Administrators are continually concerned with keeping students, teachers and staff safe — especially in this age of increased violence. They have implemented daily routines for increased security, like having students pass through metal detectors and hiring onsite security officers.

Security goes beyond the day-to-day routine and takes on a whole new meaning when a district begins renovating and adding to existing facilities. In this situation, administrators need additional measures to keep students, teachers and staff safe, as well as to keep construction workers and equipment safe. It boils down to implementing appropriate access control measures.

Require That Contractors Do Background Checks on Their Employees

Most Pennsylvania school districts require, via the bid contract, contractors to obtain an Act 34 Clearance, which is a criminal history background check, as well as a child molestation check, on their employees who will be working at the school site. The information is submitted to the district.“I think this information is critical and should be done at a minimum,” says Joel K. Sims, AIA, president of Sims Architects Inc., Lancaster, Pa.

Some Pennsylvania districts go so far as to require consultants — like architects — to have background checks too, because they’re occasionally on the site. It’s submitted to the state and updated regularly.

Ohio’s Kettering City Schools has just started a three-year, $102-million districtwide renovation and addition project. Contractors are required to submit background checks on their construction workers. Ken Lackey, Kettering’s business manager, notes that requiring the contractors to do the background checks saves the district an enormous amount of time and money.

Require Construction Workers to Wear Identification Badges

Kettering administrators, and administrators at Howard County Department of Education in Maryland, require all construction workers to wear identification badges with their companies’ logo on them. If a teacher or staff person sees someone in the building without an identification badge, that person can be questioned and escorted to the office.

Sims notes that one Pennsylvania district has its IT department make picture identification badges of each construction worker, which are worn at all times on the job site. Again, it’s easy to spot and stop someone without a badge. In addition, the picture ensures that badges aren’t being shared.

Require Construction Workers to Check in Before Going to the Site

If workers sign in and out at the job trailer then, should a security challenge arise, you have a record of who was onsite and at what time.

Administrators at Howard County have a policy by which all renovation and construction projects are done only during summer break. Thomas Kierzkowski, REFP, director of School Facilities, acknowledges that a project may extend a week or two into the new school year. When that happens, and workers are still onsite, they are required to check in with the principal and fill out a registration form saying that they’re in the facility before proceeding to the work site.

Limit the Entries That Construction Workers Can Use

At Kettering, construction workers use few doors.“There are certain doorways that workers can go in and out of in the areas where we’re working,” says Lackey. “Those doorways are completely separate from entrances where we have students and aredoing instruction.”

Sims agrees with this common procedure: “It’s usually the area where you end up putting the job trailers. This creates a staging area that allows for trailers, vehicles and storage to be separated from the rest of the school.”

Require Onsite Supervision

Both Kierzkowski and Lackey have people in place to supervise the construction process and workers. “We have hired a construction manager, who uses project managers over each project, as well as site supervisors,” says Lackey. “The full-time site supervisors are our eyes and ears to what’s going on. We have constant supervision and monitoring of where the construction workers are, making sure they’re not doing things they shouldn’t be doing, like smoking. It’s about providing constant onsite management.”

Erect Physical Barriers to Keep Students and Construction Workers Separated

Kierzkowski notes that, if his district has to begin a project a couple of weeks before summer break, the corridors are cordoned off and there is complete barrier separation between workers and students. “It’s for everybody’s welfare,” he says, “and it ensures that machinery and materials aren’t going to walk from one side of the school to the other.”

Lackey says his district does the same thing: “We are phasing construction so the contractors are working on one section of a building at a time. We’re using physical barriers between the area that’s being renovated and the area where education is occurring. When you go into our elementary buildings right now, you won’t even see a construction worker.”

Lackey also notes that, because the elementary students are interested in the construction, they have cut windows in the barriers so that the students can see what’s happening.

Erect Physical Barriers Around the Construction Site

Because Kettering is doing a districtwide renovation project, you see a lot of security fencing as you drive through the community. All of the new construction areas are secured by fences.

Sims says, to be clear, he advises using six-ft.-high chain link fence. The purpose is mostly to keep curious students from gaining entrance to the construction area where they can harm themselves. “I have found that, on large projects, it’s even worth putting in the construction documents for contractors to modify construction fencing locations as construction moves.”

For some projects, says Sims, it’s smart to use chain link fence to create a drive for construction vehicles. Inevitably, this separates the facility from the playground or playing fields. He’s worked on projects where, when using this approach, a double gate is created. When it’s closed, construction vehicles have access, but the students don’t. When it’s opened, students have access to play areas, but construction vehicles don’t.

Require That Contractors Keep the Equipment and Supplies Locked

If effective physical barriers are in place, that alone should ensure that supplies and equipment are safe. However, do go a step farther and require contractors to keep everything locked. “It’s the responsibility of the construction companies to secure their areas,” notes Lackey.

Arrange the Schedule So That Construction Workers Aren’t Onsite During the School Day

Because Howard County does its renovation work during the summer, students and construction workers are not in the same place at the same time. Unfortunately, not every school district can accomplish all of its work during the summer months.

One way Kettering is managing this challenge with its high school renovation is by scheduling construction workers for second shift. “I think the biggest thing is the separation — keeping the students and workers separated as much as possible,” notes Lackey. Indeed, the benefits go beyond security to include noise and vibration reduction for better concentration during the education process.

Move Students Offsite

Before complaining about the cost involved with moving students offsite, consider this: Keeping students onsite during a renovation project can make the project take longer to complete, thus adding to the cost. Ultimately, though, money is not the issue — security is. Ask if your students would be safer if they were learning elsewhere during the project.

“When it comes to a construction project,” sums Lackey, “security is by far the most difficult issue. It’s up to everyone to keep their eyes and ears open all the time, not only construction supervisors and workers, but also the teachers and principals. Everyone must identify issues as they come up and, if there are concerns, put them on the table and deal with them.”