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District examines school safety and security when constructing new buildings

COURTESY PHOTO: LAKE OSWEGO SCHOOL DISTRICT - The new Lakeridge Middle School's central courtyard will create a secure area in the middle of school.Every day, parents send their kids to schools so they can learn and develop. And after every school shooting, there's a question of whether those schools are safe enough.

The Lake Oswego School District has a threat assessment program as well as mental health services that do what they can to prevent students from becoming threats in schools. Still, school buildings themselves often serve as the last line of defense between a threat and the students. In order for buildings to be truly secure, they have to be built with that in mind.

Before work for the district's 2017 capital investment bond began, LOSD hired a safety and security consultant who assessed facilities and gave recommendations. A lot of changes came out of that — changes that are still being implemented today.

"Every district is thinking about this and how to respond," LOSD Executive Director of Project Management Tony Vandenberg said. "Even so far as a little more than 10 years ago we weren't designing buildings with this in mind."

Every school in the district has secure vestibules and a check-in system called the Raptor Visitor Management system. This change was initiated when bond work began in 2017. This way, everyone who wants to enter a district building has to be seen and identified first.

"Visibility from the office to observe the comings and goings of people is a huge thing that often wasn't really a concern in the past," Vandenberg said.

Lakeridge High School, for example, was built in the 1970s and administration offices were underground, where the social studies classes are now. That meant no visitor check-in, and administration had no way of knowing when someone was entering or leaving the building.

"At that point nobody was giving the slightest thought to safety and security," John Parke, director of safety and security at LOSD, said. "Maybe they were thinking it would be nice and quiet down there and maybe the principal would get some work done. And we don't think like that at all anymore."

According to Parke, implementing the vestibules was harder in some buildings than others.

"They weren't designed for that. But we've basically done it," Parke said.

Parke said Lake Oswego High School has a secure vestibule but students have to leave the main building everyday to go to P.E.

So students leave through multiple different exits, but they all have to re-enter through the secure vestibule.

Safe spaces

Vandenberg said he's built buildings in the past that were made of so much glass, there was no place to hide.

"Now, when we're designing classrooms and spaces we're always thinking about where those occupants (can) congregate in the space to avoid being seen by somebody," Vandenberg said.

He noted Westridge Elementary as an example of security modifications to buildings that have undergone major changes.

"All of the first floor windows are a particular type of window that are high-impact resistance.

They're not easily broken so they'll hold back an intruder for a longer period of time than a traditional window(s)," he said.

Every school has high-impact glass to some extent because all secure vestibules include high impact glass. New buildings and building renovations that include window replacements receive high impact glass on first floor windows. So far, Westridge, Hallinan and Oak Creek Elementary schools and LMS have high-impact glass. "Future replacement projects will include the same standard," Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said this was one of the recommendations their safety and security consultant gave after an assessment of all LOSD facilities.

Lakeridge Middle School will have a number of security features as well. In addition to the high-impact glass, the designs of the courtyard and bathrooms were also made with safety in mind.

"Surrounded by buildings is a large courtyard where people can spill out over lunch break or passing time so they don't have to go on the outside of the building," Vandenberg said, adding that it's a large space where people can be observed by staff.

The courtyard is large enough to hold the entire student body.

Although there's been concern about the new genderless bathrooms being unsafe, Vandenberg said they were designed to be safer than traditional school bathrooms.

"One thing that the restroom design does do is it does not allow a place where kids can go behind closed doors and have a group of kids who would maybe harass somebody else or get into that kind of mischief," Vandenberg said.

He said when they renovate a middle or high school, they're thinking of preventing not just intruders but also bullying.

Take the design of the hallways at the new LMS for example. Instead of having to go down one main hallway to get from point A to point B, and risk interacting with students who you might see as a threat, the design allows for multiple ways for students to get from one place to another.

Vandenberg is working on installing security cameras and a new paging system districtwide, as well as adding fencing to the campuses with satellite buildings.

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