Advice from CMBA to Design Safer K12 Schools

At CMBA, we believe we have a responsibility to create safe K12 designs. Architecture and design have a critical role to play in crafting K12 schools that simultaneously promote engaged learning and student safety. During an age in which stories of bullying, school shootings, and mental health concerns are all too common, this is more important than ever!

Streamline Your Entrances

Entrances are perhaps one of the most critical design elements when it comes to school safety. By intentionally funneling all visitors to one, single point of entry, you make it possible for everyone to be greeted and identified. This makes it easy to control access and safety.

We can’t stress the importance of ‘natural surveillance’ enough. Singular points of entry and other key monitoring areas should have great visuals to specific outdoor areas. This includes the parent drop off zone, bus loop, parking, and waiting zones. This will visually enable your school staff to rapidly identify and take action on anything out of the ordinary.

Access management is another very important environmental design component. Loading docks and service yards should be located away from the main entry with their own specific entries, enabling service and deliveries to take place smoothly and safely. Additionally, ensuring operable windows are closed and locked is a simple way to avoid inappropriate entry.

Favoring Open Designs with Clear Sight Lines

Unfortunately, bullying is by far the biggest and most pervasive safety concern in schools. In order to combat it, you must first understand where it takes place. Bullying doesn’t usually happen in the classroom, but rather, in corridors or enclosed places where teacher supervision is a challenge. While more active approaches to bullying may be necessary, providing clear sight lines and eliminating areas that could become hiding places is a great first step. The easier it is for teachers and staff to observe students the better. This early and rapid identification of potential conflicts enables them to be dealt with more effectively.

Achieving an open design is the result of developing a simple overall building layout. Limiting the number of corridors, corners, and necessary points of visual surveillance enables teachers and staff to more easily supervise students’ movement throughout the school.

Neutral Learning Commons

Collaboration spaces are a fundamental element in 21st century learning – a project-based learning style that focuses on critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity in innovation. These spaces aren’t only a place for groups of students to work together, they also provide students with a space to go that is comfortable, safe, and relaxed.  It is inherently different from a classroom with softer furniture and can be thought of as the “living room” of the school. The value of this space in the school safety discussion is its role as a place for students to cool down if tensions get high and to provide a space to relax at school in a way that not all students may be able to at home.

School Should Feel Like School

We think that the message a school building sends to its student is just as important as the building itself. The inclusion of elements such as bars on windows or metal detectors, and the elimination of windows and open spaces, sends a message of being closed off – not welcoming. There must be a balance.

In a nutshell, school should still feel like school. School is a place to engage, learn and grow. A school climate should include learning spaces that meet the needs of various learning styles. The visual message of an energetic welcome does not need to be lost in exchange for security – design methods exist to create safe and welcoming environments. We firmly believe that a school can be beautiful, safe, inviting, and functional all at the same time.