K-12 Schools After Coronavirus

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Reopening K-12 Schools After Coronavirus

A partnership between the Department of Education and Department of Health with the support of Architects and Engineers is essential to the reopening of K-12 Schools in the Fall. Every day that primary and secondary age children are not in school they face serious risk to their physical health. Whether it be COVID-19 today, flu season next year, under nourishment or trauma, the place to address them is at the schoolhouse door. If the goal is to open schools in the Fall, preparations should be under way now.

Key Goals Create a partnership between the Department of Education and the Department of Health Given the persistence of the Coronavirus crisis, the Mayor should immediately create a partnership between the Department of Education and the Department of Health to establish safety protocols and mechanisms, to minimize the risk of infection and allow schools to open with rigorous safety measures in place. School days will be different than they were last semester to be safe. In mid-May the CDC released a set of recommendations to guide K-12 school administrators in making decisions on how to reopen. The guidelines are reasonable. To accomplish them will require a herculean effort.

Should you consider opening? ✓ Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders? ✓ Is the school ready to protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness? ✓ Are you able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure? ANY

Engage with Architects and Engineers to Develop Solutions and Implement Change Among the experts needed to make this happen are architects and engineers. Many of the measures to be put in place will have specific architectural and engineering implications. Design professionals need to work closely with health professionals to come up with the right technical solutions to facilitate testing, evaluations, and daily monitoring of every teacher and student every day, and again at the end of the day, if necessary. Minor modifications to classrooms and shared spaces will facilitate keeping building occupants safe. This can be accomplished by the early Fall.


CDC Recommendations for Re

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coron

SCHOOLS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC The purpose of this tool is to assist administrators in making (re)opening decisions regarding K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to check with state and local health officials and other partners to determine the most appropriate actions while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Are recommended health and safety actions in place?

Is ongoing monitoring in place? ✓ Develop and implement procedures to check for signs and symptoms of students and employees daily upon arrival, as feasible

✓ Promote healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing and employees wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible


✓ Intensify cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation ✓ Encourage social distancing through increased spacing, small groups and limited mixing between groups, if feasible ✓ Train all employees on health and safety protocols ANY

✓ Encourage anyone who is sick to stay home


✓ Plan for if students or employees get sick



✓ Regularly communicate and monitor developments with local authorities, employees, and families regarding cases, exposures, and updates to policies and procedures ✓ Monitor student and employee absences and have flexible leave policies and practices ✓ Be ready to consult with the local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase in cases in the local area




e-opening Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic



Critical Issues Front porch Healthcare Thorough screening before entering school buildings is the primary requirement for reopening. Daily screenings should occur outdoors in fresh air before students and teachers step foot inside. Gymnasiums and cafeterias that might normally seem appropriate for health matters would quickly become “hot spots� and should not be considered.

Sites Each school, among the 1,800 primary and secondary schools in the five boroughs has conditions unique to it. Designers need to study school sites to document their particular challenges and recommend solutions. What are the available outdoor spaces easily connected to the school?

Shelter Technologies Research will be required to select low impact building systems, those that are most readily available, such as tents and demountable structures, adaptable and quickly installed; and acceptable to building code officials.

Construction practices Contracting practices need to be put in place to streamline construction bidding, municipal code enforcement and project implementation. Cooperation with industry officials will be critical.

Building Modifications over Time It will be important to look beyond the short term crisis to consider how COVID-19 related measures will impact the efficacy of the buildings over the long term as we learn more from the recovery from COVID-19.

Teaching Modalities Teachers need to have a strong voice in discussions about how best to modify classrooms to support modifications to classroom configurations and teaching methods.

Accommodating Students of All Ages Educational needs vary between students in early childhood, middle school, high school, and in higher education. The necessary changes must accommodate existing trends in teaching and learning for each age group.

PAVE Academy

Positive Impacts on City Life

Merging healthcare and learning at primary and secondary schools will have enormous benefits to civic life and will give schools added importance as anchors to all people in their neighborhoods. Many families who have had no access to healthcare will now have it daily.

Impact of Reopening at the City Scale School districts can consolidate their healthcare responsibilities in partnership with a neighborhood Department of Health site. For example, the Riverside Health Center on the Upper West Side is in close proximity to several dozen primary and secondary schools. Processing and monitoring students, faculty and staff at the school scale will be manageable in their own school building. The Health Department can provide staff at the points of need – that is, at the school sites. This will leave more breathing room at Public Health clinics for people without K-12 age children and the elderly.

PS 163

School School




Health Center lth Center




Potential Screening Potential Screening Site Site

Impact of Reopening at the School Building Scale To execute the CDC guidelines schools will need to assign space for this purpose. Gymnasiums and cafeterias, normally used for community gathering, will not be capable of providing adequate distancing and separation of children following social distancing standards. Design professionals know how to adapt facilities to implement the CDC guidelines with minimum impact. For some schools with a small population the gym and cafeteria may work. For most, a better solution to process many students will be to create protected spaces outside of the building surrounded by fresh air protected in tents or portable structures.






PS 156 First Floor Plan EXISTING

Many schools have play yards with direct entry into the school that will be ideal for this purpose. For those schools without play yards nor off-street parking areas will have to resort to creating a lineup area on a sidewalk that allows passers-by at a safe distance, or street closings during school hours in order to have sufficient ground area. Street closures will be limited by the necessity to provide through travel for emergency vehicles. The following are examples of possible processing areas at two schools designed by Mitchell Giurgola, one with available play yard space and one reliant on street closure.










Screening Process in Available Play Yard

PS 156 First Floor Plan PROPOSED



Impact of Reopening at the School Building Scale




PAVE Academy First Floor Plan EXISTING













Screening Process with Street Closure PAVE Academy First Floor Plan PROPOSED

Impact of Reopening at the Hallway and Classroom Scale Learning spaces will have to be adapted to unique physical challenges building by building, necessitating some changes to classroom configurations. Reacclimating five-year olds will be quite different than ten-year olds and teens. Adjustments will need to be age appropriate. There will be few “cookie cutter solutions”. The only constants will be flexible solutions and urgency to reopen. Some critical priorities: •

Modify classroom layouts to achieve social distancing

Re-think classroom furniture to enforce distancing and to provide storage for individual student needs

Reduce clutter to facilitate frequent cleaning

Install hands-free plumbing fixtures

Increase fresh air to all spaces

Minimize recirculating air and add Hepa-air filtration when there is no other option

Take windowless classrooms out of use

Implement way-finding pathways to minimize student contact in corridors and waiting areas

Kindergarten Classroom, PS 281

5th Grade Classroom, PAVE Academy

Impact of Reopening at the Hallway and Classroom Scale An obvious short-term solution will be to cut the number of students in the classroom at one time in half. How might that work? Perhaps one cohort will be in class on Day 1 and the other cohort will be meeting virtually from home in small groups or one-on-one with a teacher. Typical Classroom – Kindergarten



20 20 students students

Typical Kindergarten Classroom



10 at school 10students students in school 10 remote remote 10students students

Typical Kindergarten Classroom

On Day 2, after a thorough cleaning, the second cohort will be in the classroom, and the first cohort will attend virtually. Fewer students in the building at one time will facilitate the logistics of moving students through the corridors, cafeteria and special classrooms.

Typical Classroom – Grades 4-5



2828 students students

Typical Classroom Grades 4-5



14 students at school 14 students in school 1414 students remote students remote

Typical Classroom Grades 4-5

Conclusion We cannot minimize the impact the strategies for reopening will have on school administrators, teachers, students and their families. Adopting any of the strategies noted above will likely require significant staff increases to handle the intricacies of the “new normal”. Is it realistic for us to accommodate staff increases, smaller class size, limited access to facilities we now take for granted, logistical challenges of navigating the school, compromises to our commitment to face-to-face learning? To move forward to re-opening the schools the answers to all these questions most probably will need to be, yes. Nevertheless, now is not the time to abandon promising trends in education related to technology, content, collaborative, and project-based learning. The new “normal”, however we define it, cannot ignore the fundamental need for face-to-face human interaction for mental health and human development. As the immediate crisis conditions are brought under control educators and designers must not stop with the shortterm solutions necessary to overcome COVID-19. Good health practices should become as natural to school life as teaching and learning and must also keep our sights on inspired visions for education for the long term.



Paul Broches, FAIA, LEED AP, Partner Paul Broches joined Mitchell Giurgola in 1971 and became a partner in 1980. He has significant experience designing K-12 facilities and has led much of the firm’s work with the NYC School Construction Authority and charter school organizations. Paul is a Fellow in the AIA and was elected to the National Academy of Design in 2013 and to the Board in 2018.

PAVE Academy Albert Vecerka/ESTO

Wai-Yin Leung, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate Wai-Yin Leung joined Mitchell Giurgola in 2000 and became a Senior Associate in 2019. She has a long history working with NYC Agencies and educational clients to design complex renovations and new building projects.

MS 114 Jeff Goldberg/ESTO PS 281 Chuck Choi

Mitchell Giurgola is a New York-based architecture firm that is committed to building with perspective and purpose. Buildings for education, particularly those with highly complex functional requirements, are a hallmark of the practice. The firm has extensive experience designing K-12 facilities in the United States and abroad and has worked with the NYC School Construction Authority since 1993.

Mitchell Giurgola Architects LLP 630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 711 New York, NY 10036 212.663.4000 MitchellGiurgola.com

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