School officials and parents are asking one question: Can design prevent another Sandy Hook? [2013 Giants 300 Report]

The second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history galvanizes school officials, parents, public officials, and police departments, as they scrambled to figure out how to prevent a similar incident in their communities. 

Cherry Crest Elementary, Bellevue, Wash., is integrated with the landscape to cr
Cherry Crest Elementary, Bellevue, Wash., is integrated with the landscape to create varied learning environments. Classrooms are arranged in grade-level “houses” clustered around shared spaces; courtyards are used for outdoor lessons. The Building Team was led by NAC|Architecture. PHOTO: BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER PHOTOGRAPHY
July 22, 2013

Since last December 14, safety has become the paramount concern of every school official and school board member in this country. December 14, 2012, was the date on which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn. It was the second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history, after the Virginia Tech tragedy of 2007.

Sandy Hook galvanized school officials, parents, public officials, and police departments, as they scrambled to figure out how to prevent a similar incident in their communities. Many asked: Could better design and construction of schools—preschool, elementary, and secondary—prevent or at least mitigate the casualty rate at another Sandy Hook? And could this be done not only for schools to be built in the future, where Building Teams would be working from a blank slate, but for the tens of thousands of extant schools from Maine to Hawaii, where physical conditions are often literally set in stone?

TOP K-12 SCHOOL SECTOR ARCHITECTURE FIRMS

 
2012 K-12 Revenue ($)
1 DLR Group $38,250,000
2 SHW Group $32,328,843
3 PBK $31,760,000
4 IBI Group $27,977,860
5 HMC Architects $25,407,164
6 Stantec $21,586,209
7 Fanning/Howey Associates $20,247,000
8 Perkins+Will $19,938,211
9 Heery International $16,561,303
10 LPA $14,438,017

TOP K-12 SCHOOL SECTOR ENGINEERING FIRMS

 
2012 K-12 Revenue ($)
1 AECOM Technology Corp. $100,150,000
2 URS Corp. $55,927,778
3 STV $45,937,000
4 Jacobs Engineering Group $36,550,000
5 Parsons Brinckerhoff $19,100,000
6 TTG $9,985,300
7 Shive-Hattery $7,379,425
8 BRPH $4,900,000
9 KCI Technologies $4,200,000
10 Dewberry $3,852,971

TOP K-12 SCHOOL SECTOR CONSTRUCTION FIRMS

 
2012 K-12 Revenue ($)
1 Gilbane $947,077,000
2 Balfour Beatty $483,944,476
3 Turner Corporation, The $357,910,000
4 CORE Construction Group $284,198,375
5 Skanska USA $273,418,351
6 McCarthy Holdings $260,000,000
7 Kraus-Anderson Construction $211,000,000
8 JE Dunn Construction $169,860,436
9 Consigli Construction $148,883,468
10 Barton Malow $139,236,049

These questions inspired a gathering of public officials, school designers and contractors, safety experts, and facility directors convened last February in Washington, D.C., by the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International. The daylong CEFPI Security Summit provided a framework in which to consider what school districts can do to provide a safer environment for children, teachers, and administrative staff. Following are the recommendations of immediate interest to the design and construction community.

Infrastructure needs beefing up, says CEFPI report

Emergency preparedness and response must be woven into the very fabric of school life, according to the CEFPI Security Summit report. The report recommends creating “concentric circles of protection” through the following means:

  • Providing the ability to lock students behind doors to protect them from aggression (door hardware companies report that they cannot keep up with demand for lock systems since Sandy Hook)
  • Shielding students from large windows
  • Safeguarding children when they meet in large groups for meals and assemblies
  • Installing high-security keying systems with control measures in place for master keys
  • Securing children, teachers, and staff via secured vestibules and remote access to select exterior and interior doors (through keyless entry systems)
  • Eliminating access to unauthorized persons by improving line-of-sight conditions and installing CCTV cameras
  • Protecting entrances through the use of bollards and safeguarding the exterior and perimeter—including playgrounds, athletic fields, and parking lots—via upgraded lighting and camera monitoring

Mass notifiation high on school districts' agenda

The CEFPI report also recommends action on crisis communications, notably:

  • Providing an effective public address system, with a backup power source
  • Use of multiple communications devices, including mobile panic devices worn by key administrators
  • Installation of security cameras and use of emergency radio channels

School districts are already acting. Plainfield District 202, the fourth-largest school district in Illinois, just ordered $180,000 worth of wireless alarm systems for its 30 schools.

As the fall term approaches, design and construction firms, as well as manufacturers of safety products and systems, will be called upon to safeguard the nation’s schoolchildren even more vigorously than in the past.

Read BD+C's full Giants 300 Report

         
 

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