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By: Dean Manasses, AIA, LEED AP BD+C | June 1, 2020

     Contributors: Josh Czerniak and Troy Kerr

​In the COVID era, FGMA's skilled use of design technology tools help ensure safe delivery of essential services.


Safety is paramount as FGMA persists through the COVID-19 crisis.  As we work diligently to keep long-planned projects on course, we’re also preparing for the “new normal”- designing, building, and renovating facilities that will meet enhanced safety requirements to protect the people who live, work, and learn in them.  In both contexts, design technology tools are powerful allies. 

FGMA is doing its part to battle the COVID crisis.  Our teams are working remotely and, when client meetings and/or site visits are needed, mitigating the challenges of social distancing to gather necessary data, create designs and work collaboratively.  In fact, FGMA has been leveraging the power of design technology tools for years and was well-positioned to press forward when the global pandemic struck.

Design technology tools offer multiple benefits:

Safety first: Using technology tools effectively keeps everyone safe and helps people work together. For example, in the project design and construction phases, site visits can be limited, and skillful use of combined data sets will ensure that people work together productively.  

Reality Capture:  Tools such as 360-degree cameras and 3D laser scanners ‘capture’ existing conditions in the form of comprehensive images and point-cloud data that help create incredibly accurate 3D models for existing buildings, both inside and out. Everyone can access this reliable data and work with it – individually or collaboratively, on video conference platforms or in-person meetings. 

Optimized Resources:  As our economy recovers, school districts and other public entities will likely have to do more with less.  Using technology strategically optimizes precious resources, particularly with respect to time and travel costs that traditional data gathering methods, client meetings and site visits entail.  Using technology strategically will enhance the value of in-person meetings and site visits when they are needed.

Design Technology at Work ​

In March, Glenview, IL voters approved a $119M referendum to fund long-needed improvements in School District 34’s eight elementary/middle schools. With success in hand- and schools closed, District leaders are eager to press ahead and the FGM team is hard at work.  

Teams of 2-3 architects are visiting each school, sheathed in masks and gloves, to wield 360 digital cameras and gather the exact data needed to complete the initial phase of schematic design which, through video conference technology, we can share with District staff.  Later, 3D laser scans and BIM technologies will be used to explore different design options to help District 34 leaders make well-informed decisions in whatever meeting contexts make best sense. 

Another example is our partnership with the Oak Park and River Forest (OPRF) High School District.  OPRF selected FGMA in 2019 to lead the first project borne out of the District’s Master Plan known as Imagine OPRF, a community initiative to transform this historic high school into a future-ready learning environment with spaces where all students will feel welcome during and beyond the school day.  

Beginning with its initial competition for the project, FGMA used an array of technologies (3D laser scanners, 360 cameras and drone video photography) for a comprehensive review of existing building systems/conditions.  Armed with this data, we’re now using BIM technologies to demonstrate various options for modernizing and transforming outmoded, complex spaces, using video conference meeting platforms as needed.  

As OPRF High School awaits reopening, its renovation moves forward.  Working remotely, the FGMA team is fully engaged with OPRF Administration, Staff and Board of Education.  Recently, in preparation for a virtual meeting with OPRF, we used video conferencing so our team could finalize a presentation to help OPRF make critical decisions regarding the finishes and color palette of a key space being transformed.

A third example is found in FGMA's long-standing relationship with Morton SD 201.  In the last decade, we have transformed the facilities of this urban high school district and are currently completing major capital improvements at Morton East High School. When the pandemic struck, school leaders decided to take advantage of their empty building and accelerate construction previously scheduled for the summer.  Working remotely and making use of technology, FGM Architects staff completed the bidding process early and construction will begin shortly.

Preparing for Tomorrow

We are all discovering how technology keeps us connected in meaningful ways.  It can also help us use precious time more efficiently and productively – creating new opportunities for human interaction and invention.  Well before COVID-19 engulfed the world, FGMA was using technology to deliver beneficial services.  As communities reopen, there will still be real value in people being able to work collaboratively without having to be in the same room.  

Looking beyond today’s challenges, FGMA is preparing for a future in  which social distancing and no/low touch environments may become the norm.  This will require ongoing strategic integration of technology to build the schools, police and fire stations, emergency operations and dispatch centers, recreation facilities and town halls that ensure the health and vitality of our communities.


Dean Manasses is Principal and Vice President at FGMA where he focuses on PK-12 school design. He serves on the firm’s Resilient Communities committee, sharing best practices for creating healthy, future-ready learning environments.  Most recently, he was Project Manager for the design and construction of Cicero School District 99’s new Sherlock Elementary School.  


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