An American high school is spending R730 million to renovate its buildings in order to thwart school shooters
- A school in Michigan in the USA will spend over $48 million – the equivalent of R730 million – to redesign its buildings to limit the death toll of a potential school shooter.
- The new school will feature curved hallways to limit a shooter's line of sight, barriers that can be used as cover, and a "shadow zone" that would prevent a shooter from spotting children hiding during a lockdown.
- The idea was influenced by previous school shootings and was pitched to the school by the architecture firm TowerPinkster.
- The Michigan high school redesign is just the latest in what's become a multibillion-dollar industry aimed at bulletproofing and securing every element of a classroom.
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When students at American school Fruitport High start their first day of school on September 3, they'll walk through a campus designed specifically to survive mass shootings. That's because the small-town Michigan school has committed to spend $48 million – the equivalent of R730 million – to redesign the campus from the ground up with curved hallways to limit a shooter's line of sight and jutting barriers that can be used by students as cover to escape the incoming fire.
Fruitport High School superintendent Bob Szymoniak told Insider that the school felt a responsibility to consider best security practices following the mass shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary, and more recently, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland Florida. When the school approached the architecture firm TowerPinkster to redesign one of its buildings, it was the lead architect who proposed integrating design elements that could also function as security, Szymoniak said.
"All classrooms have hallways," Szymoniak said, "But ours are curved to cut down on the line of sight [of a potential shooter]." Students will start using some parts of the building this year, but won't be completely finished until 2021.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Matt Slage, an architect for the project, explained how classrooms will come equipped with a "shadow zone" that would essentially make kids hiding during a lockdown invisible to the gunman peering in. These shadows zones are large enough to hide an entire classroom full of kids out of sight, Szymoniak said.
In addition to shadow zones and curved hallways, Fruitport also put in place a wireless access control system that can remotely lockdown every room in the building. Each room is opened and locked through an electronic key card. In the event of a mass shooting, a security official located off-site can use the access control to override the locks, shut the doors, and keep the shooter from entering classrooms. If that's not enough, the classrooms are also outfitted with impact-resistant windows.
Even though the building was designed literally from the ground up with safety in mind, the architects and the school say they took pains to avoid creating an overly militarised, anxiety-inducing environment. Take the "wing walls," that stick out and can be used as cover, for example. These barriers function during peaceful times as tall slabs of concrete meant to divide classrooms. At first glance, a student has no reason to think these dividers could also function as a shield to hide from bullets. This subtlety, Szymoniak said, was a crucial part of the design process.
"Part of the beauty of the design elements was that none of the security features make it look like they are security features," the superintendent said.
Schools around the United States spend billions on desperate attempts to protect students from school shootings
If all of this sounds a bit extreme, it's really nothing new. The news out of Michigan is just the latest expensive development in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry aimed towards bulletproofing practically every element of a classroom. In the past, private companies have stepped in to add layers of armour to everything from whiteboards to classroom doors. According to The Washington Post, some school security companies have even proposed positioning snipers to monitor schools, while others have pitched using undercover Special Operations officers as undercover teachers. At some Colorado schools, giant buckets filled with kitty litter have been added to teacher supply lists so children can relieve themselves for the long hours they may find themselves trapped in their classrooms during a lockdown.
Following the Columbine shooting in 1999 that left 12 dead, schools around the country implemented lockdown procedures and practiced them with regularity similar to that of tornado and fire drills. In recent years, those lockdowns have taken on a viscerally realistic approach, with fake gunmen roaming the school pretending to hunt down children. More and more, school shootings are being treated not as a horrific tragedy that could be avoided, but an act of inevitability that students need to be prepared for.
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