HMC Architects’ PreK-12 Market Leader Julie Strauss has over 15 years of experience assisting PreK-12 districts throughout California to maximize and secure state funding. She is active in the Coalition of Adequate School Housing (CASH). She has served on the Legislative Advisory Committee, completed the CASH Leadership Academy, and recently
received her Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP) designation with the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE).
Q: What is the role of HMC’s School Advisors?
A: HMC’s School Advisors (SA) works with the project team to identify funding sources and a funding strategy for the project. We then partner and collaborate with the state agencies, district, and architectural team to ensure that all required approvals are secured (DSA, CDE, and in some cases local). We then work with the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) to secure state funding for the project.
Q: What is the biggest challenge school districts face today, and how can we help?
A: Districts are faced with numerous challenges at this time.
1. The creation of a new grade level (Transitional Kindergarten) and how districts will adequately house and serve these early learners. We should be partnering with our clients to develop early education master plans and develop feasibility studies. We can also work with our clients to apply for funding through the Preschool, Transitional Kindergarten, Full-Day Kindergarten Facility Grant Program (PTKFDKFGP) that is being administered by the OPSC.
2. Cost escalation and delays in the supply chain. Many districts are working to complete ESSER projects and the demand for mechanical units, increased costs, and the funding timeline is proving to be full of opportunities. It is critical that we
partner with our clients, consultants, and vendors to develop solutions that will allow our clients to meet the funding deadline and complete critical infrastructure projects at their campuses.
Q: You recently received your Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP) designation. Tell us what that is and how it can benefit our PreK-12 clients.
A: The ALEP accreditation is a program that develops the core competencies needed to be an educational planner. The year-long program provides course instruction from industry experts in educational visioning, community engagement, learning environment pre-design planning, learning environment design, educational facility implementation, project management/ project delivery, assessment of the school facility, and ethics/professionalism.
This program, for me, really brought the industry and services provided full circle. We often say that it is all for the students and the children and this program really showed me how the learner is at the center. How our projects can and do have a huge impact on the students and their growth. It was also exciting to learn about how education is progressing and evolving and how facilities can and need to progress with education.
It was also great to work closely with architects, educators, and planners worldwide and learn what and how others are delivering education and what their facilities look like. It was an extremely thought-provoking and aspirational program.
Our clients can benefit from having an ALEP on their project team because we bring a very holistic approach and understanding to the planning and implementation of a project. Consensus building and engagement is key to the ALEP designation and these skills are critical to designing and building successful projects.
Q: How is HMC’s School Advisors team helping our clients through this massive change?
A: SA is partnering with districts to identify the potential need and impact that this new grade level may have in the district. We are discussing and developing options that may be available to our clients. In some cases, we are looking at adding TK/K classrooms at each campus. In other districts, we are looking at how we can retrofit existing spaces at underutilized campuses to accommodate these early learners and only offering Transitional Kindergarten at some campuses within the district. And in other districts, we are looking at developing early education centers.
Q: What are some trends that you’re seeing in PreK-12 design that our clients might want to know about?
A: The educational trend that most excites me is outdoor learning. I am a person who thinks best while being active outside and to see students being provided these opportunities now post-pandemic is exciting. The positive impacts of being outdoors are numerous, from decreasing behavioral issues to increasing health and wellness. The positive impacts of being outdoors are numerous, from decreasing behavioral issues to increasing health and wellness.
Q: What are some important drivers today that school districts can do to promote student success?
A: Currently, social issues are having dramatic impacts on learning and the services that schools are being asked to provide, and that have direct impacts to student success. These include:
1. Homelessness and students who are unsheltered or do not have access to adequate shelter.
2. Food insecurity
3. Health and wellness services
These issues have come to the forefront and districts are being asked to help fill the need. We are seeing schools and
campuses evolve from centers of learning to centers of community offering support and services to those who are in need.