Schools Behind Bars?

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


Specific design strategies

Observation from classrooms: Parking and circulation areas should be placed in view of the classrooms. High volume of students in classes means more chance for casual observation.

Observation of vehicular traffic: Adequate observation of vehicular traffic is as important as observation of pedestrians. Administrative spaces should have clear lines of sight to entry roads and parking lots. Anyone entering a school area should never go undetected, and any vulnerable entry should be secured.

Observation of recreation areas: The school recreation resources serve a needed function for the students during school hours when activities are supervised; however, many schools do not have their ball fields fenced, the basketball courts screened and equipment protected. After hours, the school's recreational spaces and equipment become open invitations for the neighborhood kids to use without supervision. While this might seem desirable, the premises liability of the school is wide open. If someone is hurt and assaulted, the liability is directed toward the property owner.

Surveillance points: Providing surveillance points can increase safety. Providing views to potential problem areas from publicly used spaces, such as a common-use stairwell, ensures that many people will be observing at any given time. Designers must be sure that the surveillance advantage goes to legitimate users of the space, not the possible perpetrators. If cameras are to be used, they would be used typically to monitor parking lots, main entrances, playground areas, courtyards, loading docks and special equipment areas such as computers labs. Landscaping and plantings should be carefully placed and considered so that they do not pose maintenance problems for upkeep and trimming, and provide blind spots for hiding, placing of contraband or ambush.

Exterior circulation: Exterior circulation paths are as important as interior paths. Paths should be large enough to accommodate large numbers of students, yet comply with the American's With Disabilities Act of 1990. Students should be prevented from using exterior paths as informal gathering places. Bicycle racks should be placed in a high-visibility area.

Covered circulation ways must be designed with care. Blind spots and entrapment points must be minimized. Potential “door in the face” incidents must be eliminated. Covered corridors should be designed so access to the upper floors of a structure is not possible.

Signage and notice: Signage should announce intended and prohibited uses. Signage should be clear, reasonably sized and placed in a way that is easily viewed. Signage must also be mounted correctly not just taped on.

Accessibility: Main entry into the school is required to be handicapped accessible. Ramps with proper slopes and handrails are required. Nonslip materials should be used. All travel ways must be wide enough to permit wheelchairs without disrupting pedestrian traffic. ADA standards must be followed for all access control and security systems equipment. Proper ramps and handrails must be used. Any safety hazards must be marked off.

Main entry security: Many techniques and devices can be used to increase security. Although they are costly, weapon detectors can be integrated within an entryway. Access to other areas from main entryways should be carefully planned and not obscured. Main entryways should be obvious. Entryways can be very dangerous if not designed with CPTED in mind. Potential for getting confused and lost should be limited. Too many entryways can create confusion and often provide ambush points. Treatment of secondary entries is just as important as primary entries. ADA, signage and hardware requirements must also be met at all secondary entrances. It is important not to create entrapment points at secondary entries.