School of the Future: Design for Safer School Environments

September 14, 2020

Contributing Experts: 
Nikki Ojer | Creative Director
Stanya LeMay | Senior Account Manager

How can we use design to make schools safer for students and staff? 

As the pandemic continues, schools find their short-term solutions may not be suited for long-term use. Many districts are coming up with new design plans for remodeling the cafeteria and surrounding areas to combat the current pandemic while staying prepared for any potential future virus.   

Middle school educator, Angela Keyzers, touches on the importance of design guidance and the need for long-term solutions.  

“Many schools are still frazzled on what to do right now and need guidance on how to adapt and be flexible as the situation changes because there are so many uncertainties as this time,” she says. “We have what we need to get by at this point, but we know we need to make changes [renovations] in the future if we need to continue distancing.”  

Floorplan guidelines are changing, with entrances and exits being separated and eliminating bottlenecks throughout school spaces. Walkways are expanding, allowing for extra room during passing periods. We also see floor queuing – subtle yet purposeful reminders for students on where to stand when waiting for meals, or to signify one-way pathways and direct traffic in these shared spaces. These floor queuing reminders are intentionally incorporated into the design, rather than temporary signage being implemented into the space. 

Furniture is also transforming with high back booths and furniture to create separation and eliminate the need for acrylic partitions. Where partitions are needed, barrier storage is incorporated into the design, for barriers to be saved and reused. Modular seating is rising in popularity, creating different experiences in the same area, depending on how the furniture is used, and furniture can be easily moved to make room for further distancing. Using freestanding furniture, separation is created according to the needs of both short and long-term plans or can be removed altogether to make spaces work for any occasion. 

Other notable trends include an atrium-style design for ample natural light, increasing student productivity while providing mental and visual stimulation. Study pods with acoustic upholstery, movable partitions to create separation while serving as protective barriers, and electrified furniture for charging laptops or phones are also becoming increasingly used. 

Refresh areas to promote wellness. 

As wellness continues to be a prominent focus in schools, refresh areas are being created in shared spaces to promote health and wellness. Conceptual refresh areas feature handwashing areas, bottle filling stations, and even sanitary or safety products like disposable masks and gloves.

Handwashing is proven to reduce both flu and viruses and has become a prominent focus in keeping students and staff protected during COVID-19. Implementing mobile handwashing stations in moderate to high traffic areas eliminates the need for staff and students to enter a restroom to wash hands, causing further contamination. These handwashing areas feature touchless water, soap, and paper towels. 

Per CDC recommendations, “K-12 school administration, particularly in areas where community spread of COVID-19 is occurring, should develop and implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing the introduction of COVID-19 into school facilities.” 

Additionally, strict administrative controls are recommended to protect students and staff. “Important administrative controls include promoting hand hygiene, implementing cleaning and disinfection protocols, and posting signs and messages to promote everyday protective measures. In addition, K-12 school administrators may consider strategies to reinforce use of masks.”

By making handwashing and safety products readily available, we can lessen the virus' spread and maintain healthier environments.

Dining options give students options for safer mealtimes. 

Another trend we are seeing is with dining options. Schools are now offering various dining options instead of the traditional serving line during lunch, elevating the entire student experience while reducing close contact during service.

Kiosks are a great option to implement into multi-purpose spaces for more flexible dining and a source or additional revenue for schools. Students can enjoy a coffee or tea, smoothie, or baked goods first thing in the morning or between meals. Food lockers are incorporated into the kiosks for contactless pickup, also reducing congestion with lines. The kiosks are semi-permanent structures, which eliminate the need for significant renovations. 

Additionally, servery lines and express pickups give students more options during mealtimes. Traditional buffets are not going away entirely; however, more pre-packaged, grab-and-go foods are available for purchase to reduce contact and traffic flow constraints. Bottle filling stations can be incorporated inside the servery, allowing students to fill up their reusable bottles, reducing waste, and providing fresh water to every student.

Multi-purpose spaces for dining, learning, and gathering.

School cafeterias are often the primary area for not only dining but learning and shared spaces as well. Creating a multi-purpose space allows the staff and students to come together for meals, study or tutoring sessions, a quick snack or coffee break, and a place for social gathering.

These environments are also an excellent opportunity to incorporate school pride colors and elements to play on the school's brand and elevate the experience; they are more like a student union than a traditional K-12 cafeteria.

We have listened and observed the current configurations for student dining in schools. Many scenarios are being tested, but one thing is very clear: a safe design space needs to be adjustable for whatever comes next. Whether dining in pods or socially distanced, these design trends offer the options that we need to prove healthy and secure spaces for our future leaders.

In preparation for the increased design demands, EIS is creating environments of the future using our design and creative expertise to develop concepts that promote safety and physical wellbeing. Partner with EIS to start designing your School of the Future.