School design has always straddled the line between practicality and comfort, but older schools were not built with modern safety and security measures in mind. According to Julie Schimmelpenningh, Eastman Chemical Company’s technical engagement manager, the number of existing schools in the U.S. aged 60 or older sits around 50% or about 50,000 schools.

Modern schools are designed with various advanced solutions and products, including bullet-resistant and laminated glass. Robert Benson Photography courtesy Svigals + Partners

For state governments and local school boards, this means spending more money to build new schools rather than refurbish to meet new building codes. However, the situation offers the perfect opportunity to incorporate fenestration that provides ample protection for students, unlike wired glass, which was widely used throughout older schools.

“If each of these schools, in their design of at least the first floor including windows and entryways, incorporated fenestration that complies to ASTM F3561 (Standard Test Method for Forced-Entry-Resistance of Fenestration Systems After Simulated Active Shooter Attack), we would be making a giant step forward in our ability to move toward safe schools,” she says. “It becomes a matter of setting this as a priority in designing and constructing these types of facilities.”

Modern schools are designed with various advanced solutions and products, including bullet-resistant and laminated glass. These glass solutions offer varying levels of protection against intruders without sacrificing design, views or performance.

“Schools continue to have the option to include glass in their facilities and to reap all the benefits of natural daylight, the feeling of openness all while gaining security and, in most cases, energy efficiency and noise control,” says Schimmelpenningh. “Even with a little bit of color for school pride weaved in, all with enhanced forced-entry resistance.”

Glass Allows for ‘Eyes on the Street’

Jay Brotman, a managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the New Haven, Conn.-based architectural firm that designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, says while glass is easier to breach than a wall, it is not a hindrance.

It’s quite the opposite, he says. The addition of glass allows for “eyes on the street” to provide natural surveillance of the site and early warning should someone see unwanted activities. During the design of the rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary school, Svigals + Partners selected several types of glass based on orientation and level of exposure to non-secured areas.

Brotman says that for the main entry, Svigals + Partners used bullet-resistant glass to create a secure vestibule arrangement. In contrast, it used a new glazing product called School Guard Glass for areas where enhanced security was necessary.

School Guard Glass functions more like the bullet-resistant glass found in embassies, military installations, and other high-security buildings. The glass is a quarter-inch thick, which makes it lightweight enough that it can be used to replace glass in existing doors and windows.

“This type of glass, which we referred to as ‘force resistant,’ was developed for situations where we wanted to be sure that the glass stayed in the frame to prevent entry even if the intruder came equipped with weapons or tools that would easily penetrate normal glass,” says Brotman. “This new glazing product was much less expensive than traditional ‘bulletproof’ systems and was installed in normal framing systems.”