Volume 50, Issue 6 - June 2015

In A Matter of Seconds, Seconds Matter
School Designs Embrace the Benefits that Glazing Products Can Provide

by Ellen Rogers

Sandy Hook changed everything.

The tragedy that took place December 14, 2012 devastated the town of Newtown, Conn., and the entire nation. In the days, weeks and months that followed, there were many questions about school safety and security.

But there were fewer answers.

Many communities and school boards suggested everything from arming teachers to removing glass from the schools. Everyone agreed children must be safe, and they must be able to learn in a secure, comfortable environment. The glass industry was adamant that glass has a critical, positive role to play in learning environments.

Experts stressed that when it comes to keeping schools safe and secure, understanding the needs and threats and applying the right glazing solution to vulnerable entry points is key. As an example, glazing allows those inside to see what may be coming. This means they can react faster, perhaps buying time. And in some cases, a few seconds can make a tremendous difference.

Where We Are

Robert Massey Jr., president of Massey’s Plate Glass & Aluminum Co. in Branford, Conn., has seen a dramatic shift in what architects are designing for schools. His company was a contender for the glazing subcontract on the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, slated for completion in 2016 (see sidebar on page 47), but the job ultimately went to another firm. (Editor’s note: information on the company selected for the project was not available at press time.) Still, Massey says that when it comes to schools, architects are taking a serious look at the materials being used, particularly glass.

“In public areas [of a school] in particular, [materials] are being spec’d almost like a medium-security prison,” says Massey.

He points out that questions about ballistics ratings are among the first he often receives from architects on these projects. Other questions that come up frequently include how long would it take for someone to break through the glass, and what does it take to do so? “With that said, the framing has to withstand that load, too,” Massey says.
“The framing has to take on a substantial force.”

Speaking of framing, Donnie Hunter, director, architectural promotion and marketing for Kawneer Co. Inc. in Norcross, Ga., agrees that school tragedies have shifted the way architects design educational facilities.

“Since school tragedies like Sandy Hook, we have seen architects work to make entrances and ground floor windows, framing or curtainwall more secure by using upgraded (laminated hurricane-resistant, blast-resistant and/or bullet-resistant) glass infills,” he says. “In addition, we have seen much more interest in security hardware for both entrance doors and operable windows.”

Richard Paulsen, storefront product manager with Pella Corp. in Monett, Mo., adds that the Sandy Hook tragedy has led to discussions revolving around proper access control and security for schools.  

“Architects are keenly aware of this need and are working toward solutions that can fit their design vision as well as offer proper security for the children,” he says.

Ron Baer, Assa Abloy’s director of business development, K-12, adds that establishing reliable barriers to entry has become more important than ever in keeping out intruders, and appropriate doors and door hardware are critical first steps in securing entrances.

“To complement this, the ability to recognize and take action on a potentially dangerous situation is easier,” he says. “Reinforced glass panels on security doors provide line of sight without compromising on safety. Additionally, teachers are being given greater ability to react to emergency situations, immediately restricting access from inside the classroom.”


The Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving, Texas, designed by Corgan Associates of Dallas, features curtainwall, framing systems and entrances supplied by Kawneer Co. Inc. The large glazing spans help provide a bright, open environment.



Risks for Schools:
Vulnerability Rating Scale

Very High 10 One or more major weaknesses have been identified that make the school’s assets extremely susceptible to an aggressor or hazard.
High 8-9 One or more significant weaknesses have been identified that make the school’s assets highly susceptible to an aggressor or hazard.
Medium High 7 An important weakness has been identified that makes the school’s assets very susceptible to an aggressor or hazard.
Medium 5-6 A weakness has been identified that makes the school’s assets fairly susceptible to an aggressor or hazard.
Medium Low 4 A weakness has been identified that makes the school’s assets somewhat susceptible to an aggressor or hazard.
Low 2-3 A minor weakness has been identified that slightly increases the susceptibility of the school’s assets to an aggressor or hazard.
Very Low 1 No weaknesses exist.

According to Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings prepared by the Department of Homeland Security, a numerical scale can be used in the threat and consequences assessments of the school building.

Source: Homeland Security Science and Technology Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings

Unique Needs

Architects, designers, school boards, glaziers and suppliers are all focused on creating the safest environment possible. So there is no lack of concern and consideration when it comes to the unique nature of an educational environment.

“We know the use [of glazing in schools] is totally different than anything else,” says Massey. “It’s different than in an office building; however, we have started seeing requests for [security glazing] in the private sector as well. Society is changing, and we have to change with it.”

Massey says one aesthetic matter he’s seen addressed is that the overall thickness of the [security glass] might not work with the sightlines architects initially desire. “A lot of the [standard] glazing systems may take 1 ¼-inch glass thickness, while ballistics need up to 1 ½ to 2 inches. When that happens, the sightlines have to get thicker. That’s what it takes to get the security.”

Hunter adds, “It appears in most cases the thought process for school security is not to have a reinforced building such as a prison where unauthorized entrance is nearly impossible, but rather to impede or slow down the ability for an unwelcome person to enter. Rather than keeping the intruder out entirely, the idea is more about foiling the entry long enough for first responders to arrive on the scene.” 

Paulsen has a similar perspective, and also expects increasing use of laminated glass.

“The laminated glass, while it won’t stop a bullet, does require time to break through, which allows for students, teachers and faculty to initiate safety plans,” he says.

Slowing down intruders is the intent of the recently developed School Guard Glass (SGG). As the company explains on its website, “Our product is not designed to keep someone out of a building indefinitely like blast- or bullet-rated glass could. Our product is specifically designed to slow their progress dramatically.”

A January 15, 2015, article on NPR explains that SSG was invented by Chris Kapiloff, who began conceptualizing the product shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting. SSG is now co-owned by Kapiloff’s Glass of Adams, Mass., and the LTI Group of Pittsfield, Mass., according to the NPR report. (Editor’s note: USGlass magazine contacted SSG, but company representatives declined to comment for this article.)

According to the NPR report, “School Guard has two layers. One [is] the protective patent-pending side and the other tempered glass for energy efficiency, with a sealed air space in between. All the glass in the factory is heated and pressurized in large chambers called autoclaves …” The glass has also undergone independent testing at H.P White Laboratories in Street, Md.

Spec sheets posted on the company’s website point out the total time to failure (with tests up to three-pound hammer and bat, 3½ minutes) for one of its products, SG4, was six minutes, 10 seconds. This compares to 3⁄8-inch glass-clad polycarbonate, which failed the tools test at 1 minute, 12 seconds. The average time for law enforcement to arrive is reported between four and five minutes. While specific information is not available about the product, the website describes it as “a laminated glass product consisting of outer layers of glass with a custom security-strengthened substrate core. It is specifically designed to slow down intruders but is not bullet-resistant to certain ballistic threats. When shot, it will not shatter like ordinary tempered glass and is far stronger than laminated glass or glass reinforced.”

What’s Next?

The glass industry’s role goes beyond mere installation. It’s about education so that school boards and communities can make sound decisions based on several variables (location, level of threat, budget) matched with the many product options they initially may not have been aware of.

With that in mind, the Glass Association of North America developed a Glass Informational Bulletin (GIB) titled “Security Glazing for Schools,” which provides information about security glazing options for doors and windows installed in schools. The GIB outlines various types of security glazing, including forced-entry-resistant laminating glazing; bullet-resistant laminated glazing; blast-resistant laminated glazing; and hurricane-resistant laminated glazing.

Hunter points out that he is continuing to see more school projects outside of hurricane-resistant zones looking to upgrade to hurricane- and impact-resistant products. 

“The laminated glass products used for large missile impact applications generally make a good economical solution for ground-floor use to make it [more] difficult to gain entry,” he says. “In addition to upgraded glass, the use of more security-entrance door hardware is growing.”


Schools are increasingly installing keyless entry products such as the Rite Touch from Adams Rite for improved access control.


As far as the future of school design, Paulsen thinks glazing products hold the potential for the biggest changes. For example, he says, “Some form of laminated polycarbonate, if light enough for high traffic use by students, would be used extensively.”

Massey adds he does not see the interest in stronger glazing products decreasing.

“I don’t think this will just be ‘one of those things,’” he says. “It’s becoming more the norm. Everyone wants the children to be safe. I don’t think this is just a design fad.”

He also points out that on bid proposals, in addition to asking for quotes on ballistic/bullet-resistant products, the [school board, owner, etc.] also wants to know the substitute (i.e. less expensive) options.

“But they never take that,” says Massey. “The school board wants to know the premium they’re paying, but I don’t see them sacrificing dollars for safety.”

Let the Light Shine In

Glass may not always be the strongest material in the façade, but using the proper product in the right locations can provide benefits for those inside. Security concerns aside, natural light has been shown to offer significant health and well-being benefits, particularly in schools.

As Robert Massey Jr., president of Massey’s Plate Glass & Aluminum Co. in Branford, Conn., says, he hasn’t seen educational projects refrain from using glass.

“They [architects] want the security factor, but they also want freedom to use the glass. They want to keep [the inside] bright and open,” he says.

Donnie Hunter, director of architectural promotion and marketing with Kawneer Co. Inc., adds that natural lighting in schools is probably relevant now more than ever. 

“There are numerous studies and reports that specifically focus on schools and how natural daylight improves student attendance, performance and even faculty attitudes,” he says. “As school districts try to reduce or maintain facility operating costs, decreasing the need for artificial light and/or lessening energy consumption will continue to drive more decisions to support a better built environment for students and faculty.”

“The great thing about this industry is the ingenuity to solve problems,” adds Richard Paulsen, storefront product manager with EFCO Corp. in Monett, Mo. “Rather than reducing glass, or affecting natural light, architects are asking questions about other solutions. We are seeing [options] that we can incorporate into our products that greatly increase the time to penetrate the building envelope.”




New Beginnings: The New Sandy Hook Elementary School



Above: The central main lobby features a two-story glass wall, providing expansive views of nature.
Left: The new Sandy Hook Elementary School will include three classroom wings, two of which are two stories.

Designing the new Sandy Hook Elementary School was a delicate task. The town of Newtown, Conn., chose to demolish the former facility and rebuild a new PreK-4 school on the existing property. Svigals + Partners in New Haven, Conn., was selected to provide the architectural and engineering services on the design.

In their design philosophy for the project (available at www.sandyhook2016.com), the architects say, “schools are an essential resource of the entire community. They not only offer a vibrant and nurturing environment for children to learn, but also places for community activities of all kinds. Given this mission, there is a need and an opportunity to create a facility that truly emerges from the very particular time, place and spirit of the community in which it will live.”

Architects explain that in the analysis of the renovate vs. build, “costs to renovate this 56-year-old building [the former school], bring it up to code, eliminate the portables, make it energy efficient, provide necessary safety features, and more, generated a cost almost at the same level of new building construction.”

While information about the glazing systems being used on the project has not been released, based on the renderings (see above), the design does incorporate large glass openings in some areas. Information on the website states that the design team “worked diligently to take advantage of the inherent natural features of the school site in the re-design, and these features helped to organize the site to address security, vehicular access, pedestrian connections, views and daylighting, adjacencies to fields and outdoor areas, and establishing physical and symbolic connections with nature.”

Information on the website’s FAQ section points out vertical sunshades will be used in certain areas.

“The sunshades are shaped like aerodynamic fins, about 10 inches deep, and are spaced 19.5 inches apart - so they allow plenty of visibility between them …They will also be colorfully painted … to be a unique and enlivening feature both inside and out.”

The building and site are expected to be fully completed when school commences in the fall of 2016.

the author

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.


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