“We do have very good security plans in place, but myself and Dennis have been working closely to figure out how to make it better,” said Superintendent Corey Lunn. “We’ve been doing assessments of building vulnerabilities for a while but now we’re working on developing a short term and long term plan to make our schools as safe as we can with the resources we have.”
Director of Operations Dennis Bloom said safety improvements have been on-going for some time with the REMS grant the district received last year. The grant allows the district to update safety plans, create administrative emergency manuals, classroom emergency go-to kits, get a training DVD, implement ID scanning pilot projects at two sites and increase front line training. District officials are currently looking at entry access with an architectural firm called Wold Architects.
“The planning took a right-hand turn with the incident in Newtown, Conn., and we’re now looking at some facilities planning in the future.” Bloom said.
Short term goals for the district include making visitors enter buildings through controlled access points, having a prepared staff ready to handle emergency situations and making parents aware of the changes.
Suggestions Bloom currently has for short-term student safety improvements include installing AIPHONES, which is a video surveillance system that allows staff to see anyone trying to enter a school building. The system locks outside doors and only allows office staff the ability to let people enter and exit a school building during school hours.
Bloom added that secured vestibules are another idea. Secured vestibules are intended to ensure persons entering a building go to the main office or wait in the entryway until someone buzzes them in. Other improvements Bloom suggests are installing additional key pad access for staff, remodel or install office doors and develop staffing for office coverage.
Long-term changes Bloom suggests include controlled access points for visitors that requires them check in at a main office before getting to rest of the building. This could result in future entryway remodeling.
“Sometimes it will cause more problems and inconvenience, but it’s inconvenience at a good cost, safety of the kids,” Bloom said.
Bloom also said panic buttons could be installed in offices. remote lock and unlock exterior doors added and additional secure areas set up including tornado shelters, electronic inside doors, camera coverage and two-way radios to improve communication with law enforcement and within the building. Further consultation with local law enforcement offices is included in the overall plan. Other upgrades will occur with public-address systems and exterior door replacement.
The short-term plan is estimated to cost $150,000 to $175,000, and the long-term implementation plan could cost $3 million to $3.5 million. Costs to put these security measures in place vary from school-to-school because buildings have unique floor plans. The most expensive security upgrades, $1.13 million, are at Oak Park Elementary School.
“I hate to sound crass, but $150,000 to $3 million seems like a lot. In the end, we can’t always 100 percent guarantee the safety of our students,” said board Member George Hoeppner. “Though I did get a couple of emails after Newtown, there hasn’t been much discussion about this with everything I’ve heard over the years.”
Lunn and Bloom agreed with Hoeppner that the district can’t always guarantee the student safety, but other board members and Bloom had said they have gotten a lot of questions about district building security after the Newtown shooting.
“The more deterrence you have the less likely it is for someone to try other areas and other doors,” Bloom said.
“If that bad guy wants to get in, he’s going to get in. But what we hope to accomplish with this is to slow the situation down and create a faster response from law enforcement if needed.” Lunn added.
Bloom also said that he looks at this idea as another way to ensure student safety in many situations and not just an active shooter situation.
“There’s other things that students need to be safe from too, like tornadoes, freeways, HVAC problems. There’s a bunch of emergencies that could happen,” Bloom said.
“$150,000 to $175,000 for the short term plan can get us to another level of safety, make the community feel a little better and keep the kids safe,” Lunn added.