As school design must consider active shooters, architects and educators have to consider many other kinds of threats, emergencies

Artist rendering of new school in Uvalde

Artist rendering of new school in Uvalde from

School safety.

Sandy Hook, Uvalde, Parkland, Columbine come to mind.

But for the people who design and operate schools, school safety goes well beyond potential deadly shooters and is changing ways schools are built and managed.

“School safety and security is not synonymous with hardening schools for active mass shootings. Those are not the same,” said Kerri Brady, vice president at Huckabee, a Fort Worth-based architecture firm specializing in designing schools.

Huckabee also has deep Lubbock, West Texas and Texas Tech ties.

Architecture can help protect against school shooters. But Brady says designing for only one threat ignores all the other threats, making schools less safe.

“School safety and security involves any type of threat,” she said, adding schools must consider police chases near a school, a bus accident, flooding and those are just a few of a long list.

Loose dogs on playgrounds, gas leaks, medical emergencies and, in Texas add in tornadoes – and just a few more.

“When we laser focus in on hardening schools … we’re laser focusing on one threat type. … We’ve gotten too focused on one thing and one approach. So, I encourage people to broaden their perspective back to make sure we don’t forget that school safety and security is very deep, very broad and very complex,” Brady said.

Frenship and Lubbock-Cooper ISDs both agreed. ( offered Lubbock ISD a chance to comment but it declined.)

“These are not prisons. A school is not a prison. It’s a learning environment,” said Michelle McCord, Frenship superintendent.

Lubbock-Cooper Superintendent Keith Bryant said, “We want it to be a really good learning environment,” adding, “People may not see it when they drive by and look at a building. But there’s been a significant investment in time to make sure that safety is paramount.”

Brady said, “Softening certain aspects of the design helps to promote human connection and foster healthy human relationships, which is a prevention measure for threats of people wanting to hurt themselves or others.”

There’s a misconception, she said; “‘If we all do our jobs, then things will never happen.’ That’s not realistic. Emergencies will occur.”

People want a quick solution, and it’s just not that easy, she added.

The experts we talked to mentioned things such as:

  • Layers of defense.
  • How buildings almost must morph depending on situations.
  • How to handle problems people inadvertently create.

Meanwhile, at Huckabee, part of their focus has been on Uvalde.


Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, was the site of the second-worst elementary school shooting (by death toll) in American history.

“I realized very early on that Uvalde didn’t have the resources to replace Robb Elementary,” said Chris Huckabee, a Texas Tech graduate and Huckabee CEO.

The shooting in May 2022 took the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

“I was raised by parents that taught me Luke 12:48. ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I knew my team was capable of taking care of this community, and I knew a lot of great people that would join this effort if I asked,” Chris said.

Construction began March 4 with an estimated final cost of $60 million.

“While the cost was significant, we have both the resources and the knowledge to make this happen. I’m also blessed to have a ‘Rolodex’ of good friends that all said yes, when I called and asked them to join me in making this project a reality,” Chris said.

Huckabee is leading the design effort.

Tech’s school of architecture is named for Chris’ dad, Tommie Huckabee. Read more below.

“To this day, I have never had one person tell me ‘no.’ There are simply a lot of great Texans that stepped up and joined us to make this a reality. It will not bring back those beautiful children or their teachers, but I hope it will help in the healing of a community that deserves our love and support,” Chris said.

‘To build healing’

Construction on the replacement for Robb Elementary got started even when it was still $20 million short of full funding.

Tim Miller, executive director of the Uvalde Moving Forward Foundation, was quoted by KENS TV as saying, “The significance of the school is to help the community here in Uvalde to move forward from the tragedy – to build healing, to build hope and to have a school here on this site that will be here for decades to come.”

Brady said, “We have worked with a community advisory committee.”

The committee wanted to go well beyond minimum state requirements for school safety. While Huckabee will not discuss specific security features of any one school (that could help a potential attacker), Brady was happy to talk about the balance between safety and learning.

Design presentation:

State law sets the lowest standard at communications infrastructure, exterior door numbering, access control and visitor management.

The new school, not yet named, will also include an indoor PE space, secure entry and waiting space for visitors, door-prop alarms, security glass, a calm-down area and many other features. The plan calls for a school that’s “safe, not institutional.”

Click here to see the design presentation for the new school.

Not one or the other – both

“I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach,” Brady said.

The architecture for school safety includes demographics, nearby highways, neighborhoods and weather patterns. No two cities are the same. No two schools are the same. The idea is to put the most resources into the most likely and most disruptive threats. That means architects, engineers, educators and law enforcement need to talk.

“I think we have to be expert collaborators. The people and the building and the systems and the emergency responders and everybody – it’s a well-choreographed dance,” Brady said.

The dance continues after the building is up and running.

“We need to help our clients facilitate conversations with emergency responders to make sure that they understand what the building can and can’t do,” Brady said.

Brady mentioned softening some areas instead of hardening.

“We assume that because I can see through something, it is more vulnerable than something I cannot see through,” she said.

Not really, she said.

Glass can be designed for a science lab just in case there’s an explosion. It can also be designed to resist bullets.

“How can I use glass so that I have strong lines of sight? I can create spaces where teachers and educators can supervise student activity without having to be in the actual space,” Brady said. The architects think in terms of layers of defense.

“We can strategically place those layers in ways that they may not exist on a regular day. There are places that are hidden from view,” Brady said.

One strategy at Lubbock Cooper is to get students behind things – a locked door as one example – where they cannot be seen by an attacker – even if only for a few seconds. Every Cooper school has a police officer on campus.

“We want our police officer to be able to get anywhere in the building within 30 seconds. That’s part of our design,” Bryant said.

Within the building, Brady said, “Things will deploy, things will happen.”

Then the building can go back to normal.

“What I’m saying is you don’t have to choose. You can have both because there’s enough products, enough tactics, enough approaches and there’s enough solutions. Learning prioritizes human connection. But then if there is an emergency, any kind of emergency, the building stands ready,” she said.

Inside and out

“There’s a few different circumstances that the safest thing for people to do is to get out,” Brady said, for example, a fire. The architects will design safe spaces outside for students and teachers.

But if someone suffers a heart attack, the paramedics need the fastest way in. The building design also accounts for the location of the nurse’s office and AEDs (automated external defibrillators).

“The building is able to go into the response phase and respond accordingly to help people get to the safest locations as quickly as possible. And then as soon as the emergency is over, then the building is able to transition back,” Brady said.

That can include daily routines that hopefully never turn into emergencies.

McCord said, “Bus safety – drop off and pick up safety – it looks very different in secondary than it does in elementary because you have 4-year-olds all the way to 12-year-olds.”

Trying to avoid human mistakes

Something simple as holding a door open for someone can be an issue, Brady said.

“There’s a thing called chivalry. … We’ve been taught to hold the door for people behind us, but that flies in the face of school safety and security. … Anyone who is on a campus during school hours has the potential to increase the vulnerability of the campus through human behavior.”

Bryant said, “We do a lot of training on that. … That’s just where we are in society. … You don’t want to give away the friendliness of West Texas, but at the same time you’ve got to be very vigilant.”

Lubbock Cooper this year will move to a buzz-in system at every school, he said.

McCord said Frenship installed a new camera system for the exterior doors.

“If the door is held open for longer than the determined number of seconds, an alarm goes off – not that’s audible to the whole building, but it alerts people in the office,” McCord said. It keeps a video clip just in case the guilty person does not want to fess up.

“We can address that violation,” McCord said.

Holding the door for someone is less of a problem for Frenship because the exterior doors lead into secure vestibules – not school hallways.

There are also Frenship policies to keep classroom doors locked when students are inside or when the classroom is empty.

“Bad things can happen in empty rooms that are not locked and because somebody could go in an unlocked classroom and hurt themselves or someone else,” she said.

What causes a young person to consider suicide?

  • Changes in their families, such as divorce, siblings moving out, or moving to a new town
  • Changes in friendships
  • Stress from social media activities, including being a victim of cyberbullying
  • Problems in school
  • Other losses

Source: Johns Hopkins

Lubbock’s requirement for tornado shelters

Schools built inside the city of Lubbock (or other cities which adopt the International Construction Code) face another design requirement: tornado shelters.

Bryant said, “The code has changed. We have code requirements now. Every building we build has to have a tornado shelter. In our older buildings, we have plans in place for where to put kids.”

There are tornado drills several times a year in the Lubbock Cooper district but so far only one school in the district, Liberty High School, has a shelter under the new requirements. Future schools will have them.

Frenship’s McCord said, “Our campuses that are new and that are within the city of Lubbock require a tornado shelter that is large enough for every person in the building – students, staff and visitors – to shelter. And that has to have a special ventilation system. It has to have a restroom.”

Huckabee, Lubbock and Tech

Texas Tech’s school of architecture is named for Tommie Huckabee who made it through one year of college but ran out of money. He started his career as an apprentice in Lubbock and in 1967 co-founded Riherd & Huckabee. The company had offices in Andrews and Lubbock.

In the mid-1970s, Tommie found a new partner and the company became Huckabee & Donham.

“In 1990, we became Huckabee & Associates. Tommie’s son, Chris Huckabee, graduated from Texas Tech University and joined the firm,” said the company’s website.

Huckabee now has offices in several Texas cities.

Chris was appointed to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents in 2015 and became chairman of the board in 2019, leaving the board in 2019.

In 2022, Chris and his wife gave the largest-ever gift to the School of Architecture in honor of Tommie. Chris was also named chair of the Red Raider Facilities Foundation Inc. to raise money for athletic facilities and has been leading Tech’s massive South End Zone and Womble Football Center project.

“The reason I’m so passionate about giving back to Texas Tech is that it gave me everything. I was a small-town kid from Andrews. Texas Tech was a big place, but it was a place that helped me discover my talents and develop into a skilled architect and leader,” Chris said.

It’s also where he met his wife of 32 years, Robin.

“That is without question the best thing that happened to me while attending Texas Tech. Robin and I are committed to supporting Tech, both with our time and our money. It matters and our students deserve it!” he said.

“That great work continues today with the stadium construction and the exciting things happening in the College of Architecture,” he added.

Frenship worked with Huckabee in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Huckabee did Bennett, North Ridge, Crestview, the fieldhouse and some of the work in Frenship High School and Frenship Middle School.

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Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and for nearly 10 years.