The June meeting of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute featured an important and informative presentation by Tod Schneider, one of the nation’s most knowledgeable authorities in the field of crime prevention through environmental design for schools. Tod has worked for nearly three decades as a crime prevention specialist for the Eugene Police Department, and presently is serving as the City of Eugene’s Veterans Homelessness Analyst. We are very pleased Tod was able share his considerable knowledge and insight with us.
The seemingly endless succession of senseless school shootings across the nation has profoundly influenced how communities protect their children in the school setting. Our small corner of the world hasn’t been immune: Many of us vividly remember May 21, 1998, the terrible day when Kip Kinkel shot two students dead and wounded 25 others at Thurston High School in Springfield.(1) The worst imaginable event for a parent of a child in a school has happened here in our own backyard. The questions that arise in the aftermath of such an event most often start with “why?” but also quickly move toward “what must we do to prevent another Thurston, Columbine, or Sandy Hook ever happening again?”
We certainly cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed by such tragedies. Experts like Tod have learned from them and have for decades now been disseminating best principles for preventing their future occurrence. As a nationally recognized authority on the subject of safe school design, Tod consults regularly to school districts around the country, focusing on safe, healthy, and positive school design, as well as the application of security technologies.
Terror and mayhem: the Columbine High School shooters caught on the school's security camera video.
I have a general familiarity with Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which emphasizes the importance of natural surveillance, access control, and territorial enforcement to deter criminal behavior. Natural surveillance and access control strategies limit the opportunity for crime. Territorial reinforcement promotes social control through a variety of measures. Many of the CPTED strategies have become ingrained in how my colleagues and I approach the designs of our projects, particularly the schools we work on. We often consider CPTED at the very outset of the design process as a matter of course.
There is a risk associated with focusing too much upon the goal of “hardening” our schools. We don’t want them to appear like fortresses—cheerless, foreboding, and lacking the ideal attributes of places for learning and socialization. We don’t want to design our schools with a disproportionate emphasis upon our fear of possible threats. This is why Tod emphasizes a balanced approach to keeping students safe, one that places equal emphasis upon providing healthy and positive school environments. Tod refers to this as the S.H.A.P.E.D. or 2nd generation CPTED philosophy.
Safe schools do incorporate three fundamental CPTED concepts:
- Natural surveillance (the ability to see what’s going on)
- Natural access control (the ability to control who gets in or out of a facility)
- Territoriality/maintenance (the ability to establish and send a message of turf ownership)
Natural access control limits the opportunity for crime by taking steps to clearly differentiate between public space and private space. This is achieved by configuring entrances and exits, fencing, lighting, and landscaping in ways that limit access or control flow.
Territorial reinforcement controls behavior by fostering a sense of ownership. This creates an environment where "strangers" or "intruders" stand out and are more easily identified. By using buildings, fences, pavement, signs, lighting and landscape to express ownership and define public, semi-public, and private space, natural territorial reinforcement occurs.
A school’s main entrance is a location that lends itself well to the application of effective CPTED strategies. Properly designed, the main entrance clearly differentiates the public and private realms. It allows the front desk staff to see anyone approaching the building. The staff maintains sight of the person once he or she has entered the building, while electronic controls make it easy to manage access. The resulting vigilance goes a long way toward establishing territoriality. Architects can apply similar CPTED tactics unobtrusively throughout the designs of safer schools.
Healthy schools provide clean water, air and food, and exposure to natural light; are free of mold, toxins, vermin, disruptive noise or unpleasant odors; use non-toxic building materials; are well maintained and use equipment and designs that avoid creating trip, fall, cut or other health hazards; encourage environmental awareness and responsibility; and promote healthy student behavior. Initiatives like LEED, the Well-Building Standard, and biophillic design support and provide touchstones for the design of healthy schools.
Positive schools provide extensive reinforcement for a pro-social, affective environment. They promote a positive school climate in which mutual respect, support, cooperation, and connectivity between students, staff, the school, and the community is the norm. These qualities are reinforced with positive messages displayed throughout the school, in addition to functional facilities (meaning space, furnishings and equipment are a good match for the intended use).
Classrooms attuned to the affective environment minimize alienation, reinforce positive attitudes and behavior, and increase academic achievement and motivation. A positive school engages its students, celebrates their individuality, and values all types of ability and achievement.
A safer school doesn’t have to look foreboding. In this illustration, an uncontrolled access point has been remodeled to protect kids on the playground without making it look like a prison yard. (illustration from Tod Schneider's website Safe School Design)
The appeal of the holistic S.H.A.P.E.D. approach to achieving safer schools is that it is mindful of what we’ve always wanted our schools to be: stimulating, healthy, and safe learning environments. It does not necessitate sacrificing this goal in favor school safety alone. The S.H.A.P.E.D. principles are also more generally applicable—to the design of workplaces, for example—so architects of all stripes would be well-served by embracing them.
Big thanks to Tod for sharing his expertise at our chapter meeting!
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The June meeting also marked the end of the annual WVC/CSI calendar by recognizing those who contributed to the chapter’s success in the preceding year. Outgoing chapter president Steven Leuck, CSI, CDT, bestowed a number of honors to deserving chapter members. The common thread tying all the awards together was the recipients’ unstinting efforts to champion the benefits CSI has to offer everyone in the construction industry. Steven has now passed the reins of the presidency to Marina Wrensch, CSI. Like her predecessors, I have no doubt Marina will effectively lead the Willamette Valley Chapter in the coming year and help it maintain its stature as one of CSI's best.
(1) Springfield Public Schools had engaged my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, to work on several projects at Thurston High School at the time of the shooting. I was actually on my way to the school for a meeting when I received a call on my cell phone to turn back because of an emergency on the campus. I soon found out what happened and was deeply affected by the tragic news.