Safe Schools from the Ground Up

Dozens of safety procedures are implemented on IDEA campuses each day to protect our students. From securing building access to monthly training drills, our security measures are built around fostering a healthy and safe academic environment.

Years before one of our campuses opens, IDEA’s Facilities and Construction Department is hard at work planning and developing structures that are safe, sustainable, and scalable.

“Student safety is always at the forefront of design efforts for our schools,” says Arnold Flores, IDEA’s Managing Director of Facilities and Construction. “We want to make sure that our students feel secure, and that parents feel that they’re sending them to a place that is safe.”

Flores’ team spends months working with architects and building professionals to ensure that each campus is as safe as possible. The process begins with a site survey in a potential location to rate a potential site based on several factors including site location, size, accessibility, scalability, topography, geology, and even demographics.

The next step involves conducting a fit-test, in which architects compare the size and scale of an existing IDEA campus with the prospective site to ensure that a building will fit. If so, architects move onto the design phase and begin to map the school’s layout and address potential safety issues. Physical features, activity areas and traffic patterns are considered in such a way to maximize visibility and control access to the school and its playgrounds.

“In the design phase, we actually look at many of the safety components of our campuses including how to secure access,” explains Flores. “One of the first things we do is make sure we have perimeter fencing around all of our campuses with automatic gates and security cameras so that we know exactly who is coming in.”

Aside from serving as a place of learning, schools may often double as community centers, meeting halls, or emergency shelters, and its location may require special safety features in the event of inclement weather or other natural disasters. Such is the case for campuses in IDEA’s newest regions situated in an area notorious for tornadoes.

“One of things we are doing right now that we haven’t done in the past is that we are building storm shelters for our schools in Tarrant County,” says Flores. “One of our schools will have the shelter as an addition to a wing, while the other is part of the cafeteria to ensure that our students are always safe and secure.”

Flores also states that it is important for his team to constantly evolve as they learn from other preventable tragedies in schools.

“Things are constantly changing, so it’s important to continually update safety practices when it comes to our facilities,” he says. “We see news about shootings on campuses and want to make sure that we are improving methods and staying at the forefront of the industry’s best practices to help prevent another terrible tragedy.”

Each time a crisis happens on school grounds, it brings a whole new level of awareness for architects and build teams to evaluate the need for elements such as extra secure doors, using strategically placed windows throughout the building for increased transparency.  Main lobbies also typically include a holding area in the school’s main entrance where visitors must be buzzed in by office staff.

At the end of the day, Flores says his team’s proudest accomplishment is when students can walk into a beautiful, brand new building on the first day of school that they’re going to be learning in for the next few years.

“I’m really proud of the effort that our teams put forth to make schools safer while building the positive, nurturing, learning environments we all want for our children.”

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