students with masks in classroom

Schools Struggle To Expand Classroom Space

  November 20, 2020

By Dan Hounsell

As the next wave of COVID-19 rolls through the nation, facility managers in K-12 school districts are dealing with changes in occupancy levels, among a host of other challenges. Part of this challenge is determining how to host socially distanced students for in-person learning and determining whether schools require more space. Among the options is the use of non-traditional spaces for classrooms.

Some schools are getting creative about finding extra square footage to facilitate social distancing and reduce the health risks associated with in-person learning. Districts are setting up makeshift outdoor shelters, bringing in trailers to house classrooms and making use of otherwise empty spaces like museums. As infection rates rise across the country with the arrival of colder weather, some education leaders say they wish such approaches were taken more widely, according to U.S. News & World Report.

School systems could take cues from the health care system, which has found ways to increase capacity when coronavirus cases surge, says Joseph Allen, an associate professor of exposure science at Harvard University who runs the university’s Healthy Buildings Program.

Efforts to expand classroom space by school districts have found mixed success.

In ordinary times, the airy convention center in Hesston, Kansas, hosts weddings, corporate retreats and church events. During the pandemic, it has become a schoolhouse for the district's seventh- and eighth-graders.

In New York City, Council Member Ben Kallos pushed for unused commercial space to be repurposed as classrooms, along with libraries and senior centers. But the idea faltered amid concerns about codes, costs and logistics. However, some 1,100 New York City schools have been approved to spend part of their day outdoors. The city's schools have sufficient indoor space for social distancing but are also using alternative space like holding classes in parks or closed streets, says an NYC Department of Education spokesperson.

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.



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