Facilities affect the quality of education.
Facilities affect quality of teachers and staff.
Facilities affect athletics.
Facilities affect the variety of electives.
Facilities affect extra-curricular activities.
Facilities affect safety.
Facilities affect comfort.
Facilities affect reputation.
Facilites affect first impressions.
Facilities affect ENROLLMENT.
Remember when you were young and someone in the know would say “Don’t be afraid … It’s just the angels bowling.”? That is precisely what I was thinking as the building reverberated from the force of one of the most ferocious thunderstorms I had ever experienced. With rain so loud and menacing on the roof top that an ‘end of the earth’ thought briefly entered my mind. Normally I would relish a good storm, but at 3:30 in the afternoon when it was as literally as dark as night, I was a bit unnerved. I had to resist temptation to take cover and wait it out.
As the storm was occurring, and I was trying to focus on writing, I began to perceive similarities between the turmoil overhead to what I see happening within many catholic educational facilities. While some are adapting and weathering the storm well, others are being adversely affected by the innovations and developments flooding around them. Advances in technology are occurring at a rate that only kids with time on their hands seem to be keeping up with. Our competitors in the public school systems have a renewed focus on quality education and have been coming up with creative, sound business solutions to funding improvements in both their educational programs and facilities. And parents are viewing these new and renovated public schools in a much brighter light, particularly in financially strenuous times.
In the meantime, many catholic school enrollment bases are declining, reducing the course and extra-curricular offerings, causing further reduction in the enrollment base, and so on. It’s a painful cycle and one that’s challenging to break, but break it we must. We can’t sit idly by in hopes of waiting out the storm when the end result may be closing the school. We need to acknowledge that the problem is real – facilities matter to the success of our schools – and take on the challenge of resuscitating them.
Sustanined enrollment in Catholic Schools is supported by three factiors:
advancement efforts, the educational program, and the quality of the facilities.
In all of these offerings – sometimes 3-4 days running simultaneously – I have only seen a few of the seminars being dedicated to planning, maintaining, renovating and/or building new facilities as a method of retaining and increasing enrollment. Yet, if you ask the parents, quality, technologically advanced facilities are equally as important to their decision making process as are course and athletic offerings, and as equally important as the right versus wrong approach that catholic schools provide.
School administrators with outdated facilities and on a downward enrollment trend have said things to me like, “oh, maybe someday things will turn around and we can update our 1960’s science labs” or “we can’t afford to upgrade so there’s no reason to develop a master plan”. I say to you and them, if you are having facility issues now, you can’t afford to wait. The issues must be tackled with inspirational leadership and a positive attitude that WE CAN do something to make a difference. Yes, it’s challenging or even overwhelming, but your alternative is failure and a closed school. So have faith, buckle down and get started.
A. Develop a Plan
When I say develop a plan, I don’t mean a band-aid plan that may fund and fix one looming issue. I’m talking about a Long Range Campus Master Plan (15-20 years) that provides your community the opportunity to reflect on its history and heritage, to assess its current condition and needs, and to create a vision to prepare for the future. The process should evaluate the existing campus site and buildings, along with the student enrollment and educational program to determine their ability to meet the vision of your schoolIn developing a campus master plan, look to your architectural consultant to provide at a minimum the following:
- Development of a Vision for the school (if not already in place)
- Define/documentation of all physical inadequacies and needs of the campus site and buildingsInventory of existing educational, administrative and general spaces.
- Inventory of existing and potential land holdings and their ability to support expansion or other
- Determination of the desired educational program
- Calculation of the space requirements for the desired educational program
- Brainstorming of solutions
- Development of cost-effective, step by step options, using phasing if necessary, that fulfill the vision.
- Creation of the final Campus Master Plan document, that directs your school into the future, and the creation of presentation materials (renderings, video fly-throughs, 3-D models) to visually portray to your constituents the ultimate goal.
Your reasons for generating a master plan are many. In addition to providing a clear picture of your facilities current condition and providing a solid direction for repair, renovation and maintenance, your research and due diligence show to your donor audience that their donations for modifications or additions will not be spent haphazardly. The documentation and visuals created will easily convey the plan, and you will have a much greater chance of them understanding it, agreeing with it … and ultimately in assisting you fund it.B. Find a Way to Fund It.
B. Find a Way to Fund It.
When seeking funding start early and don’t let apparent road blocks stop you and shelf your Campus Master Plan. Be creative. Think outside the lengthy capital campaign box. The multitudes of seminars out there dedicated to the funding topic are very helpful. One method I found of particular usefulness to schools who are seeking to renovate and/or build is a NCEA backed tax-exempt bond program specifically designed for faith-based schools. (www.coughlinandcompany.com/financing/)
Large Corporate Donors – Mortgages – Refinancing – Matching Gifts
Capital Campaigns – Grants – Loans – Tax-Exempt Bonds
I don’t maintain to have all the answers but I do know that if we structure and perceive our schools as business entities, positioned in competition – fierce competition – with public schools, charter school and any other venue that has the ability to take students from our classrooms, we have a fighting chance. Strategies that bring our business to a level academic playing field should be fully examined and employed. We need to ask ourselves questions like, “Are our academic course offerings technologically advanced? Is our communication system as quick as the student’s?
When we achieve facilities and systems that are equal or better than our competitors, it is then that our faith and service core strength can truly be effective in bringing the decision maker to the point where ‘tuition free’ is not a deciding factor…where the benefits of a Catholic education are not deterred by aging facilities. When 21st century academics are supported by 21st facilities, our extraordinary faith and service components will allow us to not only weather the storm, but to dance in the rain.
Steven C. Habeeb, AIA is dedicated to the advancement of Catholic schools and the mission of the Catholic Church. He has helped many schools effectively prepare for the future by developing the most appropriate path forward to solving the problems of the school’s campus, while meeting the educational goals and vision of the school’s administrators. Steven has over 30 years’ experience in designing educational projects, and has evaluated space and rehabilitative needs for over 100 schools.