Educational facilities are exposed to an increasing amount of complex issues related to school safety. The presence of youth gangs, students with behavior disorders, illegal drug use, child abuse, and angry parents and unauthorized visitors all can affect how a school deals with security.
It has been more than two years since the killings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo. Is there anything in the design of the facility that could have prevented such a tragedy? Have schools learned anything about the design of schools that would preclude a similar incident?
No one has come up with a foolproof school design that eliminates all security concerns, but schools and the people hired to design facilities can take steps to head off potential trouble: involve a design team early in the process so that it understands the community's concerns and a school's philosophy and security policies, and choose designs for facilities that can accommodate technological upgrades for security, even if the school can't afford the security measures during initial construction.
Passive and Active
Most school districts have their own building security plans. It is important that the design team obtain an understanding of the school district's philosophy and policies early on in the design phase of the project. Once the team understands the district's concepts, it should meet with security consultants to determine which systems should be considered.
Several solutions can help dissuade crime in school facilities — zero-tolerance policies, dress codes, on-site police officers. These are considered passive security systems. They are extremely important and typically do not affect the construction costs.
Active security systems — closed-circuit television, alarm systems, motion detectors and access-control systems — bolster security even more, but can be expensive. Often, some of these systems are eliminated from a project because of budget constraints. Costs can range from $2.21 per square foot to $3.44 per square foot. On an average school of 75,000 square feet, the cost can range from $165,750 to $258,000.
“Due to the fact that most school districts cannot afford expensive security systems, school design must allow complete surveillance by staff with as little effort as possible,” says Officer Charles Vigil, formerly of the Denver County Sheriff's Department. “The ability to control access doors, especially the main entrance, is vital in maintaining a safe learning environment.”
Even when active security systems are eliminated from the construction program, designers still should plan for the eventual installation of the systems. These accommodations would include conduit and various openings through interstitial spaces and building systems. The average cost to prepare a new building to receive future conduit and systems is insignificant in relation to the overall project budget. This allows for less construction costs when the time comes for security upgrades and minimal disruption in occupied buildings.