As school districts work to protect students and staff from a variety of dangers on K-12 campuses, security lobbies have emerged as a vital part of a multi-layered safety approach. As designers, our challenge is to create lobbies that accomplish their security objectives while also supporting a healthy learning environment and serving as a clear and welcoming entry point for the facility.
WHAT IS A SECURITY LOBBY?
Security lobbies serve two primary functions. They centralize facility ingress at one point, where visitors can be monitored and evaluated by school staff, while also serving as a physical barrier to a potentially dangerous individual seeking to enter the facility without authorization.
The security lobby gives school personnel total control over who enters the campus, establishes a clear record of who was there and at what time, and buys valuable time to implement security protocols and summon authorities in the event of a crisis. This reassures students and staff that strangers don’t have easy access to the campus, which fosters a sense of safety and supports an effective learning environment.
THE POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS
While the direct safety value of a security lobby and the auxiliary benefits of fostering a climate of safety are clear, there are also potential drawbacks if the lobby isn’t thoughtfully planned and operated.
Creating a Non-Welcoming Campus
Keeping unauthorized individuals out of campus is good, but discouraging parent involvement isn’t. School entryways need to achieve their security objectives without creating a psychological barrier to participation for parents from diverse backgrounds.
Contributing to a Fearful Environment
While feeling safe and secure encourages creativity and learning, we need to be careful to avoid filling the school with too many highly visible security features, which can lead to a constant sense of fear that isn’t conducive to learning.
Fostering Operational Problems
Steering all campus visitors through a single egress point and requiring each be cleared for entry is essential to creating a safe campus environment. This also has the potential, however, to tax staff resources and create entry logjams that can lead to potentially chaotic and unsafe conditions during periods of high traffic.
Marring Existing Architectural Design
At an existing facility, adding a new entry feature or renovating an existing lobby has the potential to diminish the effectiveness of the architectural principles used in the facility’s original planning and design. An unconsidered addition or renovation of such a high-profile building feature could easily diminish the significant investment made in the facility’s initial construction.
Overemphasizing Present Versus Past Dangers
Another potential pitfall to watch out for with renovations or additions is the risk of over-encouraging the perception of increased danger. We want to take reasonable steps to improve safety and address changing threats, without adding a layer of security features that stand out as a harsh new addition to the existing environment. Solutions that call unnecessary attention to themselves as addressing a “new era” of campus violence don’t support our goal of encouraging learning and student success.
Even though the need for single points of entry and controlled lobby spaces was born from a need for security, we don’t see them as incompatible with our desire to create remarkably designed learning environments.
PLANNING AND DESIGN SOLUTIONS
Fortunately, there are a variety of things we can do to create security lobbies that accomplish their safety objectives while also avoiding the potential drawbacks described above.
Establish the Entryway as a Focal Point
While it’s easy to view the use of a single point of entry as design and operational challenge, we believe it is more accurate – and helpful – to see it as an opportunity. That’s because insisting that all visitors use the main entry lobby encourages us to make that lobby the focal point of the school’s design.
Utilizing a single “front door” for the facility does more than just control the flow of people into the building. It gives us a chance to use architecture, landscaping, and even graphics to create a distinctive arrival experience that sets the tone for the visit. This arrival experience can help to mark the transition from the outside world to a dedicated learning environment, convey the school’s educational mission, and establish expectations for visitors.
Create a Sense of Openness
Secure doesn’t have to mean small. We encourage clients to consider approaches that create secure entry areas with the feel of a more traditional lobby. While the options may be limited in retrofit situations, in new facilities there are a variety of options that allow us to blend the security requirements with the desire to create an inviting, open space.
The key is a thoughtful plan that creates security layers that visitors pass through as they enter, with each layer using the appropriate mix of physical barriers, technology tools, and human intervention as the visitor gains access to the facility.
Make Extensive Use of Glass
For both new and retrofitted facilities, the abundant use of glazing can help to create an inviting feeling of openness and safety, while minimizing the prison-like feel. The use of transparent surfaces also increases safety by providing staff with increased visibility into and out of the lobby. Technological advances in intrusion-resistant glazing are making it easier and more affordable to create more visibility while still maintaining a high level of security.
More broadly, these new glass surfaces are seeing increased usage throughout all areas of learning facilities because of their ability to reduce hidden areas that could be places conducive to bullying or other dangerous behaviors.
Give Careful Consideration to Wayfinding
Establishing a single point of entry increases the need for effective campus wayfinding. We need to direct visitors away from secondary doorways used for student egress and toward the designated main entry. This can be done with signage, but other tools are just as important, including pathways, landscaping, art installations, the placement of visitor parking spaces, and visual clues such as changes in facade height or materials.
Lean on Technology Wherever Possible
Using the latest available technology allows us to create security lobbies that run smoothly and are less intimidating, while still accomplishing their safety goals. Cameras enable staff members to monitor a larger area, see potential threats from further away, and can even add another layer of security where appropriate.
On the operations front, the software, hardware, and network of a modern lobby management system can dramatically increase the speed and thoroughness of the visitor approval and logging process.
THE BIG OPPORTUNITY
Even though the need for single points of entry and controlled lobby spaces was born from a need for security, we don’t see them as incompatible with our desire to create remarkably designed learning environments. We view them as an opportunity to concentrate on the use of staff resources, technology, and architectural design in a way that increases safety across the entire campus.
Just as importantly, we view these centralized lobby spaces as an opportunity to establish a focal point for the campus. One that celebrates learning and invites parents and the community to participate in the educational experience.