School and Community Mutually Benefit
The town of Swampscott, Massachusetts, needed both a new high school and a new senior center. School and community officials came together to design a high school that also included a senior center with its own parking space, bus drop-off, and entrance. Seniors were given access to the school’s workout facilities, library, and computers. Since the school benefited both the school district and the town itself, community support was great and funding was no problem.
This is one of a number of schools that are being designed and built today to serve both the needs of students and the needs of the residents of the community in which the school resides. With cuts in both school and city budgets, it makes sense to combine efforts and use new or existing school space for community activities when school is not in session.
The benefits of this kind of partnership are many. Planning and building together creates a strong bond between the schools and the communities they serve. In many cases, the community provides the extra funding and support schools need to expand or improve their space; in return, the community gains access to a portion of the school’s facilities that fills a need within the community. In some cases, the benefits are unexpected. In the example above, both the high school students and senior citizens learned to accept and respect each other’s activities. When the school library had to cut the librarian’s salary and shut down two days a week due to budget cuts, the seniors volunteered to staff the library those two days in order to keep it open for both the students and themselves.
Planning for Partnerships
Building a school in partnership with the community takes some planning, forethought, and creativity. School and community officials have to think outside the box and discuss the synergies that can be achieved by working together. They need to look at the big picture and determine exactly how the school will be used, aside from education. Once this is mapped out, they can move forward with design drawings and layouts.
There are many ways to combine school with community. Below are a few examples.
Create a community center that allows community residents access to the gym, pool, and workout facilities
Create space for a daycare facility with the possibility of older students participating in the care of the little ones
Use the cafeteria as a soup kitchen during evenings and weekends. Perhaps this would encourage students to volunteer their time to serve the community.
Build a separate entrance to school health care facilities so they can be used as a walk-in clinic during off-school hours
Make meeting space available for various community groups, such as the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, etc.
There are many combinations that might benefit the overall community if school and town officials are willing to work together and be creative.
Logistics and Creativity
Of course, there are also logistical considerations to take into account when combining school with community. School and town officials need to consider zoning and placement of the shared facilities in order to maintain a secure and safe place for students. Controlled access will most likely need to be incorporated for the public use areas. Rules and guidelines will have to be put in place regarding who’s using the space during each part of the day; and the possibility of expanding operational costs due to monitoring and maintenance should be considered.
Building a partnership between schools and the communities they serve makes good sense. It may take a little effort and creative thinking. Officials will have to come together and truly decide what they want for their community, considering not just the needs of the children, but of the community as a whole. The end result will be worth it: a school that benefits everyone and is truly the heart of the community.