From the Outside In

They are taken for granted by the hordes of students who dash past them each day, but doors and windows are a crucial part of a school building. When choosing doors and windows, education officials have to know who is going to be coming in and out of their buildings-and who and what needs to be kept out.

Administrators have to take into account the building's security, protection from the elements, energy efficiency, accessibility standards, aesthetics and cost as they choose what are the best products for their facilities.

"There are layers and layers of decisions," says John Lee, director of facilities planning, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville.

More than a view Anybody who has ever spent time in a classroom drifting off to a daydream knows the value of windows in a school building. But the benefit of windows is not just letting those inside see out, but letting the daylight in. Studies have indicated that exposure to daylight can improve a student's concentration, attendance and performance.

If that were the only issue to consider, classes could be held outside. But since other factors make indoor education preferable, a school needs to have windows that are effective enough to keep things out: the damaging consequences of the climate and the dangers of vandals or unwanted intruders.

"You need security from forced entry as well as bad weather in some regions," says Larry Livermore, installation program manager for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, an industry group representing window manufacturers.

Education officials responsible for window specification, purchasing and installation have to consider whether a product:

-Provides energy efficiency.

-Minimizes damage from extreme weather problems, such as blizzards, hurricanes or tornadoes.

-Keeps rain and other moisture from seeping into the building structure.

-Minimizes noise from outside the building.

-Is sturdy enough to ward off vandalism.

-Is secure enough to discourage break-ins.

The decisions vary from facility to facility.

Lee says that in Louisville, the district has installed low-e glazing on many of its windows for the improved energy efficiency it provides.

Bill Sikorski, director of building repair and maintenance for Buffalo Public Schools, N.Y., says he has not used glazing so much because many buildings are victimized by vandalism and the glazing is more expensive to repair.

Some glazing has been improved to become more vandal-resistant, says Lee.

"It can be slammed with a baseball bat and doesn't break," he says. "And it doesn't turn yellow like the old style use to."

Besides choosing the appropriate windows, facilities professionals need to make sure workers use the correct sealants and flashing materials to ensure proper installation.

"If it's not done properly, it has to be fixed, and that may require some destructive demolition to get to the problem," says Livermore.

Open-and-shut case Just one time witnessing the end-of-day exodus of thousands of students from a high-school building would convince anyone that school doors take more than their share of punishment. So education officials have to make sure they choose doors that can endure heavy traffic.

Lee says it is important to figure out what conditions a door will be put through before determining what type is the best for the situation. A door that is serviceable for an elementary school might not survive the stress a rowdier high-school student body might inflict. In general, schools tend to opt for heavy-duty doors.

"We choose the types of materials that can take a lot of abuse," says Lee. In Buffalo, Sikorski says the district typically uses galvanized steel for its exterior doors.

Among other issues to consider when selecting doors for your facilities:

-Does the door have enough security measures to keep the unwanted and uninvited out of buildings while still allowing students and staff to navigate the building as needed?

Lee says that Jefferson County Schools typically have double doors with a removable center. That allows flexibility when large items have to be hauled in or out of the building.

-Is the door wide enough to meet regulations and codes for accessibility? In several cases, Jefferson County has had to reconfigure a double-door set-up and install an extra-wide single door to provide appropriate handicapped access to a school.

-Does the door fit in with the overall aesthetics of the building? When the time comes for replacing doors, facilities professionals say they try to make improvements while remaining compatible with what is already in place.

"We try to replace same with same," says Sikorski. "Some of our schools are old enough to be on the National Register of Historic Places, so we have to try to keep the aesthetics the same."

Price vs. quality Hovering over all the decisions about doors and windows is the issue of cost. Most education institutions have limited budgets, but saving money on a door today won't seem so wise if it flies off its hinges a few years down the road. Likewise, less expensive windows might not be worth it if they result in classrooms that are leaky, too hot, too cold, too noisy, or routinely victimized by vandals.

"People should compare product to product, not price to price," says Livermore. "Look at the performance of the product, how it's installed, how everything fits together."

Where there are windows and doors, there often are screens; and those screens inevitably get holes in them. The sooner those holes are fixed, the better the chance the screen will not need to be totally replaced.

Here are some tips for screen repair and care:

-With a plastic-mesh screen, a hole can be covered with a small piece of screen that can be attached with an acetone-type glue.

-With a metal screen, cut a piece larger than the hole and weave it in either with spare screening or with wire from a lamp cord.

Metal and plastic screens need periodic cleaning. They can be removed and washed with a pressure hose (not too much pressure, however), vaccuumed or wiped with a soft wire brush.

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