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After Newtown, Designing for Safety

Thursday, February 21, 2013

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America's schools can be designed for greater safety, but no design can prevent the risk of violent attack, a group of leading school architects says.

The five architects testified Friday (Feb. 15) before the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a panel organized by Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy following the Newtown school shootings.

The question at hand, as one architect put it: “How do we fortify our schools without creating fortresses out of them?”

Sandy Hook Elementary
VoA / Wikimedia Commons

Architects and security professionals testified to a group appointed by Connecticut's governor to make school safety design recommendations. The panel was organized after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Security Hearing

At the hearing, the group discussed the latest measures in school design and other strategies that could be employed to reduce the risk of tragic attacks. A retired FBI agent, an infrastructure protection official, and the head of a national school safety group also testified.

A video of the proceeding is posted on Connecticut Network, which airs state government deliberations and public policy events through cable television, public access channels, and live Internet video feeds.

The 16-member committee is set to make recommendations to Malloy by March 15 on school safety design, mental health issues and gun violence.

Twenty-six people (20 children and six adults) were shot and killed by gunman Adam Lanza, 20, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton on Dec. 14, 2012. The tragedy was the second-deadliest school shooting in American history, behind the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

Safety without Frightening

A number of measures can be included into the design of schools to create safer environments; however, schools must also feel welcome and encourage learning, according to Jim LaPosta Jr., principal and chief architectural officer for JCJ Architecture of Hartford.

“How do we fortify our schools without creating fortresses out of them?” he asked at the meeting.

video of hearing

Strategies to increase safety at schools can be implemented, but officials must also consider the effect on the environment in terms of intimidating students, the architects said.

Design features like bulletproof glass, limited points of entry, and classroom locks are some ways to beef up security on school grounds. The cost of such features must also be considered, the architects noted.

Risk-Free Design?

Even if money were no object, however, making school facilities completely risk free is not feasible, the architects note.

“There is really nothing we can do to guarantee a risk-free environment,” LaPosta said, noting that it is not possible from both a social or physical standpoint.

What designers and school officials can do is to make “threat assessments” that inform planning to prevent and better control attacks, the architects said.

Screenshot from CT-TV video

Schools that are risk-free cannot be designed, according to the architects.

For example, LaPosta suggested that police officers could familiarize themselves with the layout of schools by accessing interior surveillance cameras from outside of the buildings.

In addition to LaPosta, the panel heard from leading school architects Richard T. Connell and Glenn Gollenberg of S/L/A/M Collaborative, Richard Munday of Newman Architects, and Randall S. Luther of Tai Soo Kim Architects.


Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Building design; Color + Design; Design; Health and safety; Schools

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