Questing for Good Acoustics in Schools

When thinking about acoustics in schools, the first thought goes to the classroom but common areas also pose a challenge to the learning environment. At my son's school, a 100-year-old three-story urban elementary school, the hallways bounce the merest sound like a ping pong ball. The tall spaces have not a scrap of absorptive material in them, from the polished floors, to the tall metal lockers and smooth tiled walls. I can only imagine the din at class changes. But, in a resource-constrained district, the hallways are active learning space during class as well, which poses a problem. As a first step toward a solution, the school recently invested in a couple hundred acoustic panels to be installed in the hallways.

Another problem area is the auditorium. It is a beautiful space, but sounds go wonky in there. Somehow, unamplified speech becomes garbled any further than 10 feet from the speaker and then almost seems to be sucked out of the very air. I have to wonder if it's the placement of the absorptive materials in that space that's the problem, as discussed in this Building Operating Management article: 

"For good acoustics in an auditorium, the sidewalls and ceiling should be carefully oriented and acoustically hard to reflect performance sound to the ears of the audience. These sound-reflective surfaces provide very important natural sound reinforcement for better hearing.When the ceiling is 'acoustical' or sound-absorbent, this important attribute of an auditorium is lost." 

What are your acoustics challenges in the school environment? Are your durable, easily-cleaned spaces just too loud? Or do you have sound distortion/intelligibility issues as well? What have been your best solutions. I'd love to know. 

And if instead of schools you're looking to solve acoustics issues in the office environment, check out this article for some ideas. 

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