When preparing for school construction projects, school leaders, construction managers and architects/engineers have big jobs in protecting kids; not only during the construction, but well after.
Not long ago, at a planning meeting for a bond election (and the associated ballot language), the terms safety & security were hot topics. The school board was seeking a way to state that they were improving security, but they wanted to make sure that the community knew they didn’t mean scanners and cameras to monitor the student body. They feared that parents would feel they were implying that the students were out of control and that there was a different kind of problem. What the board was asking to improve was a means to monitor the visitors coming into the building, increased visibility of who is in the building and that their parking/drop-off and playground areas are planned for safety. After much deliberation on the terms "safety" and "security", they were able to craft the language to clearly state what they meant.
We recently completed construction at Northview Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan and they, along with Tower Pinkster Architects, designed a state-of-the-art school with increased security in mind. The design included adding a secure entry vestibule at the main entrance of the school. This is a double door entry system where once you enter the building you have to then enter the office prior to having access to the rest of the building. This is the only entry point of access to the building. Another design element addressing security is a more open floor plan with shorter lockers allowing clear visibility throughout the corridors.
Another hot safety/security topic is parking and student drop-off. With the ever increasing number of parents driving their children to school, we’ve seen a sizeable increase in traffic. The increase can lead to congestion and late, impatient drivers fighting for space with busses, which is unsafe for drivers as well as students who have to walk through the car/bus traffic. To address this issue, architects are now incorporating drop-off areas for parents separate from busses with one-way entry and exits into their design. This helps to eliminate the congestion so traffic can move smoother and kids aren’t darting between busses and cars.
The ever popular playground, one of the favorite places of every elementary schooler, is another safety concern. There are many safety requirements that need to be met including enough activity centers based on the age group and number of students. At Riverview Elementary & Brookside Elementary in Big Rapids, Michigan, the playground experts and engineers, Virdis Design, designed concrete curbs surrounding the play pad areas with ADA compliant sidewalk access, along with an under drain system complete with play safety surface. The under drain stone was 4” topped with 12” of play safety surface such as wood chips, which is more economical and doesn’t get stuck in tennis shoes like the rubber material does. Additionally, we were required to include a minimum 6’ fall zone surrounding the equipment should there be any trip and falls. Fall zones are determined by the installed equipment.
The best starting point for addressing security and safety concerns in schools is a facility study. A study determines what the District’s needs are in terms of security & safety (as well as a plethora of other items) which helps school leaders to prioritize the areas for improvements prior to taking it to a bond vote.
Furthermore on the safety topic, your construction manager is involved with all matters above, but they have additional safety procedures to keep in mind during construction. Keeping workers safe and school staff, students and visitors separate from construction activity, as well as monitoring who is on site to follow school security guidelines. Wolgast does this by coordinating with our safety committee, following our safety systems (i.e. having a safety plan and appropriate safety equipment on site), and conducting random safety inspections. We also require all contractors to have photo ID badges while on site, so they can easily be identified as part of our team.
Knowledge of threats to schools and its occupants increases the planning for security and safety. Therefore, school boards, architects/engineers, and construction managers continue to make improvements to create schools that are safer for everyone. To start your facility study, please contact Rich Ramsey or Tom Watson at Wolgast today - 800-WOLGAST.