Chapter 4 starts a second section of the book dealing with networks, particularly with the idea that the location is not just the “store shell” so much as the building, a parking lot, and beyond…the whole background.
This Chapter did a quick overview of three Charter schools in Buffalo (NY), Charlotte (NC), and Laramie (WY), most of which want to fly under the radar — two of the spoke only on the question of anonymity, although they were happy to give tours, etc. What I found particularly interesting with these examples was that they started with a relatively new entity — the fledgling school — looking for a site to lease. They didn’t have the money to buy, couldn’t build, etc. and basically didn’t have the full capital to take on the whole project at once. As a startup, they could commit to a lease, and then grow the business and organization towards later purchase.
Some of the aspects that were not immediately obvious:
- Repurposing an old vacant school was often an obvious and alternate choice, but with challenges for renovations to bring them up to code for electricity, plumbing, etc.;
- The Walmart or Kmart sites were immediately fully accessible for persons with disabilities, with options for everything on a single floor, wide hallways, etc.;
- Lighting was often an issue for interior rooms, so design often defaulted to hollow squares where the centre could be a gym or cafeteria, leaving the classrooms around exterior walls where windows could be cut out; and,
- While the big box stores were up to code, often the plumbing for washrooms were limited to a couple of areas and the plumbing was buried in concrete, so extra trenches have to be dug early to reach the extra requirements for a school.
I also found the idea of community not an obvious element, not so much of the Big Box, but of the nature of a Charter school. Since they are not limited to geographic catch-basins (like neighbourhoods for typical schools) but rather open to the entire city to attend, transport often becomes incredibly important. Meaning the extra parking spots for drop-off and pick-up make things much easier. Equally, because so many of the kids need transport-by-parents, the Schools need to offer extensive before- and after-school care, way more than normal schools. Which means they need spaces for that to function. However, contrasting that, many “blended” families or non-cohesive families (divorced parents with shared custody for example, living in different areas of the city) find the option great, since they don’t all live in a single “local” neighbourhood.
Overall, though, I think it was the “initial lease” and the ability to build as they grow which made it so interesting. In some cases, walls around the interior school belied the fact that behind was just empty “open” warehouse-like space…ready for the next round of school rooms to be built or a gym or a special area for technology, automotive, or creative arts, all of which can be built and worked on without disrupting the rest of the school — the school can be open while other renovations are going on. Our son’s school has just gone through massive renovations within an existing space, and it really disrupted life around them. But once they reached a certain critical mass, the last areas were empty spaces that could be worked on separately. Unfortunately, that required moving some kids to portables, something that doesn’t need to happen in a Big Box that can just build, build, build inside. Plus they are doing it inside, even when weather is bad. Certainly a totally different project than trying to renovate an old abandoned public school.