Designing Safe and Secure Schools with Glass

By Jordan Scott

Parents worry about how well their kids are doing in their classes and how they’re getting along with their peers. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about how safe their kids are at school. Unfortunately, recent events have called school safety into question, especially with the increasing use of glass in school design.

The Glass Trend

Jay Brotman, managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the New Haven, Conn.-based architectural firm that designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, believes that glass is an essential element, as it can provide resistance to intruders while also improving visibility.

“Before we design a school we sit down with the town or the school board and ask them what the most important aspects are that they want to see in their new school,” he says.

Brotman says it’s important to design in layers of protection so the school is still open and accessible to the community while providing different levels of security. The perimeter is one such layer.

“You want to make sure that, from the inside of the building, you’re able to see out. Having the appropriate amount of daylight for the children and being able to see out into the community are two design elements that work hand in hand,” he says, adding that if someone knows an area is being observed they are less likely to do anything inappropriate.

Brotman says that for the Sandy Hook Elementary School redesign, his firm used ballistic glazing to create a vestibule at the front entrance. School Guard Glass was used to create protected areas for students.

“It’s a laminated product that you can shoot or hammer, but can’t really get through. It prevents entry and delays actions, which is a critical defensive factor,” he says. “These things are over in minutes. The longer we can delay the perpetrator, the less damage will be done.”

Conventional glazing products were used through the rest of the building.

Brotman suggests that any school considering retrofitted security solutions should consult an architect and have a team come together to analyze each building to see what solutions are right for each individual school.

“To me, whatever you can do to maintain or increase glass area is important. It will create a safer school, not only from horrific and tragic events such as schools shootings, but for bullying and other minor events that go on every day,” he says.

A New Lite

Industry companies are trying to change the misperception that glass is the weakest link in a school’s security. Mike Nicklas is the director of Invisiwall glass systems and Childgard security glazing at J.E. Berkowitz in Pedricktown, N.J. He says that while Childgard is not bullet-resistant, it delays the entry of someone trying to forcibly enter a school.

Nicklas has seen Childgard specified for entryways, doorways and ground floor applications. The product can be used to create safe rooms where a large number of students can go to one protected area.

“There’s no black-and-white answer of what to use and where,” he says. “When we talk about security with schools we discuss different levels.”

Added Control

Access control is another security solution making its way into schools nationwide. With the ability to grant access to an area electronically, access control technology gives schools another level of safety without compromising on aesthetics.

According to Rob Baer, director of business development for K-12, and Benjamin Williams, director of electromechanical solutions for Assa Abloy in Stockholm, Sweden, it’s important for schools to identify their different security zones when forming an access control plan.

“Once you identify these zones, often in concentric layers, you can begin to prioritize based on the needs for each area,” says Williams.

Another consideration for schools and architects to keep in mind when designing an access control plan is knowing who will manage the system.

“K-12 is trending toward centralized (district) control of the access control for the property perimeter and exterior building openings,” says Baer, “while access control interior openings such as classrooms and offices are controlled locally by each school site. This is referred to as partitioning the access control system.”

Data management is another important consideration for K-12 schools designing access control plans, according to Baer and Williams. They say centralized management of primary data sources will become a standard in K-12, as it has in higher education, to avoid data redundancy and data inconsistencies.

“This involves the interfacing of non-sensitive data fi les (i.e. lists of names), with the extended access control (EAC) system,” says Williams.

Getting a school’s stakeholders involved in the conversation about access control is important in finding a balance between security and convenience.

Schools usually prioritize security for the building perimeters, including main entries, visitor vestibules and secondary entrances, as well as interior spaces such as the classrooms, administration, human resources records, healthcare areas and technology areas.

There are different levels of access control, which depend upon the specific needs of each opening.

“This typically is defined by the way in which the locking device interacts with the access control system,” says Williams. “Common options include  standalone of offline devices, wireless devices or wired devices. Recent innovations in access control technology have made it practical
to put electronic access control on most doors, including glass storefront and Herculite glass type openings.”

While access control options may exist for most doors, budgets force many schools to prioritize.

“We typically see most schools implement a site-wide security plan that is broken down in to smaller projects that are implemented over time. This allows schools to then plan and budget based on the complexity of the work being performed,” says Baer. “This may or may not require the opening being secured to be brought up to current building codes, especially in older buildings. Addressing access control as part of a larger plan facilitates future-proofing and prevents the implementation of non-compatible systems. Recent access control innovations have made implementation scalable to accommodate most budgets and deployment timeframes.”

The Driving Factor

The demand for increased security in schools is driven by the architects, communities and the government, according to Bob Precht, COO of Safe Schools Safe Kids in Minneapolis. He says that funding in some states for increased safety in schools is driving the demand for the specification of school security products.

Brotman says that while he’s seen discussion about school security, the funding hasn’t followed it in many places and, in most school districts, budget limits play a huge role in the level of security that can be provided.

“What I have seen is that with the lack of funding people are turning to inappropriate measures that are only bandages,” he says. “They’re not addressing the whole culture of the school. I’ve even heard of them boarding up windows thinking that’s safer.”

While there are currently no codes for school security, Brotman says there are good guidelines such as “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.”

“There needs to be a wider shared knowledge of the tools, practices and guidelines so that you don’t need to have a code,” he says. “Codes are about life safety and they’re very specific and well researched. It’s difficult to create new ones. If these guidelines are looked at and followed you’ll find that safe environments will be developed.

The Film View

While glass can be an attractive addition to a school, bullet-resistant glazing products can come in over budget. Some schools will choose to use bullet-resistant glass or bullet-resistant film for the main entrances and administrative areas, while using safety and security films for glass on classroom doors and other areas of the school.

“We want them to use the bullet-resistant films as much as possible but it’s usually the budget that decides what [schools] can and can’t do,” says Mike Kinsey, chief operations officer of Scottish Group Companies, which include film installation company Scottish Window Tinting in Centennial, Colo.

Martin Faith, founder and president of Scottish Group Companies, says that the film itself isn’t bullet-resistant, but when added to glass that is at least ½-inch thick the combination is bullet-resistant. However, many schools don’t have glass that thick, which means that in retrofit applications requiring bullet-resistance, the glass must be replaced.

Kinsey says that this option is more cost effective than traditional bullet-resistant glass, and gives the school’s resource officer time to react to an incident. However, many schools opt for security film instead.

“You can do a lot with the existing glass by using a thick security film. If someone shoots it from the outside they have to shoot it multiple times and even then the glass doesn’t just shatter onto the ground,” says Faith. “A thick security film applied to any type of glass, as long as it has what is called an attachment system that goes around the edge, can stop a
perpetrator for a couple of minutes.”

This can delay a person from gaining access to an area for approximately a minute and a half.

Kinsey and Faith don’t see the architectural community turning away from glass in school design due to the daylighting and energy benefits, which means there’s an increasing demand for products such as security window film.

“If the consultation happens at an early enough stage, then instead of retrofitting, good solutions can be put in place. It’s always cheaper to incorporate security as part of the design,” says Faith.

Hardening Schools

Kenny Webb, director of integrated solutions and marketing communications at Assa Abloy, says his company is positioning hardware as a complete assembly rather than as individual parts.

Ceco Door, an Assa Abloy company, and School Guard Glass have partnered to create an attack-resistant door for schools that is tested and specified as a complete assembly with the door construction, glass, the lite kits used to hold the glass in place and the hardware (a mortise lock).

“It could be used for all doors. The idea is for it to be in every classroom,” says Webb. “We’ve created a cost effective solution for them. While it doesn’t stop the bullet from penetrating, even if it’s shot 90 times with an AK 47, including in the glass, the person shooting is not going to gain access to that room.”

While installing the full door assembly may provide high levels of protection, Webb says that choosing any part of the assembly could be a step up for schools in retrofit applications. He recommends that schools prioritize swapping out the door glass with security glass and replacing the lite kit to add improved security. Next, he suggests replacing the hardware.

“If they’ve got a mortise lock on there they can try it with an escutcheon plate that we use in our assembly or replace the whole lock set with the escutcheon plate,” he says. “If you’ve got enough, go ahead and replace the door as well.”

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be
reached at

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