Occupant Safety with a Twist

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Apr 21, 2023 Linda Mark Improving the Human Experience

Students, teachers, and staff deserve safe and healthy learning spaces, and this is always at the heart of JJCA educational project design. And since children and educators spend about 32 hours a week in school, that can mean that school safety standards must meet all types of weather situations, especially in Nashville.  

One area where occupant safety is critical is providing shelter during storms.   

The Nashville Metro Codes department recently adopted the International Building Code (IBC) 2018, which includes requirements for educational buildings of 50 occupants or more to meet the International Code Council (ICC) 500 Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. Here in Nashville that means storm shelters must be designed to withstand 250 mph winds. This code is significant because it is the first time Nashville codes have included storm shelters.

Our JJCA team is lucky to be involved in designing and permitting one of the first schools in Nashville and to start construction under these new storm shelter requirements.  Our project is a new two-story 22-classroom addition for a building that was originally designed in 2006. The project includes two different additions, one at either end of the existing classroom wings. We are also currently designing a free-standing Pre-K – 5th grade elementary school replacement using these current code requirements.

These storm shelters are an example of how we address difficult and important code requirements: we start with understanding the expectation. In this case, the code is looking for the storm shelter to be the only thing standing after a major event. The rest of the building can be significantly damaged, and the shelter must remain standing with power, lights, and water for two hours.

Storm shelters pose interesting design opportunities that include emergency ventilation, toilets and hand-washing facilities, and lighting in a self-contained space within the building. One of our goals for this addition project was to meet the requirements as seamlessly as possible without making the space look like a storm shelter. We worked closely with Metro Nashville code officials to interpret the changes and make sure our creative design solutions were compliant.

After hours of interpreting requirements and developing solutions, the addition was signed off and permitted for construction start.

Our team enjoyed navigating the challenges of applying the new building codes, and we’re happy to set the stage for future high-occupancy educational projects that include storm shelters.

We’re thankful to be trusted with doing a little bit of trailblazing on this first-of-its-kind aspect of education design. Going forward, we’re excited and honored to help other clients, contractors, and designers develop storm shelter details to ensure safer and more secure places for children to learn and play.

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