Safety precautions to be included in new South Bend Elementary design

by Jon Tienhaara

South Bend School District is receiving, from the state capital budget, 70% of the funds (over $11 million) needed to build a new elementary school. Voters are being presented with a $4.95 million-dollar bond proposal this April 24, 2018 in order to raise the remaining funds for the project. With student and staff safety on the forefront of many people's minds, one question we are getting from people is, "Will the new South Bend elementary school have updated safety/security enhancements?"

Designing and building schools in 2018 is very different from designing and building schools in 1949/50, when Chauncey Davis Elementary was built. Beyond the modern design enhancements related to classroom learning spaces and the standard structural\environmental systems provided in new buildings, additional considerations related to student and staff safety are now the norm.

So, to answer the question above...yes, we are planning to incorporate increased safety/security features into the new school design. Though the details of such features will be determined during the design phase of the project, we have had initial discussions on types of "preemptive facility measures" we could include related to school safety and security.

Access control designs intended to slow down or contain possible intruder threats are one aspect of building design to be considered. Though not comprehensive, some possible features related to access control include: a fortified, single point of entry, enhanced door locks, security doors, etc. Other areas include enhanced internal/external communication and surveillance systems. Though no building security feature is 100% effective in terms of prevention, we will do our very best to build a school that will facilitate the safety of our students and staff. As we begin and continue the design phase of the new school, we will involve community members, staff, and local agencies to ensure a broad spectrum of input is considered.

It is also important to note other areas of the new elementary school impacting student and staff safety. The fact that the new school will be built to current earthquake/seismic code is a big deal. Most schools as old as Chauncey Davis are not built to withstand a major earthquake. The new school will be built to current seismic standards, and will provide much more protection for students and staff in the event of an earthquake.

The new school will also serve the community when shelter is needed in the event of an emergency. Having a new building with modern public use amenities, updated kitchen and cafeteria space, and increased parking and access should allow us to better serve our community in times of need.

Finally, though building a new school undoubtedly gives us an opportunity to better address a multitude of life-safety and security concerns, there are other "non-building" ways we can improve student and staff safety. Reviews are underway in all of our school buildings with respect to emergency protocols, staff/student emergency trainings, building security, and incident response. Student and staff safety is the district's primary concern. Though it is unfortunate we have to confront many of these modern-day safety issues, we will nonetheless confront them to the very best of our ability.

We are fortunate to have a supportive community and a dedicated, caring, staff. I appreciate the questions folks have asked about student and staff safety precautions. As we move forward, we will continue our efforts to ensure South Bend remains, "A great place for kids."