Many classrooms have a door connecting to the adjacent classroom. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since most classrooms do not require a second means of egress, I think those doors are typically there for convenience. I tried to find something in past codes that would have required the second door, but so far I only see the requirement for a second means of egress when the occupant load reaches 50 or more. (Note: There are some situations where a classroom may need to have a second means of egress because it is not located on the ground floor.)
Until a few years ago, the doors between classrooms typically had a passage set – not a locking function. For security purposes this strategy has to change, to allow a teacher to secure the classroom in a lockdown situation. If the door is not required for egress, and it would typically be left unlocked, I would use a store/utility function lockset. This function is normally a passage set, but a deadbolt can be thrown using a key in the cylinder from either side, allowing either teacher to secure both classrooms. This would not be allowable if the door was required for egress in either direction.
One important thing to consider with regard to this application, is that some classrooms – particularly kindergarten and preschool classes, may be large enough that the calculated occupant load is 50 or more. I was reviewing some state standards last week and noticed that the required area for kindergarten and preschool classrooms was 1100 – 1300 square feet. To calculate the occupant load in a new school using the International Building Code, you divide the net square footage of the classroom by 20 net square feet per person (50 square feet per person if it is a shop or other vocational classroom). For a classroom of 1000 square feet, the calculated occupant load is 50 people (1000 SF / 50 net SF/person). This means that a classroom of 1000 square feet or more would require a second egress door, AND that the doors would have panic hardware.
As you can see in this partial plan, if someone was able to access a classroom in the series through an unlocked corridor door, they could continue through the rest of the classrooms via the connecting doors equipped with panic hardware. This is not an acceptable level of security for the world we live in today.
So, what’s the solution? Kindergarten classrooms do not typically have more students than a classroom in an upper grade – kindergarteners just need more space. They usually work at tables instead of rows of desks. They learn by seeing and doing, and there are various areas in the classroom to support science experiments, dramatic play, building, and creativity. Kindergarteners have Circle Time, and they have cubbies. Their classrooms must be larger to accommodate these areas.
From a code standpoint, how do we address the connecting door? Do we ask for a variance to lock it, given the need for security during a lockdown? Do we request approval to use a different occupant load factor (ie. 30 net square feet per person instead of 20) to calculate the occupant load for these rooms? Do we ask the local AHJ to agree to a posted occupant load limit of 49 for each classroom, so the second exit and panic hardware are not required? If the AHJ and the school agree to that as a solution, what happens on “Parent Night”, when there could actually be more than 50 people in each of the classrooms? In this situation, the upper grades would not have a posted limit and the kindergarten/preschool classrooms would, and rooms for any of the grades could be over the limit, but only in the kindergarten/preschool rooms would the limit be posted. Does the fire marshal look the other way on Parent Night? So many questions.
What would you do, or what have you done on past projects? If you know someone who might be able to share some insight, whether a school staff member, a code official or consultant, an architect, or someone who specifies/supplies hardware for schools, please ask them to share their insight in the comments below.