Educational audiologists are disappointed in the recent decision of the International Code Council (ICC) to reject classroom acoustics standards for inclusion in the 2012 International Building Code® at its May hearing in Dallas, Texas. The recently revised American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/Acoustical Society of America (ASA) standards called for the International Building Code to meet the ASA/ANSI classroom acoustics standards for new school construction.
Several ASHA members spoke on the need for new standards during the ICC process. In testimony at a May hearing before several hundred ICC voting members who represent state and local governments, audiologist Peggy Nelson, a member of the ASA/ANSI working group that developed the standard, spoke about the science behind the need for the classroom acoustics rule.
In her testimony, audiologist Tori Gustafson highlighted the large population of students that would benefit from good classroom acoustics. An associate professor of audiology at Texas Tech University, Gustafson noted that 25% of young children may have temporary hearing loss due to ear infections and 15% have some form of permanent hearing loss. At some schools, 20% to 50% of students speak English as a second language. An estimated 5% of all children have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and 5% of students have auditory processing disorders.
"All of these students can benefit from good classroom acoustics to better understand speech and focus on classroom instruction," Gustafson stated.
Architect Chin Lin, a senior associate at HMFH Architects in Cambridge, Mass., provided data to support the cost-efficiency of implementing the classroom acoustics standards into the design and construction of schools.
These comments, however, were countered by testimony from a portable classroom manufacturer suggesting that the classroom acoustics standard would greatly increase the cost of school construction at a time when state and local governments are financially strapped. The testimony proved damaging to the classroom acoustics standards, which were rejected by the ICC. No specific reason is required for disapproval.
"I'm disappointed at the outcome—but not surprised," said Marsha Mazz, technical assistance coordinator for the U.S. Access Board, which submitted the proposed standards to the ICC. The Access Board is an independent federal agency committed to accessible design in communication, transportation, and architecture. "Any time there is a proposed change to the building code standard, it usually takes several tries before it becomes approved," Mazz noted.
The Access Board first proposed the standard to the ICC during the 2006 building code development cycle, but an ICC committee disapproved the proposal because the standard was not referenceable with language that was suitable for use in building codes.
ANSI standards are reviewed routinely on a five-year cycle. In fall 2009, a 44-member working group—the ASA/ANSI Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) S12—convened to revise the classroom acoustics standard and produced a document for the first round of voting in January 2010. Before the project received final approval from ANSI in May, the working group revised the document in response to more than 200 comments. The standard is written in unambiguous, enforceable, and mandatory language also was made into a code-ready document that can be referenced.
The revised standard comprises two parts, with further parts planned. American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools, Part 1: Permanent Schools (ANSI/ASA S12.60-2010) is similar to the 2002 standard and sets a 35 dB(A) limit for background noise in unoccupied classrooms. Reverberation time (RT60) in unoccupied classrooms must not exceed 0.6 second in classrooms with volumes of 10,000 cubic feet or less and 0.7 second in classrooms with volumes between 10,000 and 20,000 cu. ft.
American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools, Part 2: Relocatable Classroom Factors (ANSI/ASA S12.60-2009) phases in requirements for portable classrooms. The current standard sets a 41 dB(A) limit for background noise in unoccupied classrooms, which would be lowered to 38 dB(A) in 2013 and 35 dB(A) in 2017. Reverberation time (RT60) in unoccupied relocatable classrooms must not exceed 0.5 second in classrooms with volumes of 10,000 cu. ft. or less and 0.6 second in classrooms with volumes of 10,000–20,000 cu. ft.
The revised, code-ready standards, however, were not complete in November 2009 when the 15-member ICC committee held its first hearing to review and deliberate proposals to the building code, so the committee had no choice but to disapprove the standards on a procedural basis.
"Going into the final hearing in May 2010, we knew that reversing the committee's decision would be an uphill battle, but we didn't want to miss the opportunity to get the classroom acoustics standard into the 2012 building code," Mazz said.
The ICC will begin the 2015 building code development in 2013, but the Access Board has not yet determined its next steps, Mazz said.
The ANSI/ASA S12.60 standards [PDF] can be downloaded online. The Access Board maintains a webpage on classroom acoustics issues.