Engaging Your Community as You Plan for the Future
When planning capital improvement projects, a logical starting point is a thorough assessment of a district’s existing facility conditions. This process typically reveals both current deficiencies and those that will need to be addressed in the near future. While this form of assessment is great when examining the current state of each building’s infrastructure, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. It’s critical that the district examine each facility’s ability to support its current and future curriculum as well as its desired teaching and learning methodologies. Finally, it’s important to understand the district’s growth projections and how it aligns with building utilization and grade level configuration.
It’s not uncommon for this work to begin as an internal process, as the key stakeholders with the most institutional knowledge are typically district employees – teachers, administrators, maintenance and custodial staff. These individuals truly understand their buildings, what works and what doesn’t. Once these assessments are complete, the next step is to secure funding. In Michigan, this will likely require community support in the form of a ballot initiative. Thus, communicating the need to voters in the community becomes a critical component of implementing these improvements.
It’s fairly easy to share these messages with families of students. They have a familiarity with the schools, a vested interest in student outcomes, and the added benefit of having existing methods of communication established.
Involving the greater community requires an outreach strategy that seeks to educate, gather input, and generate support. Educating the community is important for those who are not familiar with the ways that educational delivery models have changed, or why improvements are important for the future of learning.
Every community is different, and outreach has to be customized, involving multiple channels. We have had success using a variety of tools to communicate with community stakeholders like surveys, social media, face-to-face meetings, print and digital media, and video, to name a few.
Our work with project stakeholders reflects community input and values, and ultimately this creates a well thought-out and meaningful informational campaign that constituents can support.
Community engagement doesn’t need to stop when the bond passes. Districts can utilize the same channels to share updates on projects and student achievement. Engaging the community shows that promises have been kept and establishes trust and goodwill.
Community engagement should also involve the local workforce. When possible, we encourage additional outreach to potential bidders in the community to keep those dollars in the local economy.
This article was originally published in the Builders Exchange of Michigan The Source publication, March 2019.
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Jeff Hoag leads our K-12 practice at GMB, partnering with school districts across all phases of planning and design. He is passionate about designing spaces that empower teachers and equip students to learn.
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