Associate Principal Brian P. Whitmore, AIA, NCARB, LEED®AP provided attendees at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) conference an insider’s vantage point on how to procure and design space for charter schools. The workshop was well attended and detailed a number of effective, cutting edge practices that architects, construction industry contractors, and others with a stake in the industry can use to establish charter schools in California.

Whitmore is no stranger to this topic. He has been involved with charter school design since California legislated their formation in 1998. Currently, there are as many as 1,130 charter schools in California. Jerry Simmons, a friend and colleague, presented on this topic at a state chapter of CCSA with Whitmore. Simmons is an attorney with Young, Minney and Corr and has vast experience in charter schools. After learning more about Whitmore’s work at BCA, Simmons invited him to present at the statewide CCSA conference.

“There is ripe opportunity for the expansion of charter school offerings and designs in California,” said Whitmore. “This presentation was the perfect opportunity to show attendees how Paul Bunton and the team at BCA Architects can transform charter school environments using the elements of 21st Century Learning, including technology, mobility, and furniture to enhance the learning experience for students.”

“A lot of districts are becoming more and more engaged in the move to charter schools,” stated Whitmore. “The population of charter schools has nearly doubled in the last five years and is likely to do so again in the next five years. If you look at the growth, it’s just taken off.”

Early on, charter schools were often built in urban, economically challenged areas within California. Now as even more parents strive for the best educational opportunities for their children, charter schools are being built in more affluent regions

“There is a lot of competition for student enrollment in public school districts currently,” said Whitmore. “It depends if the districts are welcoming to charter schools and their contracts. If there is support, the question becomes where to locate space to build or reuse existing space.”

Usually, there is not a facilities budget available and a lot of new facilities are not built because the building of new facilities is expensive.  Pre-existing facilities are often more cost effective, but finding the right fit can be challenging.

“You have to be creative about what could be used for educational space – retail shopping malls, churches, office buildings – can all be good candidates if designed well. It also has to deliver a strong educational environment like a public school – good natural day light, acoustics, and outdoor play areas. Changing commercial to educational space requires a lot of pre-planning and a facilities manager to step in which we have done on many occasion,” discussed BCA Architects President Paul Bunton, AIA, NCARB.

Now that Whitmore and BCA have presented their ideas on converting pre-existing spaces into charter schools, the next step is to engage BCA’s funding entities and relationships in order to get more charter schools off the ground and running.

“Charter schools do not have advocates in the development facilities in California,” explained Devorah Merling, 21st Century Educator in Residence at BCA Architects. “Many in the industry ignore them due to lack of funding and don’t see the charters as strong clients. It is sort of a wide, open sea for architecture and master planning. For firms like BCA, it is an opportunity to connect with the charter school market and become experts in the field of all kinds of education. BCA expects to have even more of that market share.”

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