Latrobe Prize Win Produces Deep Study into Education, Wellness Benefits of School Modernization

Latrobe Prize Study Produces New Insights into Benefits of School Modernization

"Addressing a Multi-Billion Dollar Challenge," funded by the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows Latrobe Prize and J+J Flooring, illustrates how high-quality school environments can boost educational outcomes, improve well-being, and strengthen communities.

The built environment matters. A small but growing body of knowledge demonstrates that cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development is related to the built environment. Research has shown links between school conditions, learning experiences, and stakeholder outcomes, but until now there’s been insufficient data to inform large-scale modernization programs. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Perkins Eastman and the Drexel University School of Education aimed to fill these gaps.

Latrobe Prize Produces New Insights into Benefits of School Modernization

The Billion-Dollar Challenge: 

  • 49.4 million students were enrolled in public schools in fall, 2021 (source)
  • Average age of the nation’s public schools in 2023: 42 years (source)
  • Nationwide shortfall in maintenance, operations, and capital expenditures in 2021: $85 billion annually (source)
  • That annual deficit had risen by $25 billion since 2016 (source)
  • Districts with medium-to-high rates of poverty have a greater proportion of this under-investment (source)

This Study’s Goal: 
Latrobe Prize Produces Deep Study into Benefits of School Modernization 4With an interest in asserting, or re-asserting, the pivotal role that schools play in American communities, we sought to:

• Understand the impact of school modernization on occupants’ well-being, satisfaction, and performance
• Identify spaces and design features that impact students and teachers and how they interact with the educational environment
• Explore the connection between the quality of a school’s facilities and design features and how well it connects to its surrounding community
• Develop new knowledge to serve district leaders and designers who are planning new and renovated schools
• Empower districts to advocate for greater funding while enabling them to more effectively spend the limited funds they do have



Our Findings

Latrobe Prize Produces New Insights into Benefits of School Modernization 3

We’ve demonstrated a direct connection between performance, well-being, community engagement, and children’s educational environments across three variables: Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Educational Adequacy (EA), and Community Connectivity (CC). Using both quantitative and qualitative measures (below), our study examined modernized and non-modernized school buildings in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, school districts.


Latrobe Prize Produces Deep Study into Benefits of School Modernization

Indoor Environmental Quality


Latrobe Prize Produces New Insights into Benefits of School Modernization 1

School modernization efforts can make considerable improvements to the quality of the indoor environment, which can thereby influence building occupants’ health, satisfaction, and performance. We assessed thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, and light in both modernized and non-modernized schools to gauge Indoor Environmental Quality.

Key IEQ Findings
  • Modernized schools in general out-performed non-modernized schools around the key factors of thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, and light.
  • Modernized schools had significantly lower average background noise levels. More work is necessary to address occupied noise levels and understand the complex relationship between noise, engagement, and learning, particularly with special-education and non-native language learners.
  • The non-modernized schools generally overheated their indoor environments during the winter, creating uncomfortable conditions and wasting both energy and funds.
  • Non-modernized schools relied more on electric lighting than daylight for function and comfort, likely contributing to higher energy demands and operating costs.
  • Modernized schools had significantly lower average particulate matter values compared to non-modernized schools, but there was no clear correlation found between CO2 levels and modernization status, showcasing that more work is necessary to improve air quality comprehensively.

Educational Adequacy

Latrobe Prize Produces Deep Study into Benefits of School Modernization 1


It is important that schools be considered safe, healthy, and attractive places where students and staff feel they can thrive. Educational Adequacy considers how well a school’s spaces and design features—inside and outside the classroom as well as inside and outside the building—support learning and teaching within that environment. Part of our assessment of Educational Adequacy involved collecting data using a visual assessment tool (VAT), which we created for this study. The VAT evaluated Educational Adequacy across eight categories, illustrated above.

Key EA Findings

Modernized schools generally outperformed non-modernized schools across all EA categories. The greatest differences occurred in the following:

  • instructional space ambiance, in terms of infrastructure, color, and finishes;
  • exterior presence, related to the building’s architecture, entry, and community access;
  • safety and security, specifically the building’s entry and its overall design;
  • community, related to the quality of a school’s assembly space; and
  • the location of the main office and its ability to control the entrance.

Community Connectivity


Latrobe Prize Produces New Insights into Benefits of School Modernization 2

Schools play an important role in communities, transcending their core mission of educating children. From delivering resources and social services to acting as sites for disaster response and civic engagement, schools act as anchors and connectors for the greater neighborhood. Community Connectivity is a measure of how a school’s design features and its spaces, both inside and outside the building, support the wider network of stakeholders and the way they perceive, use, and engage with the school.

Key CC Findings
  • Community Connectivity can exist whether a school
    is modernized or not. But overall, modernization seems to be a positive factor in supporting this phenomenon.
  • Parents and caregivers with children at modernized schools see their school as a hub for neighborhood activities and an anchor for the neighborhood’s sense of community.
  • Modernized schools are a physically attractive addition to the neighborhood and entice more people to move in.
  • Parents and caregivers at modernized and non-modernized schools see their school as an important provider of neighborhood services.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers saw their schools as a vital source of information.
  • The community’s perception of non-modernized schools changed in a positive way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design Recommendations

Based on the study’s findings, the following recommendations can be used to inform the planning and design of modernized school facilities, with the goal of creating environments that positively impact school stakeholders and the communities surrounding schools, helping to prepare students for success in the 21st century.

Tool Kit for Study Replication

Though there were limitations and complications to conducting this study during the COVID-19 pandemic, we discovered many helpful takeaways for school districts or others wishing to conduct their own school modernization studies. To aid in others’ continued research, we provide a detailed account of this study’s methods, including tools used for data collection, which offer a roadmap for replication.

With Thanks

Latrobe Prize Produces Deep Study into Benefits of School Modernization 21

Primary Researchers and Authors

Emily Chmielewski EDAC, Design Research Director and Senior Associate, Perkins Eastman
Heather Jauregui AIA, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, CPHC, Director of Sustainability and Associate Principal, Perkins Eastman
Sean O’Donnell FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, Perkins Eastman, Co-Principal Investigator
Bruce Levine JD, Clinical Professor and Director of Educational Policy Program, School of Education, Drexel University, Co-Principal Investigator
Karen Gioconda NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, Associate Principal, Perkins Eastman
Lance Kruse PhD, CEO, Invontics

Additional thanks to the study’s advisory committee, school district representatives, and data collection assistants,
all of whom are listed in the full report.