DETROIT MI Sept 10 2019 – Curved hallways, protective “wing walls,” impact-resistant windows, doors that lock with a touch of a smartphone.
These are some of the design elements Fruitport High School in western Michigan’s Muskegon County will implement in its new building, set to open summer 2021.
Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Bob Szymoniak said the measures, which were supplemented by a $404,707 grant from Michigan State Police, can potentially save lives in an active shooter situation.
“So often, we feel like we’re going to be hapless victims – that there’s nothing that we can do until after it (a shooting) happens,” he said. “But what I’m learning is there’s a lot we can do on the front end.”
Szymoniak said the idea to design the new building with non-traditional safety measures came after a group of parents in the community advocated for a new high school building to replace the one built in the 1950s. It was agreed that a new facility will be built around the old one, and to do this, the hallways had to be curved.
“When we were sitting with the architect during the design phase and were looking at this curved structure, somebody said, ‘You know, that cuts down on the line of sight of an active shooter.’ From that point, we started to brainstorm what else we could do to keep our kids secure,” said Szymoniak.
In hallways and classrooms are “wing walls” — concrete extensions that will further reduce the line of sight of a shooter and act as a shield for hiding students.
Classroom windows that face hallways will be covered in impact-resistant film.
“If someone wanted to get through that glass it would take them a while, and by the time they were able to get through, law enforcement would be here to neutralize the threat,” said Szymoniak.
The building will also incorporate access control locks under control of school officials.
“The building is designed to be compartmentalized,” Szymoniak said. “Fire doors (can) close in various locations, reducing an active shooter’s mobility in the building.”
Szymoniak said the district made an effort to make the security design elements appear nonexistent.
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“We did not want to remind students that this is here to keep you safe in the event there’s an active shooter,” he said. “If you walked into our school, you would have no clue there were any of these security design elements anywhere. We want our school to be warm, welcoming and just an awesome place for students to learn.”
Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to weigh in on the matter, writing, “We’re utterly failing kids as a society when we build schools to accommodate shooters rather than students.”
Texas State University Criminal Justice Professor Pete Blair, who researches active shooter events, said schools across the nation are implementing similar design elements.
“These changes would make it more difficult for a shooter to shoot long distances and would provide students with more cover,” Blair said. “The design elements definitely have potential to reduce causality rates in the event of an active shooter situation.”
He said it’s important to protect students in the nation’s current environment and that it “makes sense to consider potential threats” when designing new buildings.
Because the environmental changes are subtle, Blair said he doesn’t anticipate the new design will be frightening to students or that the threat of an active shooter will always be on their minds.
“I’m happy to see schools trying to increase the safety of their students starting with how buildings are designed,” Blair said.
Szymoniak said the feedback the district received from the public “has been very, very positive.”
“I think that this is sending a message to communities and school officials that they can take a more active role in ensuring that their students are going to be safe…We can’t guarantee that it can never happen in our building — as secure as we feel it is, it could. But what we’ve done is everything that we could to minimize the harm that an active shooter could do.”