emptied out. Safety of students rose to the top of the list of concerns, and like K-12 schools, space constraints and HVAC became major issues. College students often questioned their place at school, and questioned a degree’s value, putting further pressure on schools to excel in every way.
Hybrid or online-only learning affected all students. Many schools had a slow ramp-up when everything shifted to online education in spring 2020. Schools that had infrastructure in place made the transition seamlessly. Schools with less infrastructure, or students without access to broadband or learning tools, struggled horribly. Many students missed out on several months of education, or failed in an online environment.
Technology transformation accelerated over the past 18 months. Many schools moved to technology-enhanced learning, pushing engineers and information technology professionals to implement new cybersecurity measures, use artificial intelligence in both building design and classroom teaching and add a host of other high-tech systems that required engineered systems, such as new data closets.
Now that students are back in the classroom, modular rooms and fully connected environments are part of the equation. Whether that means moving desks around, reconfiguring square footage to maximize space between students or adding acoustical elements such as sound masking to a larger study hall, schools at every level must change.
For colleges and universities, sustainability has been at the forefront of design for many years. While the above COVID factors have taken a front seat over the past several months, sustainability will start to move back to the forefront of the conversation. Indoor air quality, bridging both COVID and energy efficiency topics, will continue to be a request when mechanical engineers are working on a space.
Natural design elements that bring the outdoors in are both functional and educational. The holistic atmosphere can aid in learning, according to some studies. That design aspect alone could change how classrooms look.