School Modernization: A Trend that is on the Rise

VIP’s engineering division, IPD Engineering, has teamed with several local architectural firms to renovate and modernize many elementary and secondary schools in and around the Upstate New York area as part of various school districts’ capital improvement plans.

These projects have taken on different levels of modernization, but all have focused on improving the student experience. According to a recent study conducted by Perkins Eastman and the District of Columbia Public Schools, modernization can increase student satisfaction. Students reported being  16% happier, 18% calmer, 17% healthier, and 16% more ready to learn. Additionally, students who attend school in modernized buildings are 25% prouder of their schools.

It does not take many modernization improvements to have a significant impact on a child. For example, adding windows to classrooms can improve test performance. The study shows that students perform 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests in windowed rooms. In addition to adding windows, incorporating more natural light and fixing acoustics can help kids learn better and concentrate harder. By updating temperature controls, it can ensure comfort and focus.

Sam Cosamano, President of IPD Engineering, sat down with us to give insight into elements of modernization and which infrastructure improvements tend to have the greatest positive impact on a student’s ability to learn and faculty’s ability to teach. 

Infrastructure improvements directly impact Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), which refers to the quality of a building’s environment, and the health and well being of those who occupy the space. Key components of IEQ that Sam’s team focuses on are daylighting/light control, ventilation/exhaust, acoustics/noise control, and thermal comfort. 

Lighting Improvements

Lighting conversions to LED is a big shift. Adding more natural light to spaces and controlling light has been a top priority on projects we have been on. To effectively introduce natural light and electrical light is to employ layers of light using daylight for ambient light levels, while providing occupants with additional lighting options to meet their needs. Effective daylighting and electrical lighting illuminate the building space without subjecting occupants to the glare of major variations in light levels. 

Ventilation & Exhaust 

Ventilation and exhaust is important to prevent build-up of odors, carbon dioxide, allergens, and toxins in indoor air. Improving ventilation and exhaust within schools incorporates the introduction of fresh air, the use of separate exhaust systems for various building areas, and energy-efficient and variable drive fans to ensure regular scheduled maintenance. 

Acoustics | Noise Control

One of the top ranking factors students find distracting is noise generated by mechanical systems. To combat this, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) noise control materials can help reduce the transmission of sound and noise through these systems. Wrapping pipes and ductwork can help block the transmission of sound into, and out of, the system. Utilizing duct silencers, flat acoustic foam and plenum return silencers can help mitigate sound or noise that may travel through the open channels in an HVAC system.

Thermal Comfort

Thermal comfort impacts temperature of the classroom’s environment and ensures a thermal bridge of the building envelope. Thermal comfort is often the toughest variable to control due to the human factor and individual comfort levels. It takes into account air speed, air temperature, radiant temperature, humidity, as well as the human factor. Engineering firms are tasked to complete calculations diligently to effectively address a building’s thermal comfort. It is critical to monitor a building’s thermal comfort to ensure occupant satisfaction. 

While IEQ is key to modernization, schools are also introducing outdoor learning spaces, flexible spaces, increased common areas, and technology integration.

Common Areas | Collaborative Spaces

Although collaborative space is the norm in today’s work environment, older school designs did not create environments that promoted group learning and team teaching. However, schools are finding ways to incorporate collaborative spaces by creating bigger classrooms, small seminar rooms, shared offices for teachers, community spaces, and libraries that encourage interaction and build an environment where working together is vital. 


In the past, classroom spaces were set up in rows with the teacher’s desk being in the front of the classroom. Today, we are seeing classrooms that allow teachers to set up learning environments that best fit their class. Instead of traditional desks, we are seeing tables and chairs and breakout areas with soft seating. The modern classrooms seem to be mirroring the direction that corporate offices are going.

Technology Integration

Educational technology is changing at a rapid rate. It is being integrated into the curriculum with touchscreen tablets, project-based learning centers, and more. Schools are creating spaces that encourage interaction between students and teachers to take full advantage of whiteboards, monitors, and other technology.

Modernization of our schools emphasizes the built environment and the impact it has on learning. Schools’ capital improvement projects are looking to improve the IEQ while introducing dynamic and energizing learning spaces that foster outdoor learning, collaboration, flexibility and technology. 

To learn more about the services Sam’s team provides and about the art of design-build, visit us on the web at