The managing principal and president of KG+D Architects, Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, testified before the Federal Commission on School Safety to advocate for school design strategies and legislation that will support safer schools. The federal commission roundtable was led by Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen M. Nielsen in Las Vegas, NV at the Miley Achievement Center, a secondary school recognized for providing specialized behavioral, social and emotional support for students.
Along with a security consultant and members of law enforcement, Davidson was one of four individuals invited to testify and the only architect on the panel. KG+D has worked with public and private schools throughout the region on projects ranging in size and scope including planning and implementing school security projects for many local districts including Yonkers, Greenwich, Katonah Lewisboro, Somers, Chappaqua, Tuckahoe and Pelham.
As a practitioner for over 30 years in New York state, which was reported to have on average the oldest school buildings in the country, Davidson notes that a real challenge is retrofitting older buildings to incorporate secure design solutions, “the minimum renovations required for reasonable safety is not easy, funding is not available, and the minimum improvements needed may not even be possible do to the configurations of these very old buildings. Retrofitting schools is a challenge, but I think it represents a social imperative that we cannot ignore.”
KG+D’s design approach seeks to balance vigilance and protection with the openness and inclusiveness that defines productive learning environments. A layered approach, that is customized to each situation and population, helps to detect, deter, delay and defend and make the sanctuary that education should represent harder to breach. Davidson notes that architects are part of the solution as are the design responses to creating school environments where students are connected and known to each other and have access to responsible adults and support staff.
The American Institute of Architects, of which Davidson was the 2016 President, launched legislative initiatives last week that outline the Institute’s commitment for improving school design policies, which includes a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill focusing on two main goals. The first is to make architectural and design services for schools an allowable use of funds within existing federal grants. The second would establish a federal clearinghouse of resources on school design best practices for school officials, architects and other design professionals to keep them informed.
“While we know that design alone cannot eliminate the threat of violence, there is more we can do, not only to defend, but to deter,” said Davidson. “This is not an either-or proposition but a both-and approach as we seek to promote schools that are more secure, transparent, engaging and conducive to learning.”