Renovations include two options for campus entrances as well as exterior and interior security measures.
Dan Bankhead, general manager of HISD’s Construction Services Department, first unveiled plans at a May 25 meeting of the district’s School Safety and Security committee, which took place one day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
The first entrance prototype has visitors going through two rooms to get into the school, which Bankhead said will be easier to channel people through an entrance where administrators will be present. All walls and doors would have hardened glazing, and only administrators would be able to open the electronically controlled doors.
However, not all schools will be able to renovate their entrances using this plan because it is not cost-effective, Bankhead said.
In those cases, schools can use a second option described as a “teller window,” Bankhead said. Visitors would check in at the window, which is reinforced by hardened glazing, and be able to go into the school without using a second room.
In an email, Bankhead said the district is currently in the concept phase of this process.
"As this work moves forward, concepts will transition into plans, and those proposed plans will be shared to solicit feedback from HISD families, stakeholders, and the general public,” he said.
In order to discourage unwanted visitors from even getting into the school, Bankhead proposed building 8-foot-tall fences around campuses, using vegetation, signs and other measures to ensure clear boundary lines.
Planning these renovations was a hard balance between ensuring the safety of students and making sure students did not feel institutionalized, Bankhead said. For example, tall fencing can deter intruders from trying to sneak into the school. However, it also makes students feel as if they are “jailed” in school.
In order to balance safety with freedom, Bankhead suggested creating tall fences with decorative features to make students feel comfortable and safe.
“Whenever possible, we will integrate security features in an aesthetically pleasing way,” Bankhead said. “As part of that process, HISD will seek input from experienced and innovative design professionals, law enforcement, education professionals, students, and community stakeholders to ensure we create secure environments that retain the feel of a contemporary educational setting.”
Parking garages and lots will have access-control systems so only students and staff will be allowed to enter them.
Bankhead said he also wants to renovate the exterior doors so they do not have a doorknob on the outside and can only be opened with an access key. This way, intruders will not have anything to pull on if they try to break in, Bankhead said.
“A lot of times in my business, we spend hundreds, millions of dollars on special security systems, and they’re defeated by a $2 wedge of wood in the door,” Bankhead said at the May committee meeting.
All doors will be lockable from the inside. Many district schools, including those constructed after a 2007 bond election, already have doors like this, Bankhead said, but some older schools do not.
Bankhead said he also looks to install 140-180 new closed-circuit security cameras on HISD campuses.
Finally, Bankhead said he wants to compartmentalize the campuses. It will be easier for administrators to control different parts of the building if it is separated into sections, he said.
Because some of the renovations are still in its early phases, there is not a timeline for them yet.
“Funding sources are still being identified, but the funds made available via a future bond issuance will be critical to helping make our schools safer for students, teachers, employees, and the visiting public,” Bankhead said.
This renovation and other safety improvements will be presented to voters in a bond proposal the district hopes to put out in 2023.
Meanwhile, officials with the Texas Education Agency announced in June they would examine safety plans and locks on external doors at school districts across the state prior to the start of the school year.
School safety options
Houston ISD officials are exploring safety enhancements, including to doors and locks.
Option A: visitors go through two rooms to get into school
Option B: visitors check in at window, reinforced by hardened glazing
All walls and doors have hardened glazing
Remove doorknobs from all doors
Only administrators able to open electronically controlled doors
Build 8-foot-tall fences around campuses
Install access-control systems in parking garages
Install 140-180 closed-circuit security cameras on campuses