Schools are the center of communities and should celebrate the educational successes of the community. Then there are events like Sandy Hook that remind us how schools are places of security and protection and need to be structured as such. This doesn’t mean that every school has to turn into a bomb shelter, in fact one of the design elements we at BCA Architects focus on is how to make schools safe while still maintaining a 21st Century Learning Environment.
By involving every member of the community, from the friendly cross guard, to the local police chief, to the concern parent, and last, but certainly not least, the wonderful educators who help shape our children’s minds and lives.
One of the big things I have found to be important is the full commitment and input from the
community. We at BCA Architects polled parents, teachers, administrators and even law enforcement
officials (such as SWAT teams) to collaboratively address each specific community’s concerns and
consensus build on specific solutions for all. What we found is that everyone wants to help.
In one town, a group of individuals from the senior center volunteered to do a neighborhood watch. This effort may deter would-be assailants and also offers much more comfort to a child’s psychology than having security guards carrying guns pat down students at entrances.
Design is huge when addressing the issue of safety threats in schools. In California, older school buildings have been designed with external walkways and with multiple access and entrance points
which are very hard to protect and control. There are a number of ways that school design can make
schools safer and appealing in design:
• The addition of increased fencing can be aesthetically pleasing, but also serve as means for protection. Security cameras and personal, visual observation is needed to control intruders from gaining access to these older, less secure facilities.
• Innovations in doors and windows can provide greater safety for children and teachers in classrooms. Past tragedies such as Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado have triggered changes in school construction (i.e. Columbine Lock) that requires each classroom door to be able to be locked from the inside in the event of an intruder or lockdown on campus. Century Learning Environments, increased natural daylight is an important characteristic of sustainable designs.
• However, increased windows also can create increased opportunities for intruders to access classrooms – it is important to begin exploring additional types of glass that can be installed in schools that provide additional levels of security for the students and staff.
Lastly, designing schools using CPTEP (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design for Schools) including the main principals such as:
1. Natural surveillance refers to the placement of physical features that maximize visibility. Example: The strategic use of windows that look out on the school entrance so that students can see into the school and know that others can see them.
2. Access management involves guiding people by using signs, well-marked entrances and exits, and landscaping. It may also include limiting access to certain areas by using real or symbolic barriers. Example: Landscaping that reduces access to unsupervised locations on the school.
3. Territoriality is defined by a clear delineation of space, expressions of pride or ownership, and the creation of a welcoming environment. Example: Motivational signs, displays of student art, and the use of school colors to create warmth and express pride.
4. Physical maintenance includes repair and general upkeep of space. Example: Removing graffiti in restrooms in a timely manner and making the necessary repairs to restrooms, light fixtures, and stairways to maintain safety and comfort.
5. Order maintenance involves attending to minor unacceptable acts and providing measures that clearly state acceptable behavior. For example, maintaining an obvious adult presence during all times that students transition from one location to another. Although we can never fully keep our students out of harm’s way, I think educators and designers can take into account the thoughts I have listed above and begin to pave the way to a safer tomorrow.