TRU dismisses privacy and safety concerns in renovated classrooms

Design plans for the newly renovated classrooms in Old Main based off of surveys given to faculty and students

The renovations in Old Main are ongoing, but many of the classrooms on the first floor have already been finished and have been hosting classes this semester. (Justin Moore/The Omega)

If you haven’t noticed already, the first and second floors of Old Main are getting a little facelift. TRU has forked out nearly $5 million on the Old Main Revitalization project. While the new designs are pleasing to the eye, questions have been raised by both students and faculty members about just how safe these aesthetically pleasing rooms could actually be.

TRU claims that these new renovations and resizing of classrooms boast more benefits than downsides. The modernization was set to offer better learning layouts, brighter spaces and advanced technology. TRU has anticipated that the renovations to the first and second floor will be completed by March 2019.

Issues have arisen among the student and faculty population surrounding possible safety and privacy concerns that might come from the open concept classrooms, which feature floor to ceiling windows and give a full view into the hallway. These concerns are mainly around intruder danger and active shooter situations. TRU, however, does not feel that these are anything to worry about.

Warren Asuchak, the director of facilities at TRU, claimed that the design plans were based on surveys given to faculty and students. However, Asuchak said that the survey was only given to two students in order to represent the entire student population.

“We were sent photos of the different arrangements (different seating plans, chair types, etc.) for our feedback, but there was absolutely no mention, as far I know, of the glass walls to the hallway,” said Anita Swing, a TRU English professor.

Both Asuchak and Steve Pottle, director of risk management, have not had any formal complaints from students or faculty.

“I find it funny how the other buildings have frosted the classroom windows for safety precautions, then Old Main contradicts that statement and makes the new classrooms as if we’re in fishbowls,” said Carlee Robbins, a senior journalism student.

Yet according to Pottle safety is a personal opinion and something that each individual views differently.

“Safety is always a personal opinion,” he said. “How I view safety isn’t necessarily how you view safety, is not necessarily how a faculty member views safety. We all have our own preconceived notions of as to what safety is.”

The design visible on the last half of the first floor of Old Main is the final concept design with open windows.

“When you look at the concerns of students, the number one concern is parking and food,” Pottle said. “Security and community safety are not higher on the radar.”

The open concept design of Old Main’s new classrooms has been a concern for some students. (Aidan Grether/The Omega)

Yet for students such as Robbins, feeling safe at a place where you spend much of your time should be a top priority.

“It’s important that I feel safe where I spend over 60 per cent of my week. I consider TRU my second home so I expect safety to be top priority,” Robbins said.

Asuchak expressed that the large glass windows were chosen for safety reasons. The openness of these classrooms provide a safer environment in the case that a dangerous situation might be happening behind closed doors.

“The challenge always is balancing the need for security while providing a more nurturing educational environment for students. Certainly TRU could apply the design methods used to keep prisons secure but that would hamper the experience for students,” said Brian Christianson, the architect hired by TRU to design the revitalization of Old Main.

“The likelihood of having to have bulletproof glass is just not a thing that most universities do. They will put in quality glass, like shatter resistant, but bulletproof glass no,” Pottle said, “We want to deploy our resources as efficiently as possible.

In November 2016, TRU issued emergency response training to all faculty; this training included responses to active shooters. Swing recalled that they were told that TRU would be working to gradually work to make the campus safer, such as in the case of an active shooter.

“When I first saw the partially glass walls in OM, I couldn’t believe it,” Swing said. “An active shooter wouldn’t even have to enter a classroom to do serious damage according to the rationale provided in our training.”

When asked if they would consider making adjustments to the already finalized plans, Pottle expressed that there is a possibility to add a frosting effect to the glass to provide more privacy.

As of now, TRU holds still that this campus is highly rated in safety and that safety still is one of their top concerns.

“You’re practicing to a worst-case scenario and I think sometimes that can lead to a worst-case scenario as a standard that you need to follow,” Pottle said. “I don’t think we should always be focused on the worst-case scenario, we should know that there is always going to be a worst-case scenario but should also be reasonable with the fact that we don’t want to turn our campus into a jail or a police state. We’re not Texas, we’re B.C., we’re TRU, we’re Kamloops.”