No fences make good students?

A new high school is to be built in Tel Aviv. Not only will the building be new, but so will the concept - a school without fences. Students will enter the school from a public square, which will be lined with coffee shops and stores. "We wanted to connect the school to the city, a connection that is so important and is so lacking today. Most educational institutions in Israel these days are almost ghettos," says Eli Elyakim, the architect who planned the school.

The school, which is expected to open in about two years, is part of a new neighborhood of 2,000 housing units the Tel Aviv municipality is planning in the northwest part of town between Hatzuk Beach, Namir Road and Propes Street. The school is to be part of a campus that will also feature a theater, a community center and sports facilities. Elyakim's office won the tender, issued in 2005, apparently due in no small part to the concept of the school as part of its surroundings.

"Israeli society tends to surround itself with boundaries and walls," Elyakim said. "This can be seen in high fences around residential neighborhoods, much higher than is customary in Europe and the United States. Not only are educational institutions surrounded by fences, which cut them off from their environment, but in many cases they are distanced from the center of cities to the outskirts. We felt this mistake should not be repeated."

The school is planned to cover 60 dunams (some 15 acres ) adjacent to the College of Management campus. It will border a public square near the main thoroughfare through the new neighborhood, which will be a continuation of Ibn Gvirol Street. The entrance to the school, which will be at one end of the square, will be via an interior security post, as in offices or public buildings. The security post will lead to a room that connects the sidewalk with the school's interior courtyard. Thick bushes will prevent public access to the classrooms and other rooms.

"The school should not be a closed structure that students encounter only during classroom hours, but an inseparable part of the landscape of their lives," Elyakim says.

Was Elyakim not warned that without fences, students will cut classes? "And that doesn't happen now?" the architect responded.

The planning immediately raises the question of security: According to Education Ministry regulations, all new schools must be fenced. However, Elyakim and senior municipal officials say that planned security arrangements will meet the requirements, including the dense landscaping.

"We have not compromised on security," Elyakim said. "The question is whether we have to use a fence, or whether we can solve the problem through monitoring the building itself."

The director of the city's Education Administration, Dafna Lev, concurs. "We closely examined the security issues, and we will continue to protect our children."

Lev added that where the school borders on other structures, a regular fence will be installed. She said a plan was under consideration to use the school for senior citizens' activities when classes are out. "There will be a flow of people between the school and other public buildings. It's a new concept," she said.

The head of the high school principals' association, Dr. Arieh Locker, does not believe fences should be done without, and says they can be beautified. "The security problem is very central, and as principal I must have complete control of the area for which I am responsible."

Prof. Zeev Drukman, who heads the Masters program in urban design at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, says fences are not intended to keep intruders out, but to keep students in, whereas he believes schools should not only be educational institutions, but "a means of reformulating awareness of a city or neighborhood."

He points out that when the precursor of Tel Aviv, Ahuzat Bayit, was built in 1910, the decision to build the famed high school Gymansia Herzliya on Herzl Street conveyed the message of the importance of education in the neighborhood from which Tel Aviv grew.