New building’s modern style raises safety concerns

Lockdowns in the new building more complicated for students and staff


The all glass design of the new building makes lockdown drills more complicated, limiting the spaces that students can be completely out of view and forcing some to evacuate their classrooms | Kim

Eleanor Kaplan and Alyssa Pak

The many glass windows of the newly-completed West Wing building have raised safety concerns among students after this year’s recent lockdown drills.

According to Steve Linke, NT facilities manager for the past five years, a design with glass windows was envisioned since the beginning of the project. At the beginning of construction, everyone was involved, and the input of students, teachers, and parents was all taken into account.

However, some students have expressed concern over the windows in regards to lockdown drills.

Some of the classrooms on the second and third floors of the new building contain windows on three sides of them. Others have glass walls facing the new stairwells, and some have windows that follow the typical classroom format of just a window at the door.

However, a number of students have voiced concern over the windows following the school’s most recent lockdown drills. “It’s a little unsafe with so many windows in the new building. During lockdowns, there is nowhere in the classrooms where you can’t be seen,” said junior Lucy Conlon. “There are even windows near the ground, so how are you supposed to hide?”

In most lockdown situations, Principal Denise Dubravec urged students to “find a place inside the building that is obscured from view unless you are directed otherwise.”

Concerns over the window design became more evident when the building opened. Looking at a floor plan and deciding where students could hide in case of a lockdown is much different than going into a physical room and seeing the options, noted Assistant Principal for Administrative Services, Gerry Munley.

Due to the glass-heavy construction of the new building, the plan is that students should be flexible when it comes to lockdown procedures. “Some rooms may have to evacuate, if a classroom has all glass,” said Dubravec. She stressed this need to be flexible and prepared. “In each individual room there’s somewhat of a different instruction that might take place. Depending on what room you’re in, you might have to relocate,” said Dubravec. There are individual directions for the various safety procedures inside each room.

Assistant Principal for Student Services, Scott Williams added to the idea of flexibility when it comes to lockdown procedures. “If I’m in a room of glass, it might make sense to not stay there. It’s a matter of assessing your situation and reacting to that. That’s something we encourage people to do.”

The school has been working with the police, the fire department, and architects since last year to address these safety concerns. Dubravec stated that both the police and fire departments have reviewed safety procedure plans and have also been present in the building during all drills.

While the school is able to secure the entire new building relatively quickly, it is the glass-enclosed rooms that raise questions. In case of an emergency, the doors between the new and old parts of the buildings are automatically locked shut when a lockdown is initiated, with the goal of securing the entire new building.

Munley recently toured Vernon Hills High School during a lockdown drill. He noted that the school was completely locked down in just a few seconds, which is the goal for New Trier. Dubravec also noted that the administration has also visited multiple other schools to discuss lockdown tactics.

Vernon Hills, as well as some other high schools in the area, have such quick procedures because of new automatically locking doors both to the building and to the individual rooms. These locks are becoming increasingly popular due to reports of school intruders.

The rooms in the new building are also significantly bigger than those in the old building. Many students appreciate the more positive learning environment that comes with the extra space, such as junior Josh Hoffman.

While Hoffman loves all of the natural light that the West Wing has to offer, he expressed concern that “the open nature of the room makes it difficult to hide in cases of emergency. The windows close to the floors make it difficult to remain hidden during a lockdown.”