Educational Specifications

At the August 2017 Leadership Retreat for the District, fs3Hodges, HED and Gelfand Partners provided an overview of the planned Facilities Master Plan process.  At the conclusion, staff requested volunteers made up of school site principals and staff to be on the Elementary and Secondary Advisory Group committees going forward.


During the 2017-18 School year, the Advisory Groups met monthly reviewing and updating district educational specifications and aligned them with the district’s goals. This process provided valuable dialogue and identified  the facilities needs of each campus, and what improvements would be needed to support high quality teaching and learning for all students.

Advisory Group Meetings

The Advisory Group meetings for Elementary schools focused on heavily on general classrooms, kinder classrooms, enrichment classrooms, the Library, Multipurpose buildings and day to day needs such as restrooms and outdoor play space. The group worked on the requirements for music, art, science and maker spaces that make these classrooms  sophisticated enrichment labs that support activities in the classrooms. Other meetings looked at multi-purpose and other site facilities in detail. Issues discussed included learning environments but also sustainability, the growing demand for multi-purpose facilities to serve both large groups and changing lunch needs, and to support academic initiatives arising from current approaches to learning.


For the Secondary Advisory Group meetings, discussions focused on providing teaching spaces for more specialized spaces to support current, technology driven curriculum. CTE, Visual and Performing Arts and Media Arts spaces were covered in detail, using recent projects during the Strong Schools bond as examples of new standards for the District. The group also decided to create separate Middle School specifications to provide architects clear direction on areas where the Middle Schools and High Schools differ in facilities needs with respect to size and specialization.

Support Staff Meetings

The master planning team held meetings throughout the process with Elementary and Secondary Special Education Directors to ensure their department needs were included. Specific specifications were developed for Learning Centers and Resource Centers at the Elementary Schools that reflect the direction the district has moved recently in addressing Special Education. The Food Services director was also engaged by the team to review the broader goals of the food service and logistics needs throughout the District. Technology needs were explored with IT and the Maintenance Department identifying large capital project needs at each school such as implementation of air conditioning, energy guidelines, PV implementation, energy guidelines and planned maintenance.


PAUSD School facilities are neighborhood, community centers and focal points for learning. The design of a school directly affects the climate and quality of instruction which staff and community provide to the students they serve. To achieve the Palo Alto School Districts established goals of high- quality teaching and learning, equity and access, wellness and safety a holistic approach to design shall be implemented by the Design Team. To facilitate the educational vision of the district, new design and construction shall take the below design concepts into consideration in planning any project.

  • Universal Design
  • Safety and Security
  • Comfort
  • High Performance Schools
  • Two Story Construction
  • Flexibility
Universal Design

In order to achieve high quality teaching a learning for all students, Universal Design principles shall be used to ensure PAUSD buildings can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. Inclusive design measures shall include:

  • Ease of movement while getting to school and while at school.
  • Ease of navigation including successful signage with directional clarity along paths of travel, see Site Design.
  • Consider not only wheelchair access, but also impacts on sensory qualities such as sound, textures, smell and temperature.
  • Increase ease of participation at school in design by taking measure that treat people equally, reduce stigma, support differences and provide fail features.
  • Consider contextual appropriateness by maintaining valued traditions, interpretations and supporting community intentions.
Safety And Security

The District is in the process of developing new standards relating to the safety and security if its campuses. With recent events, the desire to create a more safe and secure environment has become a high priority.

The District will study best practices other Districts have implemented that will still honor the traditions of open and inclusive campuses that serve all students and the broader community. Creating zones of security (Community, Campus, Buildings and Interiors) and other Environmental Design principles will support the greater effort for safer and secure schools. Some strategies discussed to date:

  • Event response, including code red procedures and emergency operations protocols.
  • Create vision corridors for better campus supervisions and controls.
  • Tightening perimeter security on campus with better fencing and gate
  • Access control for visitors to campus

In order to achieve high quality teaching a learning, students need to feel safe, secure. Create a pleasant sense of space. The school should have qualities that stimulate imagination within a learning environment for students and encourage community connections. Color, texture and a variety of building materials should be used. The school should not only support the learning environment, it should be an integral part of the learning environment.

  • Factor in school identity, social integration and contextual appropriateness into the design of a campus.
  • The classroom is the basic unit of space and provides an instructional setting that is supportive to young students. Classroom space must be large enough to accommodate active, constructive learning environments – meaning space for children to move, investigate and to work with a wide variety of resources and materials as they construct their own learning.
  • Architectural design should sufficiently incorporate the aesthetics of building systems throughout the campus. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems should be integrated into the design, and not cause visual blight to the campus environment.
  • Consider the environmental impact on sensory systems such as sound, air quality and temperature.
  • School facilities should be designed in a functional manner to serve the basic needs and requirements of the students and school personnel and at the same time provide attractive architectural features of lasting, economical, quality. The physical appearance should welcome the public to the school. The “entrance” to the School should be clearly recognizable and inviting.
Design for Sustainable and High Performing Schools

Design for future projected Energy Standards as a Basis of Design and implement strategies such as:

  • Commissioning, Building Information Modeling and encourage early collaboration of consultants.
  • Practice Integrated design to achieve maximum efficiency, lower costs, and increase overall performance of energy use, materials and water efficiency. Provide excellent indoor environmental quality by considering air quality, light, acoustics and views.
  • Make sustainable design visible to students: Make school infrastructure transparent, to display the inner workings and create teachable moments.
  • Daylighting, including views, improves student health and student performance. Where possible, classrooms and learning environments should take full advantage of natural daylighting, using windows, clerestories, light shelves, and skylights to minimize the need for artificial lighting and provide for resilience in case of power outage. Window and skylight placement should be carefully considered to prevent glare and avoid excessive heat gain but maximize wall space.
Two Story Construction

Two story construction of classroom buildings may be considered if the following issues are addressed.

  • Net classroom size and exiting are maintained
  • Upper classrooms have adequate HVAC
  • Balcony spaces can be supervised without additional staffing during lunch and recess
  • Scale is appropriate to neighbors, and not directly adjacent to homes if possible
  • Classrooms on second story can feel isolated and disconnected, this should be considered.
Flexibility & Function

In order to accommodate variations in enrollment, classrooms should be as standardized as possible across all grades with minimal distinction, if any, between classrooms. Palo Alto schools will change with time as students; teachers and the community use the facilities in different ways to meet changing needs. Building design should accommodate needs that haven’t yet been anticipated. Therefore, these concepts of flexibility should be incorporated into future school design.