The R&D Tax Credit Aspects of School Building Designs

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        Schools are an important part of our community because they provide an environment for children to learn. School building designs require tailoring to educational needs and provide the best learning environment for students.
        Educational spaces should provide all of the resources in a room for main learning subjects including Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and English. Besides educational spaces, the facility should be designed to support various activities including physical education, music and dining areas for students.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

        Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of Uncertainty
  • Process of Experimentation

        Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent.  On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against payroll taxes.

Design Elements of a School

        The University of Salford from Britain conducted a study on the effect of a school building design and a student’s performance.  The study involved 751 students who were from seven different primary schools where their academic performance was studied against certain environmental factors, such as lighting, acoustics, temperature, air quality, color and layout of the room. After analyzing all of the information, it was discovered that the classroom environment affected 73% of the changes in a student’s performance.  In rural or poorer neighborhoods, schools are normally outdated and need updating to provide a stable and comfortable environment for students.  

        When developing designs for a school facility, designers should consider certain elements including the aesthetics, functionality, security, productivity and health of an overall building. To develop a cost-effective design, a life-cycle cost analysis should be conducted to establish the most optimal materials and equipment to utilize when constructing a school.

        An appropriate learning environment for young students should include natural and electrical lighting, a proper acoustic environment, and good air quality.  Windows should allow for natural daylight yet minimize any form of glare or direct sunlight, so students don’t have trouble reading information. HVAC systems should be installed to provide good air quality and a comfortable temperature in a classroom. Rooms should also offer the right amount of acoustics where students and teachers are able to hear each other clearly.

        Designing a high school or middle school requires different considerations from designing an elementary school. Middle school and high school students have multiple classes a day compared to elementary schools where children stay in one room each day. There is an increased amount of movement within middle schools and high schools. Therefore classrooms should be positioned in a way that is easy to reach throughout the building within a short amount of time.

Spaces within Schools

        A library is known to be a place where students can go to find additional information or study for an exam. The library should be designed to contain all of the resources and tools a student may need. The information desk should be positioned near the entrance/exit for easy access to assistance. There should be spaces that provide an ideal setup for individual and group settings.  

        Certain elements that should be considered when creating a design for a library include heavy floor loads, acoustic and visual privacy, lighting and shelving systems.  Libraries hold various books and records which can be heavy; floors have to be able to support this large amount of weight. Individual studying or group work may occur in libraries, which require the proper spaces to accommodate different needs for each activity. Acoustic and visual privacy is important because individuals need a quiet and private space to study while groups need a larger area and space to discuss a project or test. Depending on the library area, shelves can be built as a part of the room or installed as modular units. Designers have to allocate enough space for required technology, such as computers and printers.

        The gymnasium is a large part of a school building because it provides space for multiple uses. Gyms are mainly used for physical education and sports games but can be used for school events as well.  Selecting the right type of lighting, window, mechanical and wall equipment is important because they have to be durable and withstand any physical impact that may occur from sports activities. Some unique features that are seen in gyms are padded walls, a wall divider, acoustical panels, benches and more.  In middle school and high schools, locker rooms should be located adjacent to the gym to provide easy access for students to change and store their belongings.
        A cafeteria is a place where students are able to take a break from learning, relax and socialize with friends. The dining area should be set up with communal tables where friends can comfortably sit and interact with one another. The proper HVAC and sanitation settings are required to ensure the health and safety of employees as well as students.  The kitchen area requires space and equipment to prepare and cook meals. To decrease the amount of heat and any odors produced, vents and exhaust systems should be installed. The HVAC system has to provide a higher level of cooling in the kitchen compared to other spaces in the building to compensate for the additional heat caused by cooking. 

Science Laboratory
        Multipurpose Science labs should be flexible due to the fact that the room is used for various science activities.  The room should contain moveable lab tables to create enough space and accommodate different lab activities. Multiple sinks should be provided with goose neck faucets and spaced out efficiently to allow for lab group work. Storage and countertop space should be incorporated at the sides of the room.

        Chemistry and Biology labs are different than Multipurpose Science labs due to the fact that they need certain equipment including fume hoods, eye-wash and shower stations, and access to gas. A floor drain should be positioned below the emergency shower station and lead to a wastewater system. Utilities, such as gas and water, should be provided at lab stations. Fume hoods should also be installed to provide adequate ventilation within the room.

        Storage rooms should be built adjacent to the labs to allow for easy access to equipment. Specifically, a chemical storage room requires two doors and a negative pressure system. Light switches should be located outside of the room to prevent any incidents of sparking from occurring inside the room.

Innovative School Designs

Wilson School
        Leo A Daly and Bjarke Ingels Group have partnered to design a new school for the Wilson School located in Washington, D.C. The modern design is unique due to a fan shaped building which was designed to support various educational programs that require different learning environments.  Basically the school will be constructed of different spaces stacked on top of one another and developed outwards resulting in a fan-like shape. Another unique aspect of the design is the rooftop was designed to house gardens and open spaces as an educational and relaxing space for students to learn.

Watkinson School
        Project Frog from San Francisco, California was involved in developing a sustainable building for a school in Hartford, Connecticut.  The Watkinson School is a 3,500 square foot sustainable building partially built from recycled material and houses three classrooms and a lobby. The building is known as The Solarium which incorporates solar power , low VOC-emitting interiors, high recycled content building materials and energy efficient systems. The sustainable design produces a 75% energy demand reduction, natural light, good air quality and advanced climate controls.  The classrooms were built to be flexible to allow for various educational activities, such as lectures, seminars, labs and hands on experimentation.

STEM Buildings

        Many schools and universities are seeing a growth in the number of students who are interested in pursuing a major within the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) fields. This growth has lead to renovations and an increase in construction of new STEM buildings.  STEM facilities contain a unique building design due to the incorporation of laboratories and state-of-the-art classrooms.

        In order to design an efficient STEM building, architects have to understand what STEM programs are and the specific types of activities that will occur in the facility. Since technology is one of the main studies within STEM programs, classes typically involve the utilization of high tech devices and software  programs. Students also are involved with group work and discussing ideas with one another creating a more interactive learning environment. During class, students participate more and are involved in a more hands-on approach to learning.
Many school facilities incorporate spaces where students can meet to work on group projects or study for an upcoming test. The interaction between individuals is important because students are able to help one another, which fosters a sense of community.  

Elementary School STEM Building
        Presently, an increasing amount of schools are developing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programs which result in building new spaces to support these programs. From universities to elementary schools, STEAM programs have emerged and flourished in providing students with a new learning experience. John Lee Johnson Elementary School in Austin, Texas has developed a STEAM academy.  The classrooms will contain flexible aspects, such as movable and transparent walls which allow various classes to interact with one another and have a view of the outside environment.  

High School STEM Building
        Charlottesville High School in Charlottesville, Virginia has built a STEM laboratory for students to gain experience within science, technology, engineering and math fields.  The new Sigma Lab’s design consists of a design lab with group areas, a 3D printing lab, a sliding glass door which offers soundproofing, walls that students can write on and an interactive LCD display screen.  There are workstations where students can use CAD and design programs to create models and then use a 3D printer to finalize their idea.   


        It is important for designers to create an efficient school design because it provides students with an exceptional learning environment. To create a safe and comfortable setting for students, there are certain standards that have to be followed when building a school facility. There has been an increase in the design of STEM buildings and sustainable building designs. Companies involved with the development of innovative and unique designs for schools are eligible to obtain the R&D tax credit.

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