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CEG Blog: How Construction & Design Professionals Serve the Education Market

A closer look at what it means to build student's futures.

Fri September 27, 2013 - National Edition
Maria I. Wilpon -Assoc. AIA

[Editor’s Note]: Each month CEG is presenting a blog contributed by members of Professional Women in Construction (PWC). Founded in 1980, PWC is a nonprofit advocacy and support organization dedicated to the advancement of professional, managerial and entrepreneurial women in construction and related industries. PWC has chapters nationwide.

Construction and Design professionals who serve the education market are dedicated to building and renovating spaces that will improve the learning environment for students, teachers and administrators. Classrooms are designed for optimal learning – in terms of comfort, visibility, natural and artificial lighting, acoustics, equipment and other variables based on the latest research. Other structures from athletic buildings to residence halls to performing arts facilities all contribute to the overall experience. We aren’t just building facilities: we are creating communities in which learning thrives. The designs need to provide places where sparks can fly, whether through faculty interaction, student gatherings, quiet study, performance, recreation, dining or rest.

The education market sector takes into consideration the ever-changing world in which our clients operate. Constant improvements in technology, fluctuations in the size of the student body, even the languages spoken by students—all have changed and will continue changing for our clients. Education clients are trying to balance environmental responsibility with fiscal responsibility. They want sustainable options that have a long-term payoff. As in all other sectors, education clients are feeling the pinch of limited budgets. Public colleges and universities are finding that funding from the state level is being cut. Private colleges often are faced with shrinking endowments. All are looking for creative ways to increase revenue and reduce expenses, as well as new ways to finance projects.

The timetable for getting a degree has become more flexible – as has the location of the educational institution. It’s no longer unusual for a college student to take five or six years to get a bachelor’s degree. Students are taking time away from their studies to earn money, to travel and to engage in various activities that will ultimately enhance the learning experience. These changes affect how higher education clients market to prospective students and how they estimate the size of the student body. Interactive computer-based courses, holographic delivery of a course in diverse areas of the country, international networks of universities, extension facilities—all of these trends can change the number and schedule of the students on campus. They can require the development or renovation of both off-campus and on-campus facilities. Clients rely on the planning and design capabilities of experts to help them respond to these changes.

C & D professionals need to be aware of many other factors including the relationship between the facilities and the community. For example, in higher education, residence halls and athletic facilities are frequently located on the edge of campus causing concern from the surrounding neighborhoods about noise, traffic, and other factors that could impact the quality of life. Builders and architects need to be sensitive to these issues and find solutions that satisfy all. Education experts need to provide information, staff support and designs that help clients meet both their own needs and the community’s.

Finally, sustainability is a priority that affects all sectors of the education market. All firms need to focus on building sustainable facilities that provide the flexibility to support rapidly changing technologies.

Maria Wilpon is a member of the Board of Directors of Professional Women in Construction (PWC), and the Education Director of AECOM.

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