As Baltimore City Schools embarks on their 21st Century Buildings Initiative to renovate and build new schools, it is important to envision what we want to create. The list of what we want to escape–schools without temperature control, broken and opaque windows, dirty bathrooms and undrinkable water cannot be enough as we create schools worthy of our children.
One easy decision is that our 21st Century buildings should be built well enough to last far into the 22nd century. This means that we will choose the best materials, designs, energy sources and technologies that will last and provide long term savings.
We must remember that our goal is not to create school buildings, but scholars and communities that are empowered, enlightened and enriched by our schools. We are building communities that will thrive and support their schools far into the future. Our schools and communities must learn to sustain each other with deep involvement and respect.
A project of this scope needs to capture the imagination and hearts of the students and the community. This needs to be their project, their schools, and as often as possible—their jobs. If we drop 2.4 billion dollars into Baltimore City without lifting thousands of people out of poverty, we will have failed the city and the schools. By connecting to after school and weekend training programs, students and their parents could become qualified and involved in some of the construction work on schools.
The 10 year plan provides a wonderful project for student learning that involves economics, mathematics, science, design and architecture. By involving students in the visioning of their building, they can begin to understand how a project can be created and to have a voice and a hand in this creation. This is real learning and empowerment.
If we are creating a city that brings back the full tapestry and talent of Baltimore to our public schools, this process should be open and welcoming to all. Architects, designers, educators and students should be collaborating on design prototypes and talking about how they can build or renovate these schools in new and wonderful ways. Planners and social workers should be talking about how to integrate health and social programs, education and the community into the school design. And students and parents should be imagining the type of schools and experiences they want at their schools.
It is time for Baltimore to become.