Summer 2001 Newsletter

School Construction Paradigm Must Evolve! State Architect Urges Creativity & Flexibility

Stephan CastellanosAs societies evolve they often times find that their social interactions change, government structures are altered, and even issues of morality and education change. Why then do the brick and mortar aspects of our lives remain constant? Why are we trapped into using the same rules and regulations that have curtailed the creativity and flexibility of our public infrastructure construction? State Architect Stephan Castellanos urges that we focus on reforming the rules that force us to rely on old and tired building regulations and begin to think creatively to solve our massive school facilities needs. Stephan identifies a number of possibilities including taking a serious look at intergovernmental cooperation as well as adding clarity to the Field Act in this probing NSBN interview.

Stephan, you're a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and are familiar with school siting from your work in Stockton as well as your collaborations with NSBN. What can the State Architect do in the school facilities arena to improve what has been a rather meager and non-performing new school facilities program in the metropolitan areas of our state?

Our flexibility and performance depends on effectively managing partnerships both internally and externally. And right now we're neither flexible nor efficient. It has become painfully obvious that we're not providing service and support at an adequate level.

But, we're addressing that in our current efforts to link governmental agencies together and clarify a development schedule that stakeholders can understand and access. For the first time, we're feeling a real sense of collaboration and have begun to solidify a number of strong lines of interagency communication.

But our job is far from complete. We must continue to be open and willing to implement these necessary changes. We need more clarity in the school construction process and in the Field Act and we need to curb the current process of "handing things off" from one agency to the next.

We need to create a seamless connection between the school districts, the design profession, the community and the State Architect. School siting is not an isolated program, it's one that should be linked and integrated to other programs and agencies and that collaborative spirit and clarity needs to come from this office.

Stephan, you're on record as having also noted that school districts often chase their tail in pursuit of matching state funds for their facilities projects, that instruction is not driving design, that community participation is frustrated and that state regulatory review makes the process so complex that any product that results in a better learning or smaller school is doomed. What can you do to change that?

A current characterization of our construction system is that of a one-product supermarket. There is no choice, no alternatives. That paradigm cannot continue.

We need to mirror the marketplace and begin to identify what the private sector is doing with regard to project delivery and design-build-finance that can help us build high-performing, sustainable and supportive learning environments. We need to put more products on the shelf through varying uses of plan review, the use of local building departments, the expansion of our consultant pool and the implementation of a concurrent plan review system so that we can shorten the approval process. We simply need more options.

Stephan, the central theme of the What If? report was the inherent opportunities of joint-use parks, libraries, health facilities and schools in our innercity and innersuburban neighborhoods. Everyone embraced the idea, but it appears it's very difficult to implement. San Diego seems be making some remarkable strides towards this form of school siting, should they be looked to as a model for what the future may hold?

I hope so. Joint-use and other opportunities that can make schools the center of our communities need to be encouraged. However, the Field Act is perceived as being quite restrictive in that regard and without a strong force pushing that type of joint-use facility they rarely get designed, let alone built.

There is a distinction in the California Building Code between public schools and every other school that we need to consider. And while it may be controversial, we need a more common set of building standards in California. That would open up the opportunities for enhanced joint-use opportunities.

So how do we do create a single standard that still adequately protects children yet doesn't provide any bureaucratic or regulatory disincentive? I don't know. But, it's certainly worthy of a dialogue.

One of the themes in the San Diego project is to use school facilities as the centerpiece of rebuilding or revitalizing a blighted neighborhood, City Heights and using housing, parks and a school as part of a collaborative city-school district effort. Again, are there incentives in the present procedures to encourage that kind of city-school district collaborations? What do we need to do to reincentivize that effort?

The position of State Architect has no ability to offer incentives other than what might be contained in the existing process. But we're open to taking a look at assisting people in traversing the current regulatory process and perhaps providing incentives for good practice. We are currently talking with utility companies about sustainable, energy efficient schools. And we've made a commitment that we'll consider providing incentives to school districts for Title 24 energy compliance.

In a companion interview in this newsletter Secretary of State and Consumer Services Agency Aileen Adams outlined the state's intention of not only encouraging but perhaps mandating sustainable state buildings in the future. How can you partner and how can the language in the next school bond encourage this kind of effort?

We first have to break down the misconception that sustainable, energy efficient construction costs more money to design and takes longer to deliver. And we need public policy support to do that.

There has to be some recognition that paying for these things, while they may add to the initial cost, is smart business. We need to start collecting data to provide the evidence that this is simply good business practice. We must recognize that the lifecycle of the building, not merely the initial investment, is where the real cost is. It's the job of the State Architect to provide that foundation of understanding.

Stephan, you actually practiced for years in the Stockton area. Maybe you could share with our readers the realities of finding General Contractors, Subs and other professionals willing to change the way they do business and implement some of this sustainable, energy efficient vision. How do you convince someone who has been constructing buildings for 20, 30, 40 years to change so that your vision actually becomes a matter of practice?

Contracting is contracting. Roles, responsibilities and expectations have to be very clear from the beginning. I was involved in private practice for a long time and if there was any single reason for failures, it was always communication and a lack of understanding about the expectations.

Large clients, small clients, big firms, small firms, big contractors, small contractors all suffer from the same thing. So, we simply have to make clear in our contracts what we want in terms of materials, energy efficiency ratings, etc. and make sure that we're clear and concise.

You spoke of smart investments. The Urban Land Institute in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land just convened a statewide coordinating committee to focus on a Smart Growth initiative agenda for the state. How would the State Architect's office fit into such an effort to introduce these kinds of ideas throughout the whole state land use and facilities agenda for the next decade?

Like it or not, we influence the market place--the practices we employ, where we site our buildings, how we share our facilities, whether we develop a model for good practice and whether we enhance quality of life through sustainable and livable communities all factor into a Smart Growth agenda for the state. All of us have to be equally committed to being good partners and good neighbors.

A year from now, how would you like the State Architect's Office and your tenure to be judged. By what criteria? By what benchmarks?

I would love to see California known nationally and internationally as the epitome of a responsible and great public client, not just in the quality of our buildings--because that is often mired in aesthetic judgement--but actually in the success, performance and experience of the users.

It's wonderful to have delightful buildings and I love great design, but we have a greater responsibilit--to satisfy our clients, the people of California. If we can create great looking buildings and become a great public client, I think we'll accomplish that.