Keeping An Open Environment Secure

New student center at Columbia College Chicago uses open turnstiles to improve overall security

Columbia College Chicago is focused on embracing security while still maintaining an open environment for students, staff and visitors. With its manual revolving door and barrier free optical turnstiles, the university is doing just that.

The new Student Center at Columbia College Chicago, opened its doors in the fall of 2019. This 114,000 square foot building others five spectacular stories of spaces for students including music and film-screening rooms, dining options, a fitness center, a reflection room for meditation and prayer, and event spaces for meetings, performances and receptions.

Initiative to Improve

According to Andy Dutil, director of the Columbia College Chicago Student Center, the school has taken the initiative to improve overall security, with the intention of keeping an open feel to the campus. To help meet that objective at the new center, the architects, Gensler, designed the building with Speedlane Open turnstiles and a front entry, TQM manual revolving door from Boon Edam.

The university has a closed campus that requires students and staff to have a Columbia ID to enter any campus building. Visitors must have a valid appointment. The main entrance at the Student Center is the TQM revolving door that leads to a public foyer that includes a coThee shop and lounge. Since the turnstiles are just past the security desk at the boundary of this area, they serve as a visual and physical indicator of where the public area terminates.

An Open Philosophy That Uses Open Turnstiles

Many universities in the Americas have started deploying optical turnstiles to increase the security on campus for recreation centers, student housing, libraries, cafeterias and more. Typically these turnstiles include some sort of barrier to control physical entry and rely on staff behind a nearby desk to monitor or help people to get through. Columbia College Chicago, however, decided that barriers were not a fit with their philosophy of creating a more inviting and open environment.

The Speedlane Open turnstiles are notable because they do not have any closing barriers inside their lanes, but rather detection sensors that trigger an alarm only when someone goes through the lane without an ID or, when someone tailgates a valid user.

Columbia College Chicago invested in having professional guards watch as people pass through the lanes to ensure that everyone is scanning their IDs and that the IDs are valid, in which case the turnstile shows a green light. In a situation where a red light shows and the turnstile alarms, the guard will intercept the person to check their credentials and help troubleshoot the ID card.

“The decision was really about what creates the least barrier to those entering and exiting the building,” Dutil said. “We don’t really want our students to feel like they are overly policed or that our buildings are not accessible to them. So the design of the Open turnstiles provided the best solution in terms of controlling access without being obtrusive.”

Before the Student Center was built, students entering any campus building would just show their ID to the security officer as they walked past. The administration realized that while this does provide some level of security, it wasn’t foolproof – particularly when a lot of people are entering at the same time for a class. The College’s head of security made the suggestion to install a system that would allow for swift passage of authorized people while maintaining accountability around who enters and exits the building.

Turnover Requires Recurring Training for Students

As anticipated, there was a brief learning curve for the students using the new system. The Center relied on the guards to help train on the correct way to approach and enter a turnstile. They also know that with a quarter of the students turning over each year, this will be a regular procedure in the fall and spring.

“This was the first system like this on our campus,” Dutil said. “And the first few days that the new Center was open were also the first few days of school. There were a lot of people new to the campus who required a bit of coaching from guards and our student staThin terms of where to place your card, and to not walk through before you place your card.”

Dutil confirms that the access systems placed at Boon Edam turnstiles were outperforming those placed at swing doors across the campus for convenience and adoption.

“Across the campus, there is a card reader at every swing door entrance of a building where you present your card and a light turns red or green,” he said. “But often times the card reader is missed, or depending on the placement of the lights and placement of the guard, it can be kind of hit or miss with students walking right by it.”

On the other hand, the Open turnstiles are very visible and something right in front of people entering the building, Dutil said.

“Because it’s very noticeable and not easily overlooked, the students have learned pretty quickly to get their ID out and use it to avoid triggering an alarm,” Dutil said. “In fact, this was meant to be a test run for the campus to ensure it would be viable and worthwhile for other buildings as well.”

A Solution for Older, Smaller Spaces

The College’s location in downtown Chicago introduced limitations that many suburban universities don’t have to contend with – space. Many of the campus buildings are decades old high rises and adding new elements such as turnstiles could get tricky. They would need to be small to fit into small spaces and still handle the necessary throughput.

The Student Center, with its use of the Open turnstiles, is a viability test of a concept that is being considered in the future for other buildings.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is retrofit old buildings to fit modern needs. And so it’s not something that would be feasible in every building, but anywhere where it is feasible, I believe that is being considered going forward,” Dutil said.

Dutil said the turnstiles have delivered additional benefits beyond basic campus security.

“One of the nice things about a system like this is that we can count visitors to the Student Center because we get the data of everybody that scans in. So on a busy day for us it’s about 2500 people throughout the day,” he said. “That can range depending on what’s going on and what time of year it is. On weekends we’re very slow, since there are no classes – maybe 900 to 1,200.”

Dutil added: “We are a rental venue as well, so we have times where the building is open to non-Columbia College Chicago people for events or other functions. There’s a really convenient touch panel right at the security desk called the BoonTouch, where the officer can turn off the turnstiles during those times and then attendees can move through freely without any alarms going off at all.”

Facing Down Harsh Weather To Meet Student Needs

Another unavoidable aspect of living, working and studying in Chicago is harsh weather. Because of this, most buildings in the Windy City utilize revolving doors for their ability to hold a constant seal against the side walls no matter how many people go through them. This feature prevents air infiltration and the loss of conditioned air, as well stack pressure in high rise buildings. Building managers also seek to avoid a wind tunnel effect, which is caused when a swing door opens and there is an updraft inside the building.

The architects at Gensler selected a 7-foot, 6-inch diameter TQM revolving door for the Student Center. The manual revolving door gets heavy use during school hours or for public events, but regardless of the traffic, there is no wind or drafts entering into the building, making the coffee area inviting and relaxing even in the dead of winter. And even when students push it hard, the speed control prevents unsafe rotation speeds.

“Revolving doors are always preferred at a building like this that gets a lot of traffic going in and out. We have cold, drafty weather that blows right into our main space at that first floor entry. The revolving door helps to keep the building warm and saves energy and utility costs as well,” Dutil said.

The entrance area at the Student Center is set up and even considering the hiccups of training the new students, Dutil is satis ed that it meets the needs of the students and they appreciate the effort to keep them safe.

“Students feel safe and comfortable entering the building at night,” he said. “Our building has a lot of nooks and crannies, and someone can end up alone in a space. And so I think knowing that the only people that are in that building are the ones that are supposed to be there is helpful. Overall, our students appreciate the effort to try to keep them safer.”

This article originally appeared in the May June 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.


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