Video: Architect Art Bond on Designing Safer Schools

By on April 11, 2017

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

As you drive up to drop off a child at a suburban middle school it might not register with you that  the row of  concrete bollards along the driveway, colorfully painted to look like pencils, are there to thwart intruders on the grounds. You might miss the video cameras and security locks. But the armed police officer at the door drives home the point that this is probably not the middle school that you attended.

Art Bond and his team at Bond Architects notice all of these things. They have been designing school facilities for 25 years. And the events of recent years made them determined to design schools that would keep kids safe in a dangerous world while still allowing them to be kids.

Recently, the Bond team synthesized the best practices in school safety into a program that they call BASE, an acronym for Building a Safer Environment. In doing so, they collaborated with Tier One Tactical Solutions, a consultancy formed by three SWAT officers with experience in school safety, including more than 10 years of experience in “active shooter response”.  Tier One has trained over 3,600 teachers, staff, and administrators in preventing and responding to school violence. The Bond Architect/Tier One partnership will be making presentations on the BASE program to school officials around the region.

To develop the principles applied in BASE, the Bond Architects team visited and studied schools around the country. These included the redesigned campus at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, which has subdued the visual cues of the security measures to Shelbyville High School in Shelbyville, IN, which was handpicked by state law enforcement as a pilot site for sophisticated electronic systems.

The team at Bond Architects, while not avoiding high-tech solutions, uses a toolbox of five common sense design techniques that keep the facility secure while not making its presence overbearing. 

1.) Protect the Perimeter:  This can mean fencing around the rear of a school property, but it can also refer to lowering grading near windows so that intruders can’t see in, planting rain gardens that impede direct access, and locating automobile parking away from the building, where persons exiting cars can be observed by cameras.

2.) Secure all Entries:  Entry vestibules, sometimes with bulletproof glass, can still admit light while allowing an intruder to be blocked from the school property. Classrooms and libraries can have entrances which can be blocked; “safe” zones, out of eyesight from doorways and demarcated by flooring colors; emergency communication boxes; and alternative, secure exits.

3. ) Eyes on the Halls: Broader corridors discourage bullying, make egress quicker and, combined with cameras allow for better observation.

4.) Communicate with Law Enforcement/Train Staff and Students: The importance of the human factor in any design led to the collaboration between Bond Architects and Tier One Tactical Solutions.

5.) Remember: A school can be safe without becoming a fortress.“Education is the primary focus and always should be,” Art Bond said.

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