Master Planning Beyond Facilities; Building Partnerships and Communities
The ultimate goal of our master planning process is consensus. You can build consensus by establishing partnerships and trust within a community and giving all patrons a voice in the process. To achieve this goal, we recommend districts engage staff members, students, administrators and community participants in the conversation to determine the right solution for their educational future…together.
So what do you do when you find yourself facing opposition? We’ve identified some tactics, and I’d like to illustrate those through a quick case study: our master planning journey with Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD).
MBUSD is an affluent district of 6,800 students in southwestern Los Angeles County, Calif. After conducting 72 district and community meetings over a four month period, and developing the district’s priorities, we presented our designs for each of their eight campuses publicly at a school board workshop. The presentation was going well, with some anticipated objections to the closing of a Montessori School leasing space from one of the elementary schools and the ever-present traffic concerns of neighbors around existing schools.
But as we finished presenting the plan for the middle school, which is located within a community park, we were hit with opposition. A large, well-organized and very vocal community contingent emerged; the Friends of Polliwog Park. And they were not happy. Specifically, this group was very vocal in their disapproval of certain choices in land use. We knew at that moment we had to take a step back, regroup, and implement the tactics below if we wanted to achieve consensus.
- Listen: The Friends of Polliwog Park adamantly did not want to see the elimination of any mature landscape or wildlife habitat in the park. They expressed concerns over on-going traffic congestion in the neighborhood. Additionally, they wanted assurance that the District was not proposing to build unnecessary facilities simply for revenue generation such as a proposed new swimming pool, additional play fields and a new central kitchen. One after another, the Friends of Polliwog Park spoke of their concerns with the plan. We listened, and we made sure they understood that we were truly listening. Helping an individual or group feel confident that they’re being heard is critical as a first step.
- Don’t Rush the Process: The Friends of Polliwog Park are very influential and could have become formidable opponents to the district’s plans for a future bond effort. In order to do what was right for the entire Manhattan Beach community, DLR Group strongly recommended that the district postpone final adoption of the master plan for one month so we could address this group’s concerns. MBUSD and DLR Group met with the neighbors and the Friends of Polliwog Park over the period of several weeks to build an understanding and coalition. What emerged at the end was a much more nuanced plan, and only because we and the client knew it was important to take that little bit of extra time to do the job right.
- Revise and Compromise: We took great strides to ensure that any elements of our plan preserved the existing trees and habitat. We also included descriptions for the uses of the proposed facilities to clarified they would not be revenue generating or generate additional traffic. In the spirit of compromise the district was afforded a small portion of land (8,000 SF) to accommodate a much needed multi-purpose performance building. The district was also able to provide an expanded parking area adjacent to the park to help alleviate congestion with middle school student drop-off and pick-up and provide a significant amount of additional parking for patrons of the park on weekends. When you open the doors to conversation rooted in mutual respect, you open the doors to a shared sense of mission, even with opposition groups. And through that, you can find alternative plans by which you can accomplish shared goals.
One month after this group publicly announced their concerns, compromise and respect ultimately prevailed, and the final plan is now supported by all sides. The willingness to break down barriers and work together - and the openness of the District to explore new possibilities – put this effort back on course. Guiding our clients through these controversies and knowing the importance of building consensus and support around a facilities master plan is what sets DLR Group apart. Collaboration and diplomacy are crucial traits for developing the right solutions.