School Entryway

Shedding Light on LEED Schools and Ballistic Security

Architect Info

Schools are very excited about environmentally responsible “green” design–especially when it comes to new construction. Rainwater harvesting, solar water heating, recycled building materials, living roofs, locally-sourced materials, and properly siting the new building to best take advantage of natural heating and cooling effects will all be enthusiastically praised. So will the educational advantages of having children spend their days in an attractive learning environment designed around responsible principles.

But architects often feel crunched between environmental concerns and safety concerns–especially if they’ve been given the impression that ballistic security has become incompatible with green design.

Do You Have to Choose Between LEED and Security?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an important certification for many projects because it is tied to community aspirations, financial aid, grants, and other incentives. As more and more public entities embrace LEED and other green design principles, questions arise as to whether or not green design introduces security risks. These concerns range from worries about increased threat exposure associated with using large windows to let in natural daylight, to questions about the strength of green building materials and the possible security trade-offs that come with open floor plans.

School EntrywayThere is no incompatibility between green construction and security–even in schools. Consider the use of natural light–a high priority in any green building. As recently as the 1980s school designers and architects were still minimizing windows in classrooms for security and maintenance reasons, and to “minimize distractions.” Today, LEED encourages schools to have natural light in 75 to 90 percent of the regularly occupied areas–especially core learning spaces. This isn’t just a matter of energy efficiency: There’s a long established relationship between classroom windows and academic performance. A 1999 study conducted by the Heschong Mahone Group found that students exposed to natural daylight in their classrooms progressed 20 to 26 percent more quickly through math and reading lessons than students who had little or no daylight in their classrooms.

But if windows were a security risk in the decades before the first active shooter event, one would assume they continue to pose risks today. Fortunately, our building materials have evolved just as much as our design principles. Modern UL-rated bulletproof acrylic glazing has excellent light transmission, with only 10% loss of natural daylight and can be custom cut into any configuration. Even more important: Not every school window creates a meaningful risk, and not every classroom needs to be fortified with layers of ballistic materials.

Targeted Use of Integrated Security Saves Money

Total Security Solutions contains costs by using bulletproof materials in targeted ways and embracing principles of CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design).

“We keep the scope of our work small,” explains Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions. “We’re not doing the whole building, we’re not doing all the exterior windows. When there are transition areas, we use bullet proof materials and standard materials together, each where it makes the most sense. For example, if there’s a curtain wall system running alongside a reinforced entryway, and the last two lengths are in the secured area, we’ll use bullet resistant where we need to, and non-bullet-resistant for those last couple segments.”

There is no small amount of pressure these days for architects to design with LEED in mind. Throw in the need for heightened security, bulletproof glass, and DuPont™ Kevlar® fiber panels, and it can be hard to see the forest for the trees, much less stay on budget. A security-conscious design incorporates ballistic and conventional materials intelligently to meet aesthetic, environmental, and security goals.

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