School building officials in West Virginia hope to cut down on construction costs through an increasingly common—but often controversial—strategy: relying on predesigned schools, or prototypes, when approving blueprints.
“There’s been some discussion of why we continue to pay a fee to architects to design buildings that they’ve designed … several times,” said Mark Manchin, the executive director of the School Building Authority, which distributes state money for school building projects. “We’re simply saying, ‘Why should we pay, when you can prototype that?’ ”
Prototypes have been used for years in some counties, said Mr. Manchin, who emphasized that, even so, school buildings will not become “cookie cutter” structures.
A new rule that allows the building authority to use prototypes has been in place on a provisional basis for seven months. It was formally approved by the state legislature earlier this month and awaits official approval from Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat and a cousin to the building-authority chief, who said the governor is expected to sign off on it.
But the concept wins no plaudits from the architectural community.
“Every year, one or two states around the country bring this issue to the legislature,” said Tim DuFault, the president of the Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group Architecture and a member of the Washington-based American Institute of Architects’ education committee. “The primary reason seems to be a belief that if they do this, the cost of building schools will be more controlled.”
In fact, he argued, “it doesn’t really change the cost of building a school.” Each school has a different population with its own extracurricular and academic needs, he said. School sites vary and must be considered individually, he added.
Under West Virginia’s process, each new school building will be reviewed by a committee at the building authority, which will then determine whether a prototype is appropriate.
Even if the committee decides a school can be prototyped, the district may still use a new design—but the district will be expected to pick up the difference in cost with local funds, Mr. Manchin said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2008 edition of Education Week