School security upgrades start soon

Construction on security improvements to multiple schools in the Stillwater School District could be seen as early as winter break, depending on the response of the Minnesota Department of Education to the changes.

The school district’s Director of Operations Dennis Bloom recently sent a letter to the Minnesota Department of Education outlining the plans.

“A letter has to go to the MDE any time you have projects over $500,000,” Bloom said. “A letter of consultation is required whenever you have projects over $1 million. The letter of consultation lets them see all of our projects and lays out how it’s funded.”

The letter also paves the way for the district to get bonds for the building projects. These projects start soon and will be funded with the school security portion of the levy that was approved by voters in November’s election.

“These projects are funded with levy dollars and all of the money will be put up front to pay for the next eight years of projects with these levy dollars,” Bloom said.

The projects include updating entryways at several schools to make the buildings less accessible to would-be intruders, improving radio communication, upgrading cameras, installing distress buttons in the offices to increase response time, new impact-resistant doors that absorb force like a car windshield without breaking, installing intercom systems called Aiphones that will help office staff manage entrances to the buildings. Other items of note included the fact that the district has provided school entrance passes to local law enforcement to help increase response time in case of an emergency.

When all the projects are completed, visitors to the schools will have to go through the front office in order to access the building. They will be buzzed in by secretaries who will be able to see and identify those asking to get into the schools.

“We’ve seen a complete change in attitude since recent events,” Bloom said. “Now we hear parents tell our office staff, ‘Did you know that that door was open?’ instead of asking why it was locked.”

Improvements are planned for 15 schools in the district. Projects range in value from $7,430 at the Early Childhood and Family Center to $1.2 million at Oak Park Elementary. The cost disparity is determined by what needs to be done and how many changes need to be made to recalibrate the entrances. Total costs of everything that will go into these security updates are $3.3 million. Bloom said there will be no tax impact to residents going forward once the projects begin, because the money has already been set aside as part of the levy request. No project is expected to exceed $1.4 million.

“We’re making these improvements to keep our students and our staff safe when they are at school or work,” Bloom said.

The first project Bloom said the district could undertake is the main vestibule at Marine Elementary during winter break, which begins Dec. 23. Withrow Elementary’s improvements are slated to start during spring break.

The Minnesota Department of Education has 90 days to respond to the proposed projects.

“Hopefully we’ll see the projects start soon and we can seek bids and move forward with the projects,” Bloom said. “We want to get all the projects done by the time school starts next year.”

Bloom noted that as the district goes through the next year people will see other projects taking place that aren’t related to school security, but he wanted people to know those projects have had money set aside for them previously and have been planned for ahead of the levy request.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]