Construction & Back to School Safety Tips
by Evan Hill | September 16, 2022
The signs it’s time to go back to school have arrived - the traffic has started to get heavier, the school buses have appeared, and back-to-school photos of little ones have popped up all over social media.
In the K-12 construction industry, however, there are additional considerations besides rush hour traffic and back-to-school photos. For K-12 owners and school districts in the midst of a school construction project, a renovation, or enhancing building security design, the back to school hustle can create safety challenges for returning students and staff.
With recent active shooter events and weather-related disasters in mind, a top priority of school districts is the safety and security of students and staff. K-12 buildings can be designed in such a way that it deters unwanted visitors while also supporting the mental health of students. The building design can impact not only physical safety and security, but also encourage mental wellness through trauma informed design.
During construction projects, keeping students out of harm’s way of construction equipment and keeping the site secure with only approved personnel can be achieved through additional security measures.
School districts have a responsibility to safely integrate school security in building design, while keeping students safe during construction.
Keeping Students Safe Through School Building Design
As current events have shown - in both active shooter situations and weather-related incidents - school safety and security is a top priority for new school builds or renovations. K-12 school buildings can be designed in such a way to reduce the threat of unwanted visitors, and reduce the risk of building damage during a weather event.
While in the design and planning phase of a K-12 project, it is important to think about building design and how the layout and systems within the design can enhance or detract from school safety and security.
Some design considerations for enhanced security and safety measures in K-12 buildings are discussed below.
1. Controlled School Access for Visitors
The ingress and egress methods for visitors, staff, and students should be considered in the design of the school. A protocol for visitors could include one entrance and exit, with entry via a separate parking lot. As students enter the building, security personnel can be assisted by security cameras and an undeterred view of the entryway.
2. Security Design in Classrooms
In classrooms, impact glass for classroom doors and windows, the ability to obscure classroom windows with shades, inset doorways, and niches for students to gather are all helpful in the event of an active shooter situation.
3. Cybersecurity Considerations
With heightened security systems, comes an increase in cyber security measures. Cyber security can be designed into a K-12 building or renovation to secure building lockdowns, and secure students’ and staff sensitive personal information.
4. Designing for Weather Threats
Building design must meet local codes, specifications, and building regulations. It is up to the school board and permitting authority to ensure their building design meets or exceeds design loads for typical local weather threats, such as hurricanes, snow, floods, fires, earthquakes, or tornadoes. The structure must be designed to withstand collapse within the boundaries of local building safety codes in a continued effort to protect students from weather-related disasters.
5. Trauma Informed Design
While security is important, student safety goes beyond physical security. The aspect of Trauma Informed Design in K-12 school construction projects provides emotional support for students. Designing spaces with natural lighting, including areas of refuge, and keeping spaces open are all aspects of trauma-informed design, supporting students who have experienced trauma or are in need of safe, welcoming, and healing learning environments.
Keeping Students Safe During Construction
If security enhancements or construction projects are happening as students are going back to school, there are extra safety precautions a district can take to keep students, staff, and contractors safe during construction.
1. Stick to the Approved Construction Project Plans
While it may seem obvious, new construction and renovations are approved by an architect or engineer, and are designed to certain specifications to withstand structural loads, weather loads, and security measures. An owner needs to work closely with the project manager to ensure contractors are adhering to the approved plans and specifications. Any deviation could result in risk to students or staff members.
Site documentation and project monitoring can be achieved with a higher level of accuracy with 3D laser scanning - Trimble offers this level of detail in their 3D scanning devices and can help call out any discrepancies between the approved plans and the actual build, reducing risk of building failures.
2. Controlled Site Access
Controlling student access to school is a challenge of its own, and when contractors are added to the mix, additional security measures can be implemented to improve student safety.
To control site access, here are some considerations:
- Install a physical barrier to block student access to the area under construction.
- Use a camera monitoring system on the jobsite to monitor site access.
- Always keep a superintendent or project manager on site during school hours, who knows which subcontractors and personnel are scheduled to be on site that day and to enforce safety standards.
- Enhance site security with jobsite access control and automated job site attendance, with a system such as Trimble CrewSight.
3. Temporary Buildings
Temporary buildings, or portables, are often used for students during construction or renovation of schools. To improve student safety, ensure the portables are in an adequately secured area of the campus grounds, that they have appropriate power and HVAC, and have a proper contingency plan in case of weather or unwanted visitor threats.
4. Keep the Project on Schedule
With labor and material shortages, it’s no surprise that many projects fall behind schedule. The best way to keep students and staff safe from construction hazards is to complete the construction project.
Using a cloud-based project management system, such as e-Builder, K-12 project owners, school superintendents, and operations and facilities directors can increase their insight into project schedule and budget, while streamlining processes and operations.
Check out the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority case study, and how they designed a construction project management workflow and system with e-Builder unique to their needs and timeline restrictions.
Key Topics Covered: k-12 school construction