Recently, when Guilford County Schools’ officials updated the Guilford County Board of Commissioners on projects being funded by the county school bond ballot referendums of 2020 and 2022, school system leaders let the commissioners know that those projects – like most construction projects these days – will be coming in way over budget.

Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue suggested an idea that he thought might help:  have the school system explore building more “cookie-cutter” schools.  That is, each school would not have a unique design but instead would look a lot like other schools.

Perdue, who was a long-time head of the Guilford County Emergency Services Department before becoming a county commissioner – knows a thing or two about construction since he oversaw the building of a variety of facilities.

“I understand sites are different,” Perdue said. “Sitework may change but building the same building multiple times certainly has its advantages.”

Some of those benefits include not having to pay for new plans for new schools, reduction in construction costs and maintenance due to familiarity with projects, fewer work order changes, and savings from economies of scale.

Most Emergency Services stations across the county look very similar – and there’s a reason why the department does it that way.

Also, some school systems in the state have saved big by having their schools look alike.

Guilford County Schools superintend Whitney Oakley said it’s hard to do that when programs are specialized.

“It works, of course, when we are doing more traditional programs,” she said. “When we are doing more specialized programs we have to take that into account.  I also think we can’t just throw up these rectangles filled with rectangular classrooms.”

She said space and desk arrangement in traditional schools often make it difficult for students to work together in unique ways.

Oakley cited Grimsley High School as an example.

“You can’t let kids collaborate,” she said of those classrooms, adding that there’s not enough room often to move the desks around and build a truly collaborative learning environment.

She said designs for new school buildings don’t have to be “brave, new and innovative,”  but they do need to “match what we know about how kids learn.”