Continuing Education: School Security and Safety

By on January 5, 2017

From Architectural Record:  December 14 was the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the most lethal in America’s sad history of mass shootings of schoolchildren. That history is now unfolding at an average of about two shootings at K–12 schools per month: more rare than death by lightning, but still too frequent. More commonplace threats are fights and bullying. And even on an ordinary day, with no immediate or looming danger, the fundamental challenge of being a school kid navigating the ups and downs of life in a sea of other school kids can feel more fraught than it needs to be.

Design can’t solve all that, but it can make a difference. Here we look at three schools—an elementary school and two high schools—that address multiple aspects of safety and security, and illustrate how architects can improve the chances that children do not become victims at school.

No matter how intense the concern for security, a bunker is not the answer. This was the message that emerged from a community consultation process that informed the design for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School by New Haven, Connecticut–based Svigals + Partners (RECORD, September 2016). The school, now in its first year of operation, replaces the one demolished following the 2012 shooting tragedy in which 20 children and 6 staff members died. “The priority is making a nurturing environment for the future generations of this town. You can’t let it all be colored by this horrific, terrible incident,” says Jay Brotman, managing partner at Svigals. “We didn’t have to say that; the community said it.”

The new 87,000-square-foot, $50 million school translates the town’s priorities of vitality, community, and connection to nature into a building that feels bright, open, and playful. A curving plan extends a seeming embrace as students approach. Gables emerge from behind the facade’s undulating roofline: this is intended to recall views of the town, in which buildings and spires extend above the trees. A daylit, art-filled interior provides a cheerful, engaging environment, and ample windows look out to an adjacent forest.

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