Safeguarding Schools: Tips for Working with Local Districts

By Chris Collier

Advantage Glass is well-schooled in the number 14. That’s the number of school security projects the Tulsa-based glazier completed in 2019.

The company’s projects come in the form of retrofit and new school construction and typically begin on June 1—the end of the fiscal year in the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) district. One such 2021 project is at Dolores Huerta Elementary School in a district of 30,000 students. For field operations manager Brandon Marion, the business is a byproduct of a stark reality that has evolved during his decade in the industry.

A Painful Truth

“[Sandy Hook] has brought awareness,” Marion says. “It’s brought a painful truth that, at any given time, life can be taken from you—whether it be from you personally or from someone you love. Unfortunately, it exposed the reality [that] schools are just sitting ducks. It really got people thinking.”

Marion has seen security applications evolve in main entryways, starting with hollow, metal frames with wired glass and evolving to cameras and single-entry points. Today, his company’s projects often include impact-resistant glass, which offers varying levels of protection. Each school is treated as its own entity and it’s up to the staff to allocate school security applications into its budget. Often the discussions come down to security versus cost.

Tristar Glass Inc. supplies Sentry Guard to Advantage Glass. The laminated glass, which incorporates SentryGlas® ionoplast interlayer, has been successfully integrated in Marion’s school district.

“Rob Carlson, one of our contacts at TriStar, turned us onto this product,” Marion says. “We brought TPS out and general contractor (GC) firms. They’ve rewritten the spec from ballistic rating to impact-resistance based on the product itself. It creates a comfort level, not only for the staff, but also for parents in the communities, knowing there’s another layer of security to help if anything was to happen.”

Tristar Glass partnered with Advantage Glass to assist their pursuit of school safety and security in the TPS district.

“We set up an in-house testing scenario where we [used] a series of bricks, baseball bats and hammers and demonstrated, in front of the school board, what it took to get through the glass,” says Rob Carlson, engineer at Tristar Glass. “And [we] let their head of security and head of maintenance hit on the glass as well. Their head of maintenance was very familiar with broken glass and what it takes to replace it. Seeing that firsthand—they were all very impressed and understood, ‘okay, this is not your normal, ordinary glass, [and] this isn’t something that you can get through immediately.’”

Supporting Local Schools

What do glass shops need to know before they begin bidding on school projects? Marion says it starts with a supplier partnership.

“Every glass supplier offers some type of laminated glass,” he says. “It’s whether or not they have what I would call an impact-rated glass or a ballistic-rated glass. If you are set up with your business license, and have enough insurance to cover bid bonds, then just get on a bid forum and start looking at all the public bids coming out. Then go educate yourself—what are the schools really looking at? Go sit with the school boards and get yourself involved in the community that your business is in.”

Marion says involvement, engagement and service in a local community can lead to fortified, fruitful business relationships.

“Nine times out of 10, most school districts—no matter how big they are—if they see that any subcontractor or a general contractor is heavily involved in the community—through fundraising, donations, volunteering or showing interest in the schools—they typically pull them to the side,” Marion says. “[They’ll say], ‘We’re looking at these issues—is there stuff that would help us?’ You basically just start from there.”

Northern Glass in Elk Grove Village, Ill., has shifted its focus to school projects due to a private-sector pause during the pandemic. TJ Hauber, an estimator at Northern Glass, says that 30-40% of the company’s current projects are school projects.

“In Illinois, if you’re a small company, it’s really only union shops that do the schoolwork,” Hauber says. “I would say that’s probably the first step—going from non-union to union. A lot of the schools—it’s public information. At Chicago Public Schools, we know that every year, around January or February, there’s going to be a lot of those upcoming projects. I would say soliciting GCs that do that kind of work and getting on the bidder’s list—that’s the first step to really getting involved after unionizing.”

Finding Fire Safety

School security projects extend beyond ballistic and impact-rated glazing and into fire safety. Vetrotech Saint-Gobain North America, a manufacturer of fire-rated glass products in the U.S. and Canada, works with schools to ensure safety.

“With the recent changes to the Chicago Building Code, we’re working with Chicago Public Schools to retrofit and update multiple schools across the city, making them safer for students returning to the classroom,” says Kevin Norcross, general manager of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain North America.

Fire-rated glazing supplier Technical Glass Products (TGP) in Snoqualmie, Wash., also prioritizes architectural education to ensure architects are prepared for the steady flow of fire-rated glazing projects coming their way.

“Today, with all of these different options, [if I’m] an architect I’m saying, ‘My world has changed in the last 10 years,’” says Devin Bowman, TGP’s general manager. “I’m no longer just concerned about fire-rated corridors. There’s some other factors to consider in the building design. How do we go out there, and how do we communicate and educate with the architects? One of the things we found to be very helpful is we have an AIA-accredited course. Even pre-COVID, we were facilitating online seminars, where architects would be able to come online, learn about changes in building code, [and] learn about the evolutions in products in our space.”

Chris Collier is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine. He can be reached at ccollier@glass.com

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