COVID-19 School Readiness & Meeting Client Needs

When I took on the role of Acting State Architect in January 2019, the title of my first State Architect’s Corner was The Challenges of Change. I could not imagine that the title of that article would be fitting of this, my second. As a result of this pandemic, each of us has faced life-altering change. Nearly all of us have created a new work environment at home which blurs the line between work hours and off hours, in addition to assuming disparately different and concurrent roles to manage our work and daily lives. Beyond altering the lives of staff, DSA as an agency has considerably changed since the onset of the pandemic in March, when within one week we adjusted delivery of services, including implementing electronic back check, so that we could continue to provide all services uninterrupted. Electronic Plan Review enabled us to act quickly because previous DSA leadership encouraged us to find a new way to be better in our delivery of mission critical services. Most of DSA staff may be working virtually and remotely, but we are keeping focus on our mission to be better.

Likewise, school administrators, educators and parents are concerned about the safety of the educational environment related to COVID-19 spread and are changing the vision of what a safe school environment looks like. School boards are holding community meetings to garner input from families and teachers to address immediate return-to-school concerns and implementing contingency planning so that they can remain operational while the pandemic is in flux. To implement these plans facility administrators have explored options and have engaged design professionals to determine what schools can safely accommodate for in-person attendance in accordance with guidance provided by local health authorities. California’s climate affords opportunity to create outdoor learning environments for a considerable portion of the year which offers additional flexibility in balancing learning in the classroom with learning outdoors. This “out-of-the-box” thinking allows schools to establish new practices to expand the envelope of the ideal learning environment and to plan for a future beyond addressing immediate needs.

As a partner in school design and construction, DSA Senior Staff continue to evaluate what we can do to assist return-to-school efforts in this time of pandemic uncertainty. In response, we’ve produced a guidance document, bulletin BU 20-01: DSA Assistance During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Emergency School Facilities, which outlines DSA’s commitment to expediting plan review for K-12 and community colleges for any project related to pandemic response in preparing campuses for re-opening. This document is continually updated based on inquiries received from school districts.

For ease of information retrieval, DSA has created a COVID-19 School Readiness webpage where you’ll find a current version of the BU 20-01. Additionally, we have identified the application numbers of the pre-checked tent structures from the approved pre-check (PC) list so that schools can purchase these pre-approved structures to expedite installation of impromptu learning environments. Future updates to this webpage will include information from sister agencies or industry partners offering guidance on issues such as indoor air quality concerns in time of COVID-19, best practices for safe and healthy indoor environments, and ease in identifying pre-approved structures based on the pre-approved product size. The most important guidance we offer is for you to request pre-application meetings with our senior staff so that your plans can be discussed, effectively implemented and your concerns addressed prior to the installation of temporary structures or temporary modifications made to your facilities.

We know you are busy; however, we would like to hear from you on how DSA’s services have been over these last few months. DSA is keeping a pulse on how the plan review services are meeting your needs through a customer satisfaction survey that is linked in the Plan Approval letters. To assess the survey results as related to our change in delivery of services since the onset of the pandemic, please provide responses in reference to projects that received plan approval since March. (No need to go back to your plan approval letter, you can complete the survey here: DSA Customer Satisfaction Survey).

As always, DSA is here to help with your projects. Contact the respective DSA Regional Manager to discuss your need or situation and we will be as flexible as we can in offering assistance. DSA aims to be as nimble in delivering our services as the schools who need our assistance. Soon we’ll be able to meet without face coverings and with new experiences to talk about. Until then, stay safe and healthy.

Ida A. Clair, AIA

Signature of Acting State Architect, Ida A. Clair

State Architect

CONTACT DSA Headquarters

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