HOUSTON — Parents, we asked about your concerns going into the new school year. Overwhelmingly, you told us you are worried about school safety.
We all want safe schools for our kids. But what do safe schools look like? We spoke with architects Jay Brotman and Karina Ruiz to get their insight.
Brotman, a managing partner at Svigals + Partners, has designed schools for nearly 30 years. He was tasked with laying out the new Sandy Hook School after the shooting that took the lives of 20 students and six teachers.
"This was a situation where nobody knew where to go. It was a community in distress," Brotman said. "After an incident like this, and it happens all over, the first reaction for everybody is to build a fortress and put our kids inside this fortress."
The new Sandy Hook Elementary School building, which opened in 2016, is the opposite of a fortress.
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"We turned the equation around to: what is the best school that you could have for your children? And then let's make it safe," Brotman said.
He did that using an approach called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design – or CPTED, for short. The principles address natural access control, natural surveillance, territoriality, activity support and maintenance.
"CPTED principles will help you design a school with a layering, not a hardening, but a layering of security elements that will make the school actually safer for the students," Brotman said.
Those layers can be shrubs around the perimeter of the property, separate parking lots for staff and visitors, a water garden in front of the school and more windows.
"You change your whole attitude because this natural environment is right there in front of you," Brotman said. "It just so happens it makes the school very, very safe."
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Ruiz, a principal at BRIC Architecture, said it's all about creating a space with a balance of safety and belonging.
"I am truly a believer that when you're designing a school in the right way, it is and should always be both," she said.
Schools can be both and still be different, depending on the kids they serve and, too often, the trauma suffered by the community.
"I would just encourage communities to ensure that fear doesn't become the primary driver of design," Ruiz said.
Digital anchor Brandi Smith spoke to Brotman and Ruiz at length, including about what it will take to turn all the existing U.S. schools into safe, but comfortable spaces. You can watch those full interviews in the videos below.