Volume 27, Issue 3 - May/June 2013

A Time to Learn
With Full Glass Usage, Schools Can Still Be Safe and Secure
By Ellen Rogers

They might as well have said, “Windows; who needs them?” In 1964 the Manual of Regulations and Recommendations for School Building Planning and Construction from the Idaho State Department of Education, Boise, noted that “The increased use of artificial lighting and forced ventilation has made the use of windows less important. The construction of buildings with no windows has proven satisfactory in many cases.”

In 1999, the Heschong Mahone Group Inc. said otherwise in its report, “Daylighting in Schools,” which was completed for Pacific Gas and Electric. The study examined school districts in three states. In Seattle, Wash., and Fort Collins, Colo., where end-of-year test scores were used as the outcome variable, students in classrooms with the most daylighting were found to have 7 to 18 percent higher scores than those with the least. In San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where the study was able to examine the improvement between fall and spring test scores, the study found that students with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests in one year than in those with the least.

Yet the shootings last December in Newtown, Conn., reminded the world that glass, more often than not, is perceived as the weakest leak. As the Sandy Hook shooter reportedly shot his way into the school through glass in the entrance, questions and concerns sprang forth across the nation over the use of glass in schools. Should its use be limited? Should it be removed completely, returning schools to the windowless brick boxes of the past?

The question of glass usage in educational facilities is one that must be balanced carefully. While in its simplest form glass may be more vulnerable to breakage, intrusion and security violations than other materials, such as brick and concrete, the benefits weighing in its support are strong. There are options, design tactics and products that can be incorporated into school projects that will strengthen the building envelope and increase its level of safety.

And the Bricks Came Down
New construction school designs have seen a tremendous evolution.

“As they say, ‘back in the day’ educational facilities were typically brick buildings with single or double hung windows,” says Donnie Hunter, manager, architectural promotion with Kawneer Co. Inc. “Over the years we have seen a change to fewer operable windows in walls that resembled military or institutional, prison-type buildings. Today, educational facilities are going back to using windows for ventilation and to provide additional sources of natural light.”

Mike Turner, vice president of marketing for YKK AP America, says many school designs have taken on a modern aesthetic thanks to the variety of window products available.

“Especially at the high school level, those designs are incorporating products such as curtainwall in staircase areas as well as across the main facade in greeting areas as a way to provide daylight into those spaces,” says Turner.
Architect Christopher Ward of CWArchitects based in Pasadena, Calif., agrees. “Glass allows light in and makes for a more cheerful space and many studies have been done that show daylight or even the perception of daylight … improves performance in classrooms.” Improvements also include better attendance and participation, as well as an overall improved attitude among students, Ward says.

Multiple Choices
Safety glass, however, is not new in schools. In fact, federal law (CPSC 16 CFR 1201), requires its use. According to Mila Kennet of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Resilient Systems Division, while laminated and tempered glass types are both considered safety glass, they behave very differently with different performance expectations.
“Laminated glass holds the glass particles together and monolithic tempered glass breaks into thousands of small particles,” she says. “Laminated glass, therefore, provides more debris control than monolithic heat-strengthened glass.”

She continues, “Aside from aesthetics, the building envelope has a huge impact on a variety of building functions, and these also include security. A fundamental protective measure is to use anti-shatter materials, such as laminated glass, and wet glaze the glass within the frame (structural silicone) to develop the capacity of the laminate and prevent bite pull-out in response to extraordinary loads.”

In the United States, the use of tempered glass is typically more common than laminated glass. That may be changing, however. Ron McCann, director of international sales with Owatonna, Minn.-based Viracon, says his company is seeing an increasing use of laminated glass in schools.

“Schools have been incorporating laminated glass for vandalism more than anything else,” says McCann. “We’ve also seen its use grow for sound control [purposes].”

Jon Johnson, general manager of Trudeco/Trulite in Columbus, Ohio, believes there is a wide variety of products, such as laminated glass, that can meet virtually any type of threat--using the products in the appropriate setting, though, is what will help make a difference.

“If [the school] is in a higher crime/threat area, for example, architects could specify a more robust system,” he says. In a setting such as Sandy Hook, the entrance area was the only part affected. Johnson says in a case such as this, having a means to slow the intruder’s entry, such as laminated glass, would allow school officials more time to call local authorities.

Glass is also important for schools because it helps in surveillance. Kennett explains that in many instances having glass of the appropriate thickness can provide additional response time “and would help to provide more surveillance to see who is coming … each case is different and glass has to be designed at the level of protection intended [for each school].”

And in these designs, the primary intent is to ensure the safety and security of the occupants without having them feel restricted or afraid.
“For the main entrance you want it to be safe and secure, but not a fortress where people think they are going into a dangerous building,” says Meghan E. Beach, architectural manager, AGC Glass Co. North America.

Design Tactics
Carefully considered designs can allow for the incorporation of glass, providing natural light benefits. The Evelyn Grace Academy in London stands as such an example. Designed by London-based architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects, the school is located in an area with one of the highest crime rates in Europe.

“This meant a lot of the students attending the school come from backgrounds where they are exposed to gang culture or unstable family backgrounds and therefore are at risk,” says project architect Bidisha Sinha. “The school, in-turn, has a very strong agenda of giving the students an environment that feels safe for them and allows them to achieve their best potential without them feeling constantly policed. This means that all supervision needed to be discreet and passive.”

Sinha says this goal was achieved by creating an interior feature out of vision glazing that flanks all classroom doors, so that at any given point visual contact could be established within circulation spaces and teaching accommodations. Likewise, all corridors ending in staff rooms have glazed partitioning, thereby never allowing for a “dead end,” which could be an area for incidents.

“Externally, this same vision was extended by allowing most teaching accommodations and shared facilities, especially at the ground level, to have a large expanse of glazing thereby always maintaining a visual contact to the external play areas,” Sinha says. “It also enables students and the extended community to visually engage with the sporting and cultural activities happening within the school, providing a sense of motivation and camaraderie.”

Sinha says the entire ground floor of the school features tempered and laminated glass; the upper floors feature laminated glass for balustrades and full-height partitions.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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