Small School Site Guidelines
The California Code of Regulations, Title 5 establishes the standards for school site selection including requirements for the size of a site. These size standards are covered in the Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition).
All public school projects, regardless of funding sources, and all charter school projects requesting state bond funds, must meet Title 5 standards.
Title 5 does allow local educational agencies (LEAs) to request an exemption from these recommended site size standards if sufficient land is not available or circumstances exist due to any of the following:
- Urban or suburban development results in insufficient available land even after considering the option of eminent domain.
- Sufficient acreage is available but it would not be economically feasible to mitigate geological or environmental hazards or other site complications, which pose a threat to the health or safety of students and staff.
- Sufficient acreage is available but not within the attendance area of the unhoused students or there is an extreme density of population within a given attendance area requiring a school to serve more students that would cause extreme financial hardship to the LEA to transport students to the proposed school site.
- Geographic barriers, traffic congestion, or other constraints would cause extreme financial hardship for the LEA to transport students to the proposed school site.
Small School Sites
The California Department of Education (CDE), School Facilities Planning Division (SFPD) has established guidelines for districts to use in meeting the exemption criteria described above. For purposes of this policy, a small school site is defined as a site that is less than or equal to 50% of the CDE recommended site size.
These guidelines are advisory only and utilization or compliance is not required by regulation or CDE. CDE's discretionary approval of exemption requests will be determined by specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis. For requests following this guidance, CDE should reasonably be able to determine if an exemption is approvable. Requests using other methods demonstrating compliance with the exemption provisions of the California Code of Regulations, Title 5 Section 14010(u) may also be submitted and be subject to other appropriate agency or expert review and consultation as determined necessary by CDE.
- LEAs requesting approval of sites by CDE less than or equal to 50% of the CDE recommended site size must first complete the Small School Site Worksheet (XLS) (Sample Small School Site Worksheet (PDF) prior to the initial site review. The LEA must submit the Small School Site Worksheet, a conceptual site plan (PDF) (accessible version of a conceptual site plan), and educational specifications to SFPD prior to the initial site review so early advice can be provided. The LEA must submit an updated Small School Site Worksheet and detailed site plan at the site submittal stage and preliminary and final plan review stage.
- The policy requires LEA's to demonstrate how a small school site will accommodate the school's educational program. There are also specific SFPD requirements regarding the provision of physical education on sites that are less than 70% of the CDE recommended site size. (See Physical Education Planning Guidelines for Middle and High Schools and Physical Education Planning Guidelines for Elementary Schools).
- LEAs requesting approval for small sites must also agree to comply with specific Small School Site Policy provisions, which are detailed in this policy. These provisions include: compliance with maximum density standards, Title 5 classroom size standards, physical education standards, and the provision of Minimum Essential Facilities (MEF).
Overview of Process
Step 1 - LEA identifies and evaluates potential sites and/or construction on or expansion of existing school site.
Step 2 - District discusses small school site with CDE through site review process and/or preliminary plan review.
Step 4 - Based on Worksheet, total site acres is more than 50% of recommended site size the LEA will proceed as normal with site/plan review process
Based on worksheet, total site acres is less than 50% of recommended site size the project must comply with policy provisions unless it qualifies for specific exemptions as identified in the policy.
Small School Site Worksheet
The Small School Site Worksheet (XLS) (Sample Small School Site Worksheet [PDF]) calculates the effective acreage added by proposed mitigation measures, the ratio of site size to CDE recommended site size, and the student density of the site.
The following projects are required to complete the Small School Site Worksheet:
- Requests for plan and site approvals for new school sites where the acreage is less than or equal to 50% of the acres recommended in the Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition).
- Request for plan and site approvals for expansion of existing school sites when the total school acreage will be less than or equal to 50% of the acres recommended in the Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition) and an increase in enrollment is planned.
- Request for plan approvals for new construction on existing school sites when the total school acreage is less than or equal to 50% of the acres recommended in the Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition) and an increase in enrollment is planned.
Projects Exempt from One or More Provisions of the Policy
Projects on small sites must comply with the provisions of the Small School Site Policy and fill out the Small School Site Worksheet (XLS) (Sample Small School Site Worksheet [PDF]), unless one or more of the following conditions applies:
- A project that is able to provide additional area that will make the "adjusted site size" more than 50% of the CDE recommended size is exempt from classroom size, MEF, and density provisions.
Projects that add sufficient additional space to the acreage (as defined in the Small School Site Policy and verified by the completion of the Small School Site Worksheet) shall be reviewed using the Title 5 and CDE policies that are applied to standard size sites.
For example, if a site if 40% of the CDE recommended acreage, and the inclusion of second-story areas raises the percentage to 55%, the project does not need to comply with the Small School Site Policy provisions since the mitigation has raised the project above the 50% threshold. Specific requirements regarding the provision of physical education on sites that are less than 70% of the CDE recommended site size still apply.
- A project that is a school that primarily offers a non-traditional or alternative educational program may be exempt from classroom size and MEF provisions.
Schools that offer a "non-traditional" or alternative educational program such as magnet programs and "open" schools may not be subject to the Small School Site Policy provisions based on CDE's evaluation of educational specifications and other documents. Schools that offer alternative educational programs, may include, but are not limited to, alternative schools as regulated in Education Code sections 58500-58512, continuation schools, and community day schools.
Educational specifications are required to be submitted to CDE at the initial site review so early advice can be provided. The educational specifications must explain in detail the approaches used by the school that will allow the school's educational program, including physical education, to be conducted on a small site. If exemptions to Title 5 standards are requested, the educational specifications should provide detail on how, for example, a classroom of less than 960 square feet can adequately provide the necessary space. Refer to CDE publication Educational Specifications: Linking Design of School Facilities to Educational Programs, 1997.
Consistent with Title 5 Section 14001(g), flexibility should be included in building design to allow future changes. Specifically, the project shall include design features, such as removable walls, that would enable conversion of school to a traditional school program.
For additional information on alternative educational programs, refer to the CDE's Educational Options Web page.
- A project that is new construction on an existing school site when the total school acreage is less than or equal to 50% of the acres recommended in the Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition) and an increase in enrollment is NOT planned.
A project subject to the provisions of the Small School Site Policy, as identified above, must comply with the following:
- Meet Title 5 Classroom Size Standards
- Standard classroom, 960 square feet (Title 5 Section 14030(a)(1)(A))
- Kindergarten, 1,350 square feet (Title 5 Section (a)(1)(A)) including qualified adjacent workroom, restroom, and group instructional learning areas
- Specialized classrooms (Title 5 Section 14030(i))
- Have minimum essential facilities as specified
- High Schools and Middle Schools
- Multipurpose room
- Elementary Schools
- Multipurpose room
- Span Schools K-08
- Multipurpose room
- Span Schools 07-12
- Multipurpose room
- Middle school gym (at an LEAs request, CDE may approve provision of only a high school gym if the LEA submits documentation verifying middle and high school physical education can be provided in one gym. Specifically, the physical education curriculum must confirm that middle school students will not use the gym for physical education at the same time the high school students use the gym for physical education).
- High school gym
- High Schools and Middle Schools
- Provide a physical education plan that meets state content standards. Provide sufficient space for physical education curriculum standards based on California State Board of Education adopted model content standards. See SFPD Web site for physical education planning guidelines.
- Density maximums of the Small School Site Policy
Master plan capacity shall not exceed the maximum number of students as determined on the worksheet. The maximum number of students per acre based is noted below.
Number of Students Per Acre
School Type Single Track Multitrack Year-Round Education (Four-Track) High School150185 Middle School (06-08 or 07-08)150185 Elementary School (K-05)185230 Span School K-08175215 Span School 07-12150185 Span School K-12165205
Site Size Adjustments - See Calculations on Worksheet
- Use of multi-story construction projects
The square footage of each floor above the first floor times a factor of 1.30 (30% increase) divided by 43,560 (square feet per acre) will be added to the net usable acreage of the site.
- Parking structures
The square footage of each floor of underground or multi-level parking will be added to the net usable acreage of the site.
Multi-level parking structures are recommended for staff parking only. Safety and supervision concerns are numerous when students are allowed to park in multi-level garages.
- Roof-top play areas
The area of roof-top play area will be added to the net usable acreage of the site.
- Fitness space
The square footage of supplemental interior space dedicated to fitness will be added to the net usable acreage of the site. These spaces are in addition to the MEF that must be provided.
- Joint-use of property not by the LEA
An acreage credit will be given to LEAs entering into joint-use agreements with other local governmental entities or private enterprises for offsite property and facilities to be used for educational activities or parking. The usable square footage of the joint-use area shall be added to the net usable acreage of the site. Field areas claimed in this calculation must meet Title 5 standards. Buildings claimed in this area must be on property that meets Title 5 standards.
The LEA must demonstrate a safe pedestrian route to the joint-use facility, consider the time required for students to access the shared facilities, and any effect this will have on reducing the number of minutes offered for educational programs. The LEA must also consider the liability of students using facilities not meeting Field Act standards.