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Architects Seek Safer Schools

Shootings and teen violence inspire new, safer school design


A dangerous stranger wanders onto college campus. A depressed student lashes out in violence. A disgruntled employee storms into a classroom and opens fire. Shocking and horrifying acts like these may seem impossible to predict or prevent. However, architects and designers are finding ways to make our schools and colleges safer.

The Challenge

Many school buildings in the United States have big windows and many entrances. Often rambling corridors and pathways connect several buildings. Students are encouraged to learn in an open environment where they can work in groups or pursue private projects. However, schools with open floor plans are difficult to keep secure.

Some architects have responded to the need for school security by designing schools with almost no windows. These dark buildings can resemble prisons. While providing safety, windowless buildings can seem drab and oppressive.

Preventing Crime Through Design

For schools that are both safe and appealing, architects are turning to principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). In a report titled The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools, the National Institute of Justice outlined ways architects can design new schools that incorporate CPTED principles.

Safe School Design

Safer Buildings
  • Limit the number of buildings.
  • Provide locking barriers between classrooms and publicly used facilities such as the gym.
  • Use skylights, clerestories, and other types of windows that can't be easily reached.
  • Clear corridors of obstructions and hidden alcoves.
  • Provide large, wide hallways and common areas.
  • Consider installing student lockers in classrooms instead of hallways.
  • Build single-stall bathrooms.
Safer Doorways
  • Limit the number of entrances.
  • Locate the office at the front of the school, where staff will have a clear view of the entrance.
  • Provide a separate, controlled entrance for staff.
  • Install classroom door locks that teachers can lock from the inside.
Safer Driveways and Parking Lots
  • Provide a drop-off/pickup lane for buses only.
  • Minimize the number of driveways or parking lots that students will need to cross.
  • Close the main student parking lot during the school day.
  • Provide a separate parking area for those who attend school only part of the day.
Safer Campuses
  • Enclose the campus inside a fence or wall.
  • Block views from the outside community.
  • Where possible, set buildings and playgrounds back from public streets, driveways, and parking areas by at least 50 feet.
  • Avoid secluded hiding places inside and outside the building.
  • Provide ample exterior lighting.
  • Provide attractive, well-maintained trees and landscaping.
Emergency Alert Systems
  • Provide dependable two-way radio and cell phone use.
  • Install a security alarm system throughout all hallways, administrative offices, and rooms containing computers, shop equipment, and other high-value property.
  • Allow a law enforcement officer to live on campus. (In some school districts, an officer is allowed to move his or her own trailer to a strategic location on campus and receive free utilities in exchange for responsibilities.)

Technologies for a Safer School

Designers can draw upon a variety of technologies to help keep schools safe. For example:
  • Video Surveillance
  • Metal Detection
  • Mechanical Entry-Control Devices On Doors And Gates
  • Alarm Systems

Learn More About Safe Design

If you would like to learn more about CPTED, see Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, by Timothy Crowe. (compare prices). Not just about school design, this book explores in detail ways to minimize crime in a variety of settings, including playgrounds.

~The National Institute of Justice provided information for this article

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