Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Public Trust

Planning, designing, constructing and keeping a facility in acceptable condition are formidable tasks. For most, garnering the necessary support to fund these projects may be an even bigger task. The perceived failure of our current education system has made the public wary of supporting future investments in education. The tendency to dwell on the negative has resulted in questions being raised about leadership, responsibility and accountability — making it more difficult for institutions to gain the public’s trust and needed financial support.

To regain that trust and support we can provide data gathered by our planning and evaluation processes; data that can help manage risk and prove need. On the facilities side, this includes the development of comprehensive facility master plans, capital improvement plans, post-occupancy evaluations and the use of facility condition indexes to help determine relative condition and prioritize need.

Often, the first challenge faced is convincing leadership that resources should be spent on a comprehensive planning process. Today’s educational institutions are serving a much broader population. They are becoming community centers, and facilities for early childhood programs, job training/retraining and workforce development. Local citizens should have a voice in the type of educational facilities planned for their communities. This collective vision will result in a facility that represents the needs of and is the collective responsibility of the community; and is supported by all of the people who helped create it.

It is also important to understand that the job is not done when a new building opens. Then comes the need for post-occupancy evaluations, facility condition assessments and the development of a capital improvement plan. Post-occupancy evaluations can reveal limitations in the current design and prevent costly mistakes in the future.

The recent recession wreaked havoc on education funding. Jobs were lost, the construction of new facilities decreased, maintenance of existing facilities was deferred. Unfortunately, facility systems can only last so long. The trend has shifted from building new to taking care of what we have, reducing deferred maintenance and prioritizing projects.

To regain financial support for education we first need to regain the public’s trust. Community involvement in the planning process and defensible data are needed to support and frame the messages we send — messages that must be sent by educational leaders who display competence, exhibit integrity and are true to their word.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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