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Can Safety Upgrades Make College Campuses More Sustainable?

Many college or university campuses have prioritized sustainable building practices, converting buildings to LEED standards or building new facilities powered by renewable energy. But some campuses are taking even greater steps to make buildings more environmentally friendly, participating in the Living Building Challenge, which requires buildings to have “regenerative design.” Buildings built under Living Building standards, such as R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College and the Kendeda Building For Innovative Sustainable Design at Georgia Tech, give back more energy to the campus than is used. These multi-functional facilities also are at the forefront of innovative campus design, which is increasingly focused on safety and security as well. 

Environmental sustainability, while a key issue, is not the only priority for college or university leaders partnering with architectural firms. Amid rising rates of gun violence in the United States, many colleges or universities that are building new facilities are likely to have security at the front of their minds. Over recent years, building design has evolved to fit the times, which means buildings are turning to intuitive designs to bolster safety without making students, faculty, or staff feel like the campus is prison-like or a fortress. Fortunately, school facilities built with safety in mind are often more sustainable as well. Design elements that find safety and security in openness, are often compatible with living building standards, which also need open structures to take advantage of natural energy.  

Related Blog: Higher-Education Institutions Conducting Campus Safety Research

By investing in buildings that prioritize both security and sustainability, campus leaders can move forward with campus expansion while addressing two of the most critical issues of the current moment. For students and parents touring a campus, a college or university building new facilities with a commitment to addressing both timely security concerns as well as environmental sustainability will go a long way in helping enrollment. 

How Can Architecture Prioritize Safety? 

Back in 2018, the design for the new Sandy Hook Elementary school made news, representative of a community moving on from the tragic shooting which occurred back in 2012. The new facility is notable for both its openness and connection to nature as well as commitment to student safety and student performance, according to Curbed. The building demonstrated how school design might evolve to meet new risks, as the building offers improved natural surveillance and increased situational awareness through a series of windows and gradual checkpoints on the main road. As a result, the school exudes a calm connection to the landscape, versus a walled-off fortress, and is inviting instead of institutional, as per Curbed. While physical security tools are subtly included in the school design - such as door locks that allow teachers to block entry from the hallway, and impact-resistant glass, the building is deliberately not bunker-like. 

Architects designing buildings with campus security and safety in mind refer to this type of design as a “psychological approach,” according to Campus Security and Life Magazine. Chad Greer, a principal architect for Corner Greer and Associates, has designed multiple school buildings using the approach. Buildings designed with intuitive surveillance in mind makes sure the landscape doesn’t obscure sight lines. "It means that hidden areas have good lighting and maybe an adaptive use for those areas to create a more physical presence of people that dissuades people from nefarious activities,” Greer said. Much like Sandy Hook, Greer prioritizes windows and sight-lines, creating natural surveillance while discouraging campuses from building institution-like buildings. 

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Fortunately, LEED and Living Building Standard facilities are often compatible with a psychological approach, and any school can determine a buildings potential by conducting a facility assessment. Greer noted that a facility assessment can include determining a variety of characteristics, including, “making sure there’s an appropriate level of lighting, a review of landscaping, making sure there’s adequate sight lines, all the way up to the front door, and how someone understands where they’re supposed to go and then once they get into the building.” Environmental standards often require similar characteristics, including adequate light, a central location on campus, and intuitive landscaping, such as how the walkway at Sandy Hook Elementary allowed the school to be surrounded by nature but also include security checkpoints.

Leveraging Technology To Bolster Physical Security  

Keeping buildings secure without intimidating students has been a key challenge for those designing buildings with a safety focus. While building hardening is a critical conversation on campus, it’s important to make sure student facilities don't feel like a fortress. Finding innovative solutions to continue to bolster safety after a building is completed, and safeguarding buildings that are not LEED standard, are both critical components of a comprehensive safety plan. By leveraging a campus safety app, a college or university can further prioritize safety on campus without perpetuating a sense of unease. Empowering students to take safety into their own hands with the app, safety managers can go beyond physical security to create an even stronger safety net on campus. The app allows students to set a safety timer while traveling between buildings, and informs a designated guardian as well as campus police if the user does not arrive at their destination on time.

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Location data is one of the essential functions a campus safety app can provide, which is beneficial on any campus, regardless of facility layout. For schools not slated to build new facilities or update older buildings in coming years, the app can still provide an extra layer of security. Students can use the app to connect directly with campus safety or local law enforcement during an emergency. In addition to helping the student reach 9-1-1 quickly with the push of the button, the app also provide first responders with the user's information, expediting first response. 

Rave Guardian Safety App Video

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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