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How to Create a Comprehensive School Facilities Master Plan

Illustration of a man leaning over a master plan that looks like a treasure map.

Providing students with safe facilities that are conducive to learning is one of the most important facility management goals for school leaders. A school facilities master plan allows you to look at the big picture and evaluate facilities projects that have already been completed, are currently underway, or are being planned for the future.

Without a comprehensive overview of the state of your district’s facilities, it’s impossible to make plans to respond to rapidly changing school environments, including rising student enrollments, accessibility issues, new and evolving education programs, and changing student demographics.

A school facilities master plan is also vital to improving outdated and aging buildings and systems. According to Education Week, many public school districts in low-wealth and rural areas lack basic infrastructure like drinkable running water and working heat and air-conditioning. So how can K-12 facility managers tackle these rapidly evolving challenges?

In this article, we’ll examine school facilities master plans in-depth, discuss what your facilities plan needs to include, and explain why your school district needs one. We’ll also show you a proven process for creating an actionable school facilities plan in your district step-by-step.

What is a School Facilities Master Plan (FMP)?

A school facilities master plan (FMP) is a document that describes the state of a district’s infrastructure, details the capacity of school buildings within a district, and forecasts trends to determine future student populations. It also provides up-to-date information on recently completed improvement projects and identifies issues that still need to be addressed. Most plans also include information about the costs associated with future projects and what goals they’re meant to achieve.

FMPs are helpful for public schools at every level. They include a broader vision for the entire district as well as targeted projects for individual high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Most also include a long-term school maintenance plan specifically focusing on maintaining facilities to ensure safety and security.

Benefits of Creating a Facilities Master Plan

Developing a facilities master plan requires a significant investment of both a district’s time and budget, but the advantages are numerous. These are the most notable reasons why school districts create them:

  • Rather than waiting for systems to break down or for buildings to reach capacity, school faculty can take early action and address facility needs proactively.
    Planning for these needs in advance also reduces costs by limiting future repairs and maintenance.
  • Thoughtful facility planning allows districts to distribute limited resources in a way that serves the most students effectively.
    Upgrading outdated buildings, adding capacity, and placing specialized programs promote equity and allow for the equitable distribution of resources across a school district. The learning environments in a school district should offer students access to a quality education. An FMP allows district leaders to carefully examine how resources are allocated, determine where the needs are greatest, and make changes to improve equity.
  • Ensures school facilities account for the physical, mental, and cultural needs of all students across a district.
    An FMP helps create school environments that promote wellness and comply with non-discrimination requirements. School leaders can implement changes that make school facilities welcoming to all students, regardless of whether they’re English learners or have physical or developmental disabilities.
  • FMPs allow you to recognize future expenses, allowing you to plan a budget that accounts for future renovations as well as ongoing maintenance.
    Facility managers have to consider many different factors to bring their buildings up to 21st-century standards. A master plan helps facilitate discussions around how to budget, plan, and prioritize future facility maintenance projects.
  • A public-facing facilities plan allows for input from community stakeholders like school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members.
    School districts can share their FMPs in board meetings and provide copies as parent resources. This is an excellent way to get feedback on potential oversights or challenges.

If you’re serious about improving the quality of your district’s facilities, developing a school facilities master plan is essential. Everyone involved in the day-to-day operations of your district, from the board of education to parents, can gain valuable insights from your facilities plan.

How to Create a Facilities Master Plan

The quality of your school facilities master plan can have long-lasting implications on your district’s infrastructure, including its longevity and how well it serves the needs of your students and faculty. With so much at stake, it’s crucial to approach the planning process with clearly outlined goals and objectives in mind.

1. Form a Task Force to Lead the Planning Process

School facilities managers play an important role in developing facility plans, but they can’t do it alone. To create a well-rounded plan, you should draw on the knowledge and experience of a variety of people within the district. Your task force might include:

  • Teachers
  • School administrators, such as principals
  • Your district superintendent
  • Representatives from your city or county
  • The school board

Taking a collaborative approach to the planning process ensures that you look at each aspect of your plan from multiple perspectives.

2. Gather Data Around Your District’s Demographics, Enrollment Projections, and Facility Conditions

The success or failure of your facilities plan largely rests on the quality of the data that you use when you create it. Before you make plans for specific projects, conduct a study that evaluates several data points, such as:

  • Demographics: Examining student demographics helps you understand the makeup of your student body across your school district. This information allows you to better accommodate the physical, cultural, and fiscal needs of your students as you plan future facility maintenance and renovation projects
  • Enrollment projections: Estimating future student enrollment is critical to determining whether your school facilities will be over or under-capacity at some point in the future
  • Facility conditions: In addition to identifying problem areas for buildings in the district, it’s also important to assess their severity and assign priority levels, particularly if they pose a safety risk

Gathering these different data points will allow you to create a facilities plan that not only addresses the physical condition of your district’s infrastructure, but a plan that takes into account the needs of your student body as well.

3. Align Facility Goals with District Initiatives

Context is crucial when developing an FMP. Consider how improvements to certain buildings complement the larger initiatives and goals that your district is setting for the future.

For example, if your district has planned an initiative to improve accessibility across school campuses for disabled or special education students, making structural additions or changes to your district facilities can help achieve that goal. On the other hand, if the district is focused on career readiness and expanding learning programs, improvements to technical education buildings might take priority.

4. Identify Which Projects and Renovations Need to Be Prioritized

Once you’ve aligned your facilities master plan with your district’s strategic plan, you can outline which projects need to be prioritized for the upcoming year. These might include:

  • Construction of new buildings
  • Renovations of existing structures
  • Closures of unnecessary facilities
  • Addressing capacity concerns in areas where enrollment has increased
  • Repairing or replacing critical district infrastructure, such as a school’s HVAC system

Some of these projects might be large-scale, such as constructing new middle school classrooms to avoid using portable buildings or trailers. This kind of project is more common than you might think. With student populations on the rise, A 2021 report revealed that more than one-third of public schools use portable buildings as a solution to capacity issues.

Other projects will be more targeted toward individual departments. For instance, you might determine that your human resources team needs a new facility. Or your district could update its existing spaces to allow for extracurricular activities, such as school athletics or the performing arts.

5. Determine Project Budgets and Timeline Estimates

Ideally, your school district would have the time and resources to devote to all of the projects that you list in your FMP. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Instead, you’ll need to determine which projects are most urgent and practical by evaluating these factors:

  • Whether an improvement is necessary to remedy a safety issue
  • The number of students, staff, and school programs affected by the project
  • How community partnerships could reduce costs or assist with funding
  • The estimated timeframe for completing the project
  • Which changes would qualify as capital improvements

By prioritizing your district’s projects by need, you’ll be able to effectively budget for each and put a rough timeline in place. This ensures that you’re able to address your district’s most pressing issues first, and then tackle smaller repairs or cosmetic activities later on.

6. Present Your Plans and Gather Community Input

Once you’ve allocated your budget and presented a rough timeline for facility projects, you should consider gathering community input. Inviting feedback from teachers, students, parents, and the wider community ensures that you’re prioritizing projects that will make an impact in your district. You can use a variety of approaches to source input, such as:

  • Holding focus groups
  • Posting your facility plans on social media
  • Distributing a survey to parents, teachers, and staff
  • Inviting members of your school district to a public meeting

Remember that you’ll most likely receive very different responses, and it will be impossible to incorporate everyone’s ideas into your plan. However, once you’ve gathered feedback from the community, you can look for patterns over what projects your district members believe should take precedence over others.

7. Present the Master Plan to Your School Board for Approval

Once you’ve gathered community input and finalized your plans, the time has come to share your presentation with your district’s board members. They will ultimately decide whether it adequately addresses the district’s initiatives, clearly outlines educational specifications for proposed projects, and includes ongoing facilities needs, such as school building maintenance. Once your plan is approved, you’ll have a detailed road map to guide your facility management plans moving forward.

Implementing your Facilities Master Plan

Developing your facilities master plan is just the first step towards building a better school district. Once your plan is in place, you can take these steps to implement your plan successfully:

  • Use your plan as a guide for budgeting, funding decisions, and construction schedules.
    Refer to your plan frequently as your district creates annual budgets and works to secure external funding. Evaluate how the timing of your construction projects listed in the plan might affect student learning and the preventive maintenance schedule at different school sites.
  • Review your master plan regularly as your district’s needs and priorities change.
    Even after your plan is approved by the board, it should remain open to changes. Unexpected events and changes within the community can result in shifting your priorities.
  • Keep the public in the loop as you work through each of your projects.
    Community input was integral to forming your plan, and you should maintain transparency about budgeting and the status of project goals.

Remember that your plan will only work if you execute it properly. School districts that properly implement their FMPs have a better chance of successfully maintaining and upgrading their school facilities.

Manage and Maintain Your K-12 Facilities with Incident IQ

Creating a school facilities master plan is a time-consuming and intensive process. However, a thoughtfully crafted plan empowers your school leaders to make sound decisions that address the facility needs of all your students and community members.Want to simplify your planning process? With Incident IQ’s school facilities management software, you can analyze data from past work orders to determine what systems might need to be updated and review the cost of labor and parts to adjust your budget. Schedule a demo to fully explore Incident IQ and see how it can assist with managing and maintaining the school facilities in your district.