Architecture and Design for Today’s Schools: Secure and Inviting

Architects are increasingly asked to consider security—and especially ballistic security—when designing or renovating schools. And they’re rising to this challenge. Whether the project is for an elementary school or a university, and whether it is a retrofit or new construction, safe and cost-effective designs are emerging. That said, architects still find themselves hindered by low budgets and high expectations. The result can be a school that ends up looking like a fortress—or, even worse, a prison.

Over­-designing Ballistic Barriers for School

Parents, administrators, and politicians often demand total security: Military­-grade bullet resistant glass in every window, “man­-trap” entryways, bulletproof shields and blackboards, and so on. This sort of scatter-shot security over­-design makes for a forbidding atmosphere, subtly communicating a sense of persistent threat to students, and fundamentally detracting from the building’s core purpose: Fostering education.

The security engineers at Total Security Solutions will be the first to tell you that replacing every exterior window in a school with bulletproof glass is not a reasonable solution: It requires expensive materials, can be structurally challenging, and it doesn’t meaningfully address the threat at hand.

Total Security Solutions helps architects and their clients find ways to use bulletproof glass strategically and unobtrusively. For example, very few visitors to a school will notice if the entryway doors are actually Level 3 ballistic aluminum­-framed doors.

The design of these doors is very familiar. They open and close as easily as standard fire doors, despite the extra weight (bullet proof doors can be twice as heavy as conventional doors). These doors—identical to many schools’ existing entries—feature bullet resistant acrylic and aluminum frames capable of stopping multiple shots from a 9mm, .357 Magnum, or .44 Magnum. They’re outfitted with secure mortised locks, reinforced hardware, and electric buzz-­through strikes, and can be easily integrated into a bullet resistant school vestibule entryway system.

secure school door and entryway

The Best Security Is the Security You Never See

Real security in an education setting is more than just replacing windows and doors. As architects are already discovering, meaningful security is best achieved through defensive designs that delay disaster and give the school ample time to respond to threats: Secure vestibules, landscaping that distances school facilities from roads and parking, long approaches, and situating classrooms on upper floors or far from main entrances. The re-design of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut (as featured on the Fast Company website) applies many of these fundamental defensive features, and is setting the standard for twenty­-first century elementary schools. Bullet resistant barriers are one more part of this equation.

Total Security Solutions helps architects integrate ballistic security into school building projects at every stage in the process, from initial conception through design, permitting, and installation. Their systems are completely custom solutions, individually developed for each school or institution, and providing security that melds seamlessly with the rest of the structure.

“We know we’ve done a good job if people are like ‘Wow, this isn’t what I expected!'” explained Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions. “People have a visual picture of what they’re expecting—something dark and ugly, like a county lockup—and what we provide is drastically different from that. We are always looking for that ‘Wow­-factor’ when we leave.”

Total Security Solutions offer a variety of free materials—including data sheets, ebooks, and CAD blocks—at our online Bulletproof Architect Resource Center. For a detailed introduction to ballistic security for schools, watch our 2013 Fundamentals of School Security Webinar:

Next Steps:

Back to Blog