Welcoming and Secure

School facility design has widened its focus to create not only environments that educate students, but also centers for communities. This presents school administrators with the challenge of providing access to the facility throughout the day and evening while maintaining a secured environment.

To bolster security, school administrators and planners must focus greater attention on the physical environment and the specific building and site design.

Architects must embrace these new challenges and reinvestigate traditional approaches to school design. Increased awareness of security issues must be integrated into the overall design without compromising the creation of a flexible learning environment. The overall design process must integrate design elements to reduce vandalism, control access to a campus, document activity, provide emergency assistance, and restrict access within a facility.

Reduce vandalism

The physical environment of a school must reduce the potential for vandalism. The use of durable and long-lasting construction techniques and materials is critical.

On interior walls, schools should use concrete masonry units with an appropriate paint application. This provides a durable solution, yet can produce an institutional atmosphere. Glazed tile and concrete masonry units are available in a variety of shapes, patterns and colors that allow schools to achieve durability, reduce maintenance and create a more inviting atmosphere. In addition, the introduction of burnished masonry units creates a durable surface that contains an integrated and appealing finished surface. A sealer that enables graffiti to be removed easily also can be applied. Similarly, door and window systems have vandal-resistant features that can complement the aesthetic value of the overall design.

Still, the potential for graffiti and abuse remains. Therefore, a school design should discourage and reduce the potential for vandalism. A school's interior must be well-lighted and configured to reduce the numbers of unsupervised areas. Instructional rooms, administrative areas and teacher workrooms must be situated strategically and include windows to increase visual control.

A building's exterior shape can be designed to create open spaces, eliminate blind corners and increase visual control. Exterior lighting and the right type of building materials also reduce the potential for vandalism.

Control access

A proactive approach to security limits the access of individuals who are not directly related to the school and allows students to be evacuated quickly.

The school site must take advantage of physical or natural barriers. The creation of berms and plantings can create a visible boundary of the school property. Many times the creation of a landscaped area creates a sense of space that thwarts potential intruders. School property becomes distinctive and appears to be private.

The orientation of the building site can limit access. Separating public parking from staff and student parking is critical. Separate entries for the public and students create additional control. A large entry plaza provides ample room for student queuing and allows visual control of the exterior.

Access to and from the facility also can be controlled with electronics. Electronic door hardware and card-access readers can be programmed to allow access during specific times of the day, and can restrict access to specific individuals.

Document activity

A well-defined system to track and document activities is critical for school security.

Many school facilities have personnel to monitor activity 24 hours a day, while others have elected to rely on video recordings to document activity. A variety of electronic devices and types of surveillance equipment are available, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, motion-detection systems, fire-alarm systems and controlled-access systems.

The ability to document activities can provide evidence of minor vandalism and misdemeanors, as well as more violent crimes. These security systems do not prevent unwanted acts, but can document or respond to an incident.

Emergency assistance

Emergencies will occur in schools — not only issues of security, but also medical situations. Installing a complete communications system is essential in schools. It should encompass more than telephone and paging amenities. Some schools have incorporated built-in monitoring and locator systems.

Similarly, a building design also must account for emergency situations. Emergency personnel who respond to a school may not be familiar with its organization. Logical and clear wayfinding circulation and visually open spaces provide valuable assistance to emergency personnel. In addition, a clear, recognized and identified exterior point-of-entry is essential.

Restricting from within

Schools can enhance a safe internal environment by limiting the number of students in a single area at one time and restricting access to specific areas.

The design and creation of the distinct zones-of-use is an invaluable asset to school and security, and does not increase the cost of construction. These zones are configured to reinforce and create a secured school environment.

School designs establish public, private and transitional zones. The private zones are areas that serve traditional student instruction; public zones are limited to points of control, such as the lobby; transitional zones include rooms or spaces that may be used by the students and the community. Transitional spaces may include the gymnasium, dining areas, media centers, computer labs and large-group instructional spaces. These typically are designed to create a flexible, multiuse environment.

Kromkowski, AIA, is an architect with DLZ Indiana, LLC.

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