Students, tech, COVID drive higher ed design fire, life safety design

College and university building design is being driven by student needs, technology and new air quality demands

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 28, 2020


  • Patrick McCafferty, PE, LEED AP, Associate Principal and Education Business Leader, Arup, Boston
  • James Michael Parrish, PE, Associate Vice President, Department Manager Electrical, Lighting, Technology, Dewberry, Peoria, Ill.
  • Tom Syvertsen, PE, LEED AP, Project Manager, Associate, Mueller Associates, Linthicum, Md.
  • Kristie Tiller, PE, LEED AP, Associate, Team Leader, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), Dallas
  • Randy C. Twedt, PE, LEED AP, Associate Principal/Senior Mechanical Engineer, Page, Austin, Tex.
  • Casimir Zalewski, PE, LEED AP, CPD, Principal, Stantec, Berkley, Mich.

Have recent active shooter incidents had a noticeable impact on the safety concerns and features you’re adding to college and university projects?           

Casimir Zalewski: We have seen a continually increasing focus on occupant safety and access control. Many buildings have limited general circulation and access, while more and more regions and rooms require either card or biometric permissions to access spaces. More studies of sight lines and balancing visibility and blind corners are occurring. Additionally, some projects are placing increased focus on building materials, locations of intakes and other critical infrastructure components that could either directly or indirectly effect occupant safety.

How have the trends in fire/life safety changed on such projects?  

Tom Syvertsen: In regard to automatic sprinkler systems, I would say the designs of special sprinkler heads are being improved each year for use in different types of buildings and spaces. Clean agent fire suppression systems such as FM-200, NOVEC-1230, Inergen, etc., are always being improved to help protect the environment and ozone depletion in the event of a clean agent discharge as we move forward in fire suppression system use.

What fire, smoke control and security features might you incorporate in these facilities that you wouldn’t see on other projects?           

Tom Syvertsen: Buildings that have an atrium require special designs of automatic sprinkler systems to protect the atrium space along with a dedicated smoke control system that must activate when a fire occurs. On one such project, at the University of Baltimore’s John and Frances Angelos Law Center, we paid particular attention on how to achieve this engineering solution.