Top Five Ways We Can Make Schools Safer Without Turning Them Into Prisons
By Paul C. Bunton, AIA
In light of the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, unquestionably there will be more discussion about how to create safer schools as part of our 21st Century Learning Environment. This environment is a type of classroom that individualizes the students’ experience and teaches them adaption and creative thinking to adapt to the ever changing technology and workplace of the future. The answers are not simple as architects must design facilities that balance a desire to make schools open and welcoming while limiting access in order to control or monitor who can get on campus.
Schools are the center of communities and should celebrate the educational successes of the community through expressions of interesting and high quality architectural designs that are inviting and welcoming to the neighborhoods that they serve. Incidents such as Sandy Hook are rare, but tend to change our societal thinking about protecting our children from harm. Short of designing our schools to look like prisons, what are some of the methods that we may consider implementing in our schools (post-Sandy Hook) that can minimize or prevent this type of horrific event from happening again? We at BCA Architects have pondered this question, and come up with some ideas:
First, answers can come from reaching out to individual community members and educators that have input into how their community schools are designed. We at BCA Architects polled parents, teachers, administrators and even law enforcement officials (such as SWAT teams) to collaboratively address each specific communities concerns and consensus build on specific solutions to each community.
The new El Capitan High School in Merced, CA (opening in May 2013) has been designed through this type of collaborative process. Through the involvement of the local Police Department, the entire design was changed to better protect the students and staff. The buildings were designed to create a central quadrangle that controls access points into the campus. Additionally, the second floor exterior walkways were utilized to allow maximum visibility for law enforcement in the event of a campus lock-down. The school administration building was placed at a strategic point allowing visual control of the quadrangle.
Second, new designs for school entrances are needed to better control intruders from entering the campuses. 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. 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.
Third, in many of the communities that BCA Architects serves, a life cycle cost analysis of older buildings often yields strong enough financial ‘pay-back’ data to tear down and replace an older facility with newer, safer, and more secure buildings. This is becoming more of a prevailing solution in many communities, especially given the societal and cultural changes that have, and continue to occur in the United States. For example, some of the new 21st Century Learning Environments may be multi-story buildings designed to form a quadrangle in the center of a site that can be secured from intruders. This allows protected exterior learning environments to occur within the campus.
Fourth, innovations in doors and windows can provide greater safety for children and teachers in classrooms. Past tragedies such as Columbine 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. With today’s 21st 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 grounds.
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. Example: Maintaining an obvious adult presence during all times that student’s transition from one location to another.
We know as educational architects that there are many factors that affect student achievement in our schools, many of which are direct results of their physical environment. Students perform better academically when they feel safe and secure in school. The challenge going forward from this tragedy is to create and/or modify our existing facilities to ensure that we have safe environments while making our students, staff, parents, and community feel welcome and connected to their new 21st Century Learning Environments. Architects will play a very important role in this new paradigm by solving these challenging problems through creative solutions that accomplish both safety and aesthetically pleasing solutions.
BCA Architects partners with clients in a mission to achieve excellence in design. Since 1989, BCA strives to strengthen communities through projects built whether it’s to design, to help define partnerships, to locate financing, to save energy or to present alternate delivery methods. BCA goes above and beyond the task at hand to ensure their clients succeed. For more information, visit: www.bcaarchitects.com
AWARD HIGHLIGHTS BCA has received numerous design awards and among them are:
2011 ABC San Diego : Award of Excellence: Chula Vista High School
2011 Green Project of the Year: BCA Headquarters
2011 CASH / AIACC : Award of Excellence : Christopher High School
2010 CCFC : Award of Excellence : Southwestern College
2009 Architect of the Year Award : Paul Bunton, AIA
2008 : American School and UniversityDesign Excellence : Aptos High School
2007 : Learning by Design Architectural Recognition : Christopher High School
2006 : American School and University Outstanding Interior