Moving Beyond key strategic areas to address to facilitate a safer return to school

As we develop strategies to allow students to return to school, we recognize there is no “silver bullet,” and no two institutions’ solution will be the same.

However, there are key strategic areas to address for a safe and successful return.

Zoning & Space Planning

  • Assess your school's floor plan to support social distancing guidelines
  • Reprogram space to focus on utilization based on learning activities and smaller group sizes
  • Put wellness and safety front and center

Air Handling & Quality

  • Assess the condition of air handling equipment
  • Enhance air distribution and filtration
  • Prepare an equipment maintenance plan


  • Evaluate potential space utilization technologies to assess space occupancy
  • Assess the implementation of technology tools to increase virtual meeting needs
  • Consider touch-less technologies for entry points, security, and access to your space

Enhanced Graphics

  • Raise awareness of social distancing rules with thoughtfully integrated environmental graphics
  • Integrate new return to school policies with consistent messaging within your space that reflect your institutional policies
  • Use your space to highlight your health and safety approach and support your culture

Case & Point - SMMUSD Discovery

The multi-use Discovery building at Santa Monica-Malibu USD stresses long and short-term flexibility and the potential for adaptive use. While the $133 million Discovery Building is planned to open for the fall 2021 semester, it is already receiving attention for its flexible design, which meets both the specific short-term pandemic imposed needs while creating a dynamic facility that will meet the needs of the District for decades to come.

While the HED and Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners did not initially anticipate that pandemic proofing a classroom would become one of those needs, the design team reimagined how the building could accommodate socially distant, outdoor, and hybrid education models.

The building is designed with a flexible, open-column grid, raised floors, and non load bearing walls, which means the layout can be resigned over time.

“We have been able to demonstrate, within the context of the pandemic, that the new building can flex to accommodate social distancing and linear circulation to enhance safety. Classes can spread apart by taking advantage of the connections between classrooms and the common areas adjacent through folding glass doors,” said HED Principal John Dale.

About the Authors*

John Dale | Principal & Pre K-12 Sector Leader

John has been involved in the master planning, programming and design of public, private, educational and community projects for over 30 years. By defining small learning communities which boost student achievement, promote sustainability, and galvanize community involvement, he has established widely recognized models of regional and national significance.

He lectures at numerous educational conferences both internationally and nationally, and has published multiple articles on the topic of high performance educational design. In recent years he co-founded The Council on Open Building to advocate, educate, and promote the future-proofing, flexibility, resilience, and sustainability of educational facilities.

Connect with John on LinkedIn or via email at jdale@hed.design

*This piece was assembled from the summary and findings of "Programming and Designing for School Facilities for Change," presented at EdSpaces 2020 by HED Pre K-12 Sector Leader John Dale, BrainsSpaces' Amy Yurko, and Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners' James O'Connor.

About HED

At HED, great design is about thinking creatively to overcome challenges and improve real world outcomes. Our firm has a long history and reputation for design excellence because we believe that all the facets of our design, from architecture, consulting, engineering, and planning, must create a positive impact for our clients, the community, and the world.

This belief has allowed our firm to succeed and grow to 350 staff in a broad range of markets in eight U.S. offices (Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento).

See how HED advances your world at www.hed.design, and follow us on our social media channels, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.