Some administrators at the Waco Independent School District this week expressed concern that the design of the new $64.5 million Tennyson Middle School would fail to adequately protect students in the event of a school shooter.
Waco ISD trustees reviewed updated design plans for Tennyson at Thursday’s board meeting, a review that had been routine for plans for the new Waco High and Carver Middle schools.
However, in light of the May 24 Uvalde school shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers, security concerns were greater.
After discussion, the board approved the 4-2 design plan, with Deputy Administrator Keith Guillory and District 1 Administrator Jeremy Davis objecting on safety grounds.
The sticking point for Guillory and Davis was the interior classrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing views of the hallway, a common feature in contemporary school design and already seen in the architectural renderings of Waco High School and Carver Middle School.
People also read…
The large windows are meant to create a sense of openness and connection to other ongoing educational activities in the school.
Guillory asked if an active shooter in that hallway would also have a clear view of the students inside the classroom and asked what measures had been taken to protect against an active shooter.
Jarrod Sterzinger, director of architecture at the architectural firm of Austin O’Connell Robertson, explained that the focus is on limiting access to strangers, starting with a perimeter fence and including entrances exteriors that would require security cards to enter.
A school-wide lockdown could be put in place instantly, and the clustering of similar classrooms into academic “neighborhoods” would allow an additional level of restricted access. Sterzinger also said classrooms would have window shutters that would be lowered during a lockdown to prevent views into the classrooms.
Superintendent Susan Kincannon said safety protections are built into the school’s design.
District 4 Administrator Jonathan Grant acknowledged that safety and the educational function both need to be considered.
“We don’t want to build a facility that looks like a penitentiary,” he said.
Tennyson’s floor plan and two-wing design are similar to those approved for Carver Middle School. Like at Carver, the library is centrally located, said O’Connell Robertson partner Doug Dawson. The design includes multipurpose spaces in the hallways for discussions, projects, and small group socializing.
Neutral colors drawn from nature — gray, brown, green — will predominate in the school’s trims and interiors, Dawson said.
Construction of the school, part of the $355 million bond issue issued in November, is expected to begin in December with the main building to be ready by May 2024. Site and track completion is expected by December 2024.