New Schools Embrace Safety, While
Updates to Existing Buildings Lag
When it comes to updating out-of-date and even dangerous products in educational facilities, this is done only when absolutely necessary, glass experts find.
“Due to current budget restraints, newer and improved products will replace existing less safe products only when broken and when the maintenance staff is aware of these newer and improved products,” says Greg Abel, president of Safe Glass Consulting in Eugene, Ore.
Jeff Razwick, president of Technical Glass Products (TGP) in Snoqualmie, Wash., agrees. “Given public school budgets, retrofits extending beyond basic building repairs are more common at private colleges and universities. However, as retrofitting methods improve and allow for faster payback, it will become a more viable option for cash-strapped K-12 schools,” he says.
Tim Nass, vice president of national sales for SAFTI First in San Francisco, likewise has found that “most of the primary education projects are new construction while secondary and higher education projects are more likely to do renovations.” Those that are performing retrofits are finding that wired glass can be upgraded to “something more effective and aesthetically pleasing.”
“We find that once school administrators or facility directors become aware of the dangers of traditional wired glass, they take the necessary steps to replace traditional wired glass to clear, economical fire-rated glazing that meets current fire and safety code requirements,” adds Diana San Diego, director of marketing for SAFTI First.
But, it’s up to glazing contractors to inform school districts of these new requirements when going in for routine repairs. And in new construction, fire-rated glass is a big part of the trend to “open” schools and let in the daylight.
Razwick also points out that fire-rated glazing replacements can help reduce on-going maintenance costs by cutting artificial lighting needs and bolstering energy efficiency. “First, either the existing fire-rated glazing does not meet current codes, as may be the case with wired glass in hazardous locations. Or, advanced fire-rated glazing can help the building and design team create an environment that improves the health and well being of occupants by enhancing access to natural light and views to nature,” he says.
According to Ron Leiseca, eastern region sales manager of North America for Vetrotech Saint Gobain in Auburn, Wash., those budget limitations mean “more focused additions and renovations seem to be a current trend.”
The good news with those retrofits, is that the newer product brings with it the benefits of daylighting. “In retrofit, newer code mandates require upgrades, but also more design flexibility as key design firms show that the investment can provide a better facility for students,” Leiseca says.
“The trend we see in school construction is opening up the space and incorporating natural daylighting,” Nass says. “Obviously, they don’t want to create distractions for kids, but corridors, stairwell and exit enclosures are being opened up to create a more open, welcoming environment. The fire-rated products have the ancillary benefit of sound attenuation so the noise doesn’t necessarily carry throughout the school. This keeps the focus on learning and not on outside distractions.”
“In addition to incorporating natural daylighting, we are seeing a trend in opening up or adding vision or transparency to spaces that are normally closed off for added security—particularly stairwells and exit enclosures,” San Diego adds. “These spaces were notorious for attacks because nobody could see what was going on. With the advent of advanced fire-rated glass that meets the ASTM E-119 wall standard, designers can use glazing in these areas and still meet fire code requirements, not to mention providing additional security to occupants.”
Openness and visibility have become more important than ever in schools, and today’s fire-rated glazing products allow schools to safely incorporate open designs.
“Architects are increasingly using fire-rated glazing in new school construction to provide protected egress for students and faculty while creating open layouts that foster collaboration,” Razwick says. “Building and design teams are partnering with manufacturers and suppliers to problem-solve new methods for drawing light deep into classrooms and creating fire-rated glazing systems that align with a school's overall design theme.”
As he explains, “The push to create facilities better suited for student comfort and learning has also led to an uptick in fire-rated glazing systems, such as fire-rated curtainwalls and fire-rated glass floors. These provide exceptional design flexibility, particularly those tested to the same fire-resistance standards as solid walls. Since advanced fire-rated glazed wall panels are not restricted to 25 percent of the wall area, classrooms no longer have to be blocked from outside light by opaque walls. Additionally, stairwells and exit corridors with fire-rated glazing improve safety for building occupants as views from the inside-out are maintained.”
Moreover, as schools switch over to fire-rated glass, they’re coming to understand the unplanned for benefits, Leiseca finds. “Designers are using glazing that has not only fire-rated but additional characteristics such as sound attenuation and better clarity to meet updated code requirements,” he says.
Glazing Helps Schools Weather the Storm
With more than 45 percent of schools built before 1970, glass in many learning institutions was installed before safety glazing standards were developed. Safety concerns may be more prevalent today, but due to budgetary restraints many districts simply cannot afford to upgrade the glazing. Unless mandated by codes or the school receives grants for renovations, much of the glazing is left untouched, according to industry professionals.
“Over 45 percent of schools were built prior to 1970 to accommodate children of the Baby Boom Era,” says Julia Schimmelpenningh, global applications manager of architectural for Eastman Chemical Co. in Springfield, Mass. “Most schools—even those built and refurbished today—are using simple annealed glass in their window systems unless the glazing is in a federally-mandated location (such as doors, door leafs, transoms, etc.), or as dictated by the building code.”
It's different in Florida, though.
“The Florida Building Code applies for hurricanes, so school districts in Florida have been asking for laminated glazing—which happens to be a safety glass—for all the windows,” says Ram Malut, purchasing manager for glazing contractor NR Group in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Florida coastline, most of the Eastern coastline and some of the Gulf Coast, have hurricane requirements, Schimmelpenningh points out. She goes on to note that there is a standard for tornado testing, but no code mandate related to glazing. While there is code language for earthquakes, she says it is not ratified in most states known to have seismic activity.
For areas that have seismic activity, Schimmelpenningh says schools would benefit from the use of laminated or filmed-glazing. She says the interlayers or films can help hold the glass together during the racking from a seismic event.
“When impact is introduced, as is the case with hurricane and tornado applications, a higher performing product such as laminated glass with thick, interlayers, heat-strengthened-, tempered- or chemically-strengthened glasses and possibly multi-ply composites for glass, interlayer and plastic [is suggested],” she says.
As for Florida, she adds, “The hurricane glazing should also act as a very good impact-resistant glazing for smash-and-reach situations.”
She explains a smash-and-reach is an instance where someone attempts to break out the glass and then reach around, either with a hand or tool, and manipulate a lock or door.
“The glazing used in hurricane areas, especially for large missile, should be able to handle this quite well. Even small missile interlayers (which tend to be thinner) have good impact and penetration resistance and should offer a good level of deterrence,” adds Schimmelpenningh.
The Sandy Hook shootings have raised the industry’s level of awareness in the role glass can help play in keeping out unwanted intruders.
Rick Miner, owner and president of Countryside Glass & Mirror, based in Dunedin, Fla., says his company is working on several schools designed with safety in mind.
“We are installing double entrances in several schools,” he says. “We are using 9/16-inch laminated glass in storefront frames. This will stop the breakage of tempered glass and the allowance of easy access into the building past the main office.”
He also says his company is installing obscure film and glass in all of the door glazing so it is difficult to look into classrooms.
“Our company has taken a hard stand against delayed-egress panic bars,” he says. “These are panic bars that will not unlock for 15 seconds after the panic devise is pushed.”
Ingress and egress areas are also under review for school glass usage, Schimmelpenningh says. Though many would like to see glass help prevent ingress by possible school intruders, officials must also keep in mind first responders who will need access in the event of an incident, she says.
“… Studies have shown that ingress by responders through multi-ply bullet-resistant glass adds a level of complexity. Standard laminated safety glass can provide a good level of deterrence and also allow for responder ingress as it can be accessed with common tools carried by responders,” Schimmelpenningh explains.
Miner’s company is also keeping the egress concern in mind.
“We are sending letters out warning of the danger in a shooting situation and making sure the architect and school board sign a letter that holds us harmless from any assurance if people cannot exit in an emergency,” he says.
While there may not be any specific mandates when it comes to protecting schools from unwanted intruders, glass professionals have taken safety concerns into consideration and are doing what they can to help better protect students.
—by Jenna Reed
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