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Creating Safe and Welcoming Learning Environments

Jessica Richards

In an ever-evolving world, the safety of students within school premises remains paramount. Josh Pearson, Vice President of Preconstruction at JP Cullen, participated in the 2023 Summer Leadership Institute Architecture Panel to shed light on the critical role construction and architecture play in ensuring secure and welcoming learning environments. Here are key takeaways from the insightful discussion.


Prioritizing student safety: The foundation of any learning environment is student safety. When students feel safe, they can fully engage in learning. In the planning/design of a new school, we must first identify what sort of situation can exist that would threaten a student’s safety and then design strategies to mitigate those threats.


Designing for day-to-day safety: While crisis situations capture attention, addressing day-to-day safety issues is equally vital. This includes designing buildings up to code to ensure the facility is safe from any environmental/weather-related emergency. Like adding opportunities to increase response efficiency by including visible room numbers outside windows for rescue. Everyday threats like youth violence and unauthorized access require a “see and be seen” design by eliminating blind spots, creating open spaces, and maintaining good sight lines.


Effective pick-up and drop-off zones: Chaotic pick-up and drop-off zones pose risks to students. Design solutions involve clear entrances for visitors, designated bus and parent zones with visibility buffers, and carefully planned landscaping that enhances visibility without obstruction. Maintaining visibility between drop-off points and student entrances to avoid blind spots is also important.


Cutting-edge security enhancements: Incorporating advanced security measures in new construction or renovations can enhance safety. Areas of refuge within classrooms with emergency phones, exterior room numbers for rescue, secure vestibules, adaptable furnishings, and sophisticated surveillance systems are at the forefront of modern school security.


Renovation challenges: Renovations offer a unique chance to assess existing facilities before making changes. In early planning, partners identify safety weaknesses, such as hidden outdoor gathering spots or blind spots. Integrating new technology with existing systems, maintaining supervision points, and considering faculty needs are crucial during renovations. Individual school requirements will vary between schools and adhering to state statutes ensures comprehensive safety.


Balancing safety and welcoming spaces: Contrary to the belief that safety compromises warmth, the “see and be seen” approach aligns security with a welcoming atmosphere. Incorporating features like main entrances with clear sight lines, solid classroom doors with narrow glass sidelites, open community spaces, and controlled access during non-school hours strikes a harmonious balance.


Cost-effective safety measures: Amid rising costs, cost-effective safety measures are paramount. For example, creating minimal exterior landscaping for visibility, clear entry branding, interior and exterior wayfinding signage for better traffic control, electronically controlled locks, and mental health awareness initiatives are common tactics.


The architecture panel’s insights emphasize that safety and welcoming environments aren’t mutually exclusive. By thoughtfully integrating innovative design, technology, and a deep understanding of the school’s needs, we can craft spaces where students thrive and grow with safety in mind. If you have any questions about this topic, reach out to Josh Pearson at

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May 16, 2024