More Than Fortified Walls and Peace of Mind for Students in Israel's South

When the Sha'ar Hanegev high school upgraded its security, it decided to upgrade the educational experience for its students as well.

This coming school year, more than 1,200 high school students in Sha'ar Hanegev will be studying on a luxurious campus that cost more than NIS 105 million to build. The campus is spread over 15 acres and will have a technology incubator and a spacious courtyard. But more importantly, for the first time since Israel's southern region started coming under rocket attacks from Gaza, students will be learning in a fully-fortified and protected school.

Eleven years ago the first rocket fell on the school's compound, adjacent to Sapir College. Since then teachers and students have become accustomed to hearing the warning sirens and students became as well-versed in Home Front Command orders as they have in mathematics. The construction of the fortified school began four years ago, in the wake of a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by residents who wanted all schools within close proximity to Gaza to be fortified and protected.

But the Sha'ar Hanegev regional council decided not to make do with just the fortification. Instead, the council decided to upgrade the school, and added some NIS 45 million from donations and from the council's budget to the state's investment of NIS 60 million. For two years students, parents, teachers, the school's management and the regional council worked on planning the new school. To implement their ideas, the council hired the Yuval Geni and Mansfeld-Kahat architectural firms, as well as Israel Prize laureate for architecture Dan Tsur.

As a result of all this investment, when the school year begins, students will sit in fortified classrooms and continue to learn even when the siren goes off. They will also enjoy an auditorium, an arts center, an automotive mechanics workshop and cutting edge technology and science center. The campus also features a unique archaeological park, as well as a concert stage. Twenty-eight fortified structures are scattered around the school yard, in case a siren goes off during recess.

"We decided to take advantage of the special opportunity in order to realize a number of ambitious aims," said Sha'ar Hanegev regional council head Alon Schuster. "The physical planning draws its principles from the educational idea, which is shaped by the educators themselves: spacious reinforced buildings, suited to both emergency times and routine times; the best working conditions for the educational staff; and the most advanced standards in the country."

Schuster noted that although the school is heavily fortified its perspective is one of peace. "Today we are preparing the ground for the generations that will come after us and enjoy the good, the human and the just. For the future, we will build our shared home in the hope for days of peace and friendship with our neighbors," he said.