I interviewed leading education architect, Wayne Stephens to see what his views are on the importance of schools in new communities.
We don’t see schools as bricks and mortar, we see them as environments that enable learning experiences. Just as schools can be at the centre of community life, so should it be at or near the physical centre of a community masterplan. Locating a school within or near a town centre provides a range of benefits for students, teachers, parents and the wider community.
The twice-daily arrival and departure of students and parents activates town centres and increases trade in retail and services, not to mention being convenient for parents.
Close proximity to a town centre can also be helpful for supporting partnerships between schools, local businesses and service providers and for better overall community integration of schools. A well-planned school may also incorporate facilities that accommodate adult learning opportunities and/or that are utilised by the wider community.
There are also further benefits such as increased safety and surveillance inherent in more well-trafficked locations as well as proximity to public transport hubs.
If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?
I would introduce a greater emphasis on consultation with local communities during the initial planning phase. Schools are ultimately community assets and we must be proactive in fostering a strong sense of ownership over these key facilities from the outset. We must ensure that the partnerships we foster and amenities we deliver are the most appropriate for that community.
Schools present the perfect opportunity to integrate shared community facilities such as competition sports fields, performing arts studios and community and early learning centres. Considering schools as an integrated community asset requires a multidisciplinary approach to the planning and design process. These outcomes foster social capital and stronger community connections while better utilising land and infrastructure.