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At Sandy Hook's New School, Striving for Invisible Security

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A brand new, $50M Sandy Hook Elementary School broke ground in October, to replace the one that was razed following the 2012 school shooting that put the community of Newtown, Connecticut, in the national spotlight. The replacement Sandy Hook Elementary, designed by New Haven's Svigals + Partners, incorporates the kind of heightened security features one would expect, but many are less than obvious. Co.Design's Shaunacy Ferro offers an interesting look at how the firm tried to create a very secure elementary school that doesn't scream "fortress" the moment you step inside.

Safety at the new Sandy Hook begins with the layout of the school grounds. The only road that reaches the school is routed through two wetland areas, creating a "natural barrier against unwanted visitors." To drive in, one has to pass through a security gate, after which their are different parking lots for staff and regular visitors, with different passes required for each. A "rain garden" fed by storm runoff forms another natural barrier of a sort, distinctly setting off the pathways to the school's front entrances. The school curves inward around the parking lot, giving the administrative offices and support facilities at the front of the school a clear view of who is approaching it.

The classrooms are situated in three wings that go perpendicular to the body of the school (floor plans this way), which is set deeper into the surrounding forest than the previous Sandy Hook Elementary. These wings can be locked off during emergencies, and the courtyards in back of them are bounded by a fence with vertical bars. Each classroom can be locked as well, via one-inch deadbolts that, unlike those of many schools, can be engaged from the inside, without teachers needing to go out into the hall to do so. Glass panels in the doors have been moved away from the doorknob, so intruders can't break the glass, reach in, and open them. To make it harder for a potential shooter to aim through classroom windows—which aren't bulletproof, but have an impact resistant glazing, and are set at a height with enough of a clearance to allow people to duck under them—the land surrounding the building declines somewhat.

Ferro notes that the new Sandy Hook is "likely to be one of the most-watched case studies in the nation" for school design. So we'll probably see more of these features in future elementary schools, most appreciably in Connecticut, but also in the more than 30 states that have passed school security-related legislation since 2013. Head to Co.Design for the full story.

Can Newtown Design A Safer Sandy Hook School That Doesn't Feel Like A Fortress? [Co.Design]