Schools Behind Bars?

Designing safe and secure environments for schools and colleges doesn't mean they need to look like detention facilities


Creating safe schools is the responsibility of the entire community where a school or school system resides. Yet, the day-to-day operation is primarily the responsibility of the teachers, administrators and security or law enforcement officers at the school. But, before the first student walks the halls, an architect creates the design of the school and what will be the subsequent relationships between people and their buildings. The success or failure of that school is predisposed to the quality of design and the limitations of budget.

The basic Crime prevention through environmental design ( CPTED) premise is that through the effective use and design and management of the built environment, there can be a reduction in the opportunity and fear of crime, and result in the improvement in the quality of life. If we can build effective spaces using CPTED in the next generation of schools, we will substantially reduce the opportunity and fear of crime in them.

There is a connection between the design and management of schools and the relationship to crime. Some examples of potential environmental design problems for schools are:

• Campus borders are often poorly defined

• Informal gathering areas are out of sight

• Building layout produces isolated spots

• Bus loading areas are often in conflict with cars

• Student parking lots are often on outermost areas

• Periphery parking creates conflict with the neighborhood

• Parking areas are often obscured by plantings

• Locker areas often create conflict and confusion and hiding of contraband

• The overuse of corridors creating blind spots

• Restrooms located away from supervision

Schools must address the conflicting goals of being an accessible facility to its students and faculty, yet be secured and controlled environments. The design of elementary schools through college campuses needs to address the functional integration of CPTED and security features to control access onto the site and in the buildings, reduce vandalism, document activity on the property, control movement in areas of the building that are restricted and provide communication between faculty and administration and emergency assistance.

Safe and Secure School Design Principles

Beyond specific designs that may vary from school to school, there are some general principles for success in security. They are defined here as Safe and Secure School Design Principles, which are:

• Effectiveness of security design modifications and security programs;

• Affordability of security programs and features;

• Acceptability of security technology and practices;

• Definition of assets that are worthy of being protected;

• Definition of threats of what is vulnerable to attack and loss; and

• Characterization of the environment and balancing the needs to the threats.

Safe and Secure School Principles involve five key areas, and each area should include security layering planning practices:

* Site Design includes features of: landscaping, exterior pedestrian routes, vehicular routes and parking, and recreational areas.

* Building design features: building organization, exterior covered corridors, points of entry, enclosed exterior spaces, ancillary buildings, walls, windows, doors, roofs and lighting.

* Interior spaces include features of: lobby and reception areas; corridors; toilets and bathrooms; stairs and stairwells; cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms; libraries and media centers; classrooms; locker rooms; labs, shops, music and computer rooms; and administrative areas.

* Systems and equipment will include features such as: alarms and surveillance systems; fire control; HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air-conditioning equipment); vending machines; water fountains; elevators; and telephone and information systems.

* Community Context : Schools need to be functionally integrated into the community. Impacts of schools to surrounding neighborhoods include traffic, parking, pedestrian flows, crime and disorder.

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