School security often is thought of in terms of systems and devices — access control and identification, intrusion detection and alarm systems, closed-circuit television and locking devices. Systems and devices certainly are useful in enhancing interior school security. However, designing a secure learning environment really begins with effective space planning. The school's physical environment either can contribute to students' feelings of security and inclusion or to feelings of vulnerability and exclusion — and the latter is a formula for trouble.
A well-planned school creates a secure learning environment, facilitates learning and fosters positive social interactions among students, as well as among students, faculty and staff. Here is a look at some issues that planners must address at the programming and schematic design phase in all key areas of the building.
The front door
In the past, schools had a formal front door and entryway. In the latter half of the 20th century, the school's traditional front door disappeared, and multiple entry and exit points were common. Today, administrators and faculty want a return to a single entry point for a variety of security reasons. First, they understand the need to plan a space that sets the proper tone for the day. The front entry provides an opportunity for administrators, faculty and, in some schools, the security officer, to greet students as they begin their day, making eye contact and acknowledging each student. This sets a positive tone for the day, and enables administrators, faculty and staff to become attuned to subtle messages and cues that offer insight into the students' general mood.
Therefore, from a planning and design standpoint, it is counterproductive to build a space in which students enter at the intersection of hallways and a stairwell, and are immediately funneled away, becoming anonymous, almost invisible. Instead, the entry area needs to be warm and inviting, and an efficient circulation space. First, it must be of adequate volume — perhaps the total floor area of two to three classrooms, with extra height to create an airy space. It should have attractive lighting, with a few special lighting fixtures to accent student art, awards and announcements of upcoming events. Finishes may include chair rails, non-institutional, yet durable, wall coverings, and perhaps a comfortable seating area adjacent to administrative offices. These goals can be accomplished within a modest budget, ranging from $110 to $130 per square foot for an average elementary school. The need for access-control and identification systems and devices also can be considered at this time.