Location of Schools
The process of determining where to build a new school is influenced by a number of factors but typically lacks a rigorous planning process considering a multitude of factors to determine the optimal location for a new public school. In fact, size, footprint, location, accessibility, walkability, etc. often take a back seat to finding a location that is the most cost effective and that offers the least amount of obstacles prior to development (environmental, storm-water, zoning, etc). While a well-defined planning process may not always be used, there are a number of regulatory requirements that influence the scale, scope, and location of new schools.
At the state level there are two main sources of regulation: the School Construction Law (105 ILCS 230/5-1), and the eligibility guidelines put forth by the Illinois Capital Development Board (ICDB). In both cases, the goal is twofold: to prioritize and regulate the awarding of construction grants, and to establish project standards. In Illinois the Capital Development Board serves as the construction management arm for Illinois state government. Whenever state money is involved in a non-transportation capital project, the CDB typically has an oversight and regulatory role. The CDB sets standards and design guidelines for a project's state funding eligibility. When designing schools, most school districts follow CDB's list of eligible and ineligible items whether or not capital money is available from the state. In a practical sense, the CDB has created a list of what should and should not be considered part of a school construction project, to receive state funds. Some items that are mentioned by the CDB are contrary to what is found in a numerous examples of "best practices" throughout the country. For instance, it is well documented that schools should be viewed as community centers and designed to be used 24 hours a day, year round (McAnn and Beaumont, Sullivan, National Summit on School Design, Bingler Quinn and Sullivan). In fact, research suggests that student learning, school effectiveness, family engagement, and community vitality are significantly improved when schools are designed as centers of the community (Martin, Melaville, and Shah). The CDB however states the following about community centers:
"Community Facilities: Although CDB encourages development of facilities intended for joint use by school and community, CDB's participation in the funding of such facilities is limited to those items required to meet the needs of the school's educational and support programs." (ICDB)
This approach does not encourage school districts to envision schools as community learning centers, an approach that has widespread national support. Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent the CDB from adopting an approach that encourages schools to be designed as community centers, since the grants they make are funded through tax revenues and their charge is not exclusive to building educational facilities. Another area that directly impacts the size and location of a school is acreage requirements. The CDB has established a maximum acreage formula as described below.
Illinois Capital Development Board Acreage Guidelines
This formula should have the effect of capping the number of acres associated with a school however many municipalities have enacted ordinances that adhere to different standards.
Sources: Illinois Capital Development Board, Joint Committee on Administrative Rules: Title 71: Public Buildings, Facilities And Real Property Chapter