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Safer schools by design.

WE'VE COME A LONG WAY since the days of the one-room schoolhouse. Well before the turn of the century, school buildings were being constructed to house large student populations. Classrooms were supplemented with offices, auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and athletic fields.

The school building concept has evolved into a complex operation that must support a multiplicity of functions. Some schools now house programs ranging from preschool through the 12th grade to adult education and vocational programs.

Today, school design may be assessed through a new perspective. This approach incorporates an understanding of how the constructed environment affects behavior. Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is being used successfully in schools and communities to improve the management of human space. This article examines contemporary trends in school design and their effect on behavior.

In the last 30 years, school design has undergone three major evolutionary changes from a CPTED standpoint: traditional, department style, and open classroom. These models have reflected changing philosophies of design that were influenced by environmental concerns, social changes, and attempts to radically reorient approaches to educational administration.

Each school design directly affected the behavior patterns of its users, students and teachers alike. Traditional design emphasized the classroom. One-teacher, one-classroom models allowed schools to telescope from the one-room schoolhouse to fairly large structures by adding classrooms as the student population grew. Everyone had his or her assigned space - teachers in classrooms and administrators in offices - which helped define territories for both students and teachers.

Schools built in the 1950s and 1960s evolved around a modern idea of departments. A natural outgrowth of modern management was to organize schools around disciplines or departments. Teachers were oriented as teams identified with a single discipline and a leader. Similar disciplines were enclosed physically in self-contained units with offices and classrooms.

Many classrooms became multipurpose rooms in that they were no longer the domain of an individual teacher. Scheduling a classroom for constant use by a number of teachers seemed more efficient.

While this design produced a more collegial atmosphere, for it shifted the personal domain of many teachers from the classroom to an office. The classroom lost its personal markings and its identity with an individual.

The open-classroom concept radically altered school designs of the 1970s. The old one-room schoolhouse was resurrected in a new form. Walls, which were perceived as barriers to effective communication and supervision, were eliminated so that one massive classroom could contain a number of groups. Teachers were granted personal space in large "bullpens" that were isolated from students.

The exteriors of these schools were fortified for energy conservation and security. Windows were replaced with artificial illumination, thereby eliminating any view of the neighborhood. These "blockhouses" literally turned their backs and withdrew from the neighborhood. Some schools had already lost their neighborhood identity and sense of territorial concern as an unintended byproduct of busing to achieve racial equality.

Today's school planners and architects are returning to traditional values of school design, believing they work better. Large, undifferentiated school campuses - as well as other environments such as offices and industrial spaces - have become unmanageable. Designers are working toward a general objective of personalizing space to give each person the perception of ownership.

This principle translates to the identification of territories within the school campus. Hallways and foyers are assigned to the "proprietors" of internal spaces - classrooms and offices. Responsibility for the general supervision and care of these newly assigned territories goes with the ownership. This is a fundamental CPTED design and space management principle that should be considered.

One of the first steps in the design or redesign of school layouts is to conduct a CPTED assessment that provides answers to the following questions:


* What is the designated purpose of this space?

* How was it originally intended to be used?

* How well does the space support its current use and its intended use?

* Is there conflict?


* How is the space defined?

* Is it clear who "owns" the space?

* Where are its borders?

* Do social or cultural definitions affect how the space is used?

* Are the legal or administrative rules for use of the space clearly set out and reinforced in policy?

* Is the space marked by signs?

* Does conflict or confusion exist between the designated purpose and definition of the area?


* How well does the physical design support the intended function of the space and the type of behavior that is desired to occur there?

* Does the physical design conflict with or impede the productive use of the space or the proper functioning of the intended human activity?

* Does confusion or conflict exist over the manner in which the physical design is intended to control behavior?

OBSERVATION HAS SHOWN THAT THE design and use of school facilities have a direct relationship to code of conduct violations and criminal behavior. The following school environment locations have been established as the most significant problem areas from a CPTED perspective:

* school grounds

* parking lots

* locker rooms

* corridors

* restrooms

* classrooms

School grounds problems relate to the overall site plan, including the impact of local traffic flows and neighborhood activities on the school campus. Each school site plan is unique in terms of the impact of local activities. However, these are examples of potential problems:

Poorly defined campus borders. Where fencing is used, it is sometimes obscured by overgrown foliage that shields the campus from natural surveillance.

Undifferentiated campus areas. Such areas present opportunities for informal gatherings out of sight from natural opportunities for supervision.

Isolated areas. Building layout and design often produce isolated spots where students gravitate and either commit prohibited activities or expose themselves to victimization.

Poorly located bus loading areas. Bus loading areas often are in direct conflict with busy street systems or create conflict and congestion with vehicle parking areas.

Parking lots are major problem areas in high schools and to a lesser degree in elementary and middle schools.

Parking lot problems include the following:

Poor planning. Student parking lots often are placed on the outermost part of campuses, almost as an afterthought. Many student parking lots also have multiple entrances and exits. This setup results in a poor transition of movement from public to private space, in effect legitimizing the improper use of these areas.

Conflict with the neighborhood. Parking lots on the periphery of campuses can create conflict with the neighborhood. Improper nighttime, weekend, and summer use of these parking lots produces a negative perception and a retreat from any proprietary concern by the neighborhood, which increases the probability of improper use.

Poor placement. The placement of student parking lots adjacent to informal areas where students gather before and after school and during lunch periods produces conflict between the desire of students to congregate and to access personal vehicles. These conflicting activities need to be separated activities need to be separated by a natural barrier like distance or a building.

Landscaping. Staff and visitor parking areas at elementary and middle schools often are obscured by landscaping or located beside or behind buildings. This produces vulnerability to victimization, particularly during nighttime activities.

Locker rooms are the primary locations of loss for most students. Research on student victimization has demonstrated that physical education locker rooms and book locker areas have the highest probability for loss of personal belongings.

Some of the environmental problems associated with lockers and locker rooms are as follows:

Assigning more than one student to a locker. The assignment of several students to lockers in physical education areas produces conflict and confusion in terms of territorial identity.

Similar design and color. Similar design and color of lockers creates confusion and decreases natural surveillance by making an unclear definition of transitional zones.

Isolation. Isolation of both book and physical education lockers into cluster areas eliminates the natural surveillance that comes from frequent use. These isolated areas may be avoided by normal users - those individuals who belong there. Abnormal users - individuals who should not or are not desired to be in that space - perceive such isolated areas as a green light for improper use.

Corridors are the main areas in schools where the least amount of control exists. People are legitimately coming and going with a potentially wide range of excuses for their behavior.

Some of the environmental problems are as follows:

Poor planning creates blind spots. The design and use plans of many corridors present blind spots that attract abnormal users. Normal users avoid these spaces, thus reinforcing the territorial control exercised by undesired users.

Class scheduling promotes confusion and congestion. Scheduling promotes confusion and congestion in some areas, while other areas are isolated by poor scheduling practices that do not optimize the use of space. Many schools plan for the allocation of space based on personalities, or by precedence in use of space. This results in lower productivity and greater losses.

Restrooms generally are placed at the ends of hallways or in isolated locations. Architects often justify this practice because no one really cares about the location of restrooms.

The following are some environmental causes of restroom security problems:

Location. The location of restrooms is generally "down the hall" and away from the building's natural circulation plant. This presents a perception of distance and isolation that says, "This area is unsafe."

Unsafe design. Double-door entry systems for student restrooms create the perception and reality of isolation by design. One door secludes a separate transition space from another door. An individual is inside the swing of the second door before knowing what he or she has gotten into.

Many students feel unsafe in these restrooms and avoid going there. An atmosphere where abnormal users feel free to conduct improper activities often is created.

Classrooms are a school's most used areas. Code of conduct violations occur in classrooms, and thefts and vandalism occur when classrooms are vacant. The greatest loss in classrooms occurs during lunch periods when many activities are going on and people are moving around.

Environmental causes of classroom problems include the following:

Multipurpose classroom use. Multipurpose use reduces territorial concern for the physical space. Teachers and students do not identify the space with signs or personal "turf identifiers."

Isolation. Many classrooms are isolated from hallways by continuous walls that separate the controlled space of a classroom from the uncontrolled and "unowned" general space of corridors or hallways. This reduces the control over space that may be exhibited by normal users and increases the control of abnormal users.

CPTED IS BASED ON THE THEORY THAT the proper design and effective use of the built environment can reduce the incidence and fear of crime and make an improvement in the quality of life. This definition is a mouthful. Basically, it says that the better we manage our human and physical resources, the greater our profits and the lower our losses.

In a residential neighborhood, profit translates to the protection of property values and improved quality of life. In a business neighborhood, profit translates to the bottom line of economic growth and attractiveness.

The underlying objective of CPTED is to help school administrators attain their primary goal of student achievement and a positive environment with the added byproduct of improved security and loss prevention.

The CPTED planner must ask questions such as "What are you trying to accomplish?" and "How can we help you do it better?" A successful application of these concepts follows this order of priority: (1) How the design and use of physical space (2) affects human decisions and behavior, leading to (3) improved productivity and profit, with (4) the byproduct of loss prevention and reduction.

A common mistake made by those attempting to use CPTED concepts is to apply these principles solely for security reasons. It does not take them long to find that no one is interested in listening to them, particularly school administrators, who justifiably have to concern themselves with managing educational functions.

CPTED is a small part of the total set of concepts involved in loss prevention and asset protection. But it is an important concept for the school community because it emphasizes the integration of security concepts into what has to be done anyway, before additional funds are expended on guards or security devices.

Numerous opportunities are available for environmental concepts to contribute to the productive management of schools. For example, one way in which CPTED principles can be applied is to provide clearly marked transitional zones that indicate movement from public to semipublic to private space.

Multiple access points increase the perception that the school parking area is public and provide many escape routes for potential offenders. The use of barricades to close off unnecessary entrances during low-use times controls access and reinforces the perception that the parking area is private.

Another key CPTED strategy is to relocate gathering areas to locations with natural surveillance and access control or to locations away from the view of would-be offenders.

By designating formal gathering areas, informal areas become off-limits. Anyone observed in spaces not designated as formal gathering areas will automatically be subject to scrutiny. Abnormal users will feel at greater risk and have few excuses for being in the wrong place. As a result, teachers and administrators assume greater challenging powers through clear spatial definition.

Make sure that assigned spaces are designated and used for the type of activities and behavior expected. This can be achieved by placing safe activities in unsafe locations or placing unsafe activities in safe locations. Doing so enhances the natural surveillance of the activities by increasing the perception of safety for normal users and risk for offenders.

For example, student parking is an unsafe activity that often is located on the periphery of the campus with few opportunities for natural surveillance. Driver education is a safe activity, monitored by responsible teachers and students.

Switching the location of driver education with student parking provides a natural opportunity to put a safe activity in an unsafe location and an unsafe activity in a safe location. The new location for student parking might be in the direct line of sight from office windows.

Improve scheduling of space to allow for the most effective use. For instance, at lunchtime, conflict often occurs as groups go to the cafeteria while others return to class. It takes longer to get groups through the lunch line because of this congestion. Classroom and locker thefts often occur during this period.

Separating the cafeteria entrance and exit by space can help define movement in and out of the area. Each group will arrive faster and with fewer stragglers. Abnormal users of space also will feel at greater risk of detection.

Here are a few other strategies:

* Overcome distance and isolation through more efficient communication and design.

* Redesignate the use of space to provide natural barriers for conflicting activities.

* Provide clear borders for controlled space.

* Redesign or revamp space to increase the perception or reality of natural surveillance.

The tendency to overlook obvious solutions to problems is pointed out in cliches such as "If it had been a snake, it would have bitten me!" CPTED concepts help us look at the environment in a different light and take advantage of solutions that often are inherent in what we already are doing. What follows is a somewhat far-fetched, but true, example told by a school principal.

During the early 1980s, the rock group KISS was popular. Young ladies at the school began to smear red lipstick on their lips and leave their lip imprints on restroom mirrors, much like the red lipstick imprint on the front of the band's album. When a janitor complained, the principal said, "Don't worry. It's a fad and will go away."

But it didn't. Soon the kiss imprints were on the walls and doors, despite repeated warnings. While walking down the hallway, young men would feel pressure on their shoulder or back and find they had been given a big red kiss.

Morale among teachers suffered. It was open warfare with the girls against the boys and teachers. Then a woman who had worked for 30 years as a janitor knocked on the principal's door and said she had an answer. She explained it, and the principal agreed it was worth a try.

The next morning she arrived in the girls' restrooms with a bucket. She made a point of filling the bucket with water from the toilets and used that water to clean the bathroom mirrors, doors, and walls. She was seen doing this all day, using toilet water to wipe off the kiss imprints.

The problem ceased.

This is an extreme example, but it shows how the use of physical space and the environment has a direct impact on the perceptions of people, and thus on security.

At first, CPTED may appear to be the proverbial 2,000 pound marshmallow - you think it's going to be good, but you don't know where to start chewing. Most school administrators have an inherent understanding of these basic concepts. It is perhaps the most important tool school officials can use in ensuring a safe educational environment.

CPTED is a powerful concept that may be used to improve the productive use of school space. Code of conduct violations can be reduced, and environmental design may be used to improve the ability of school administrators to operate safe and secure schools. The potential value to the school and community is worth the time and effort it takes to implement crime reduction through environmental design.

PHOTO : Reprinted from the Fall 1990 issue of School Safety, the news journal of the National School Safety Center.

Timothy D. Crowe is a consultant on crime prevention through environmental design and former director of the National Crime Prevention Institute at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Seminar Issue; designing safer schools
Author:Crowe, Timothy D.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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