School security work heads for Aug. 14 vote

To continue “hardening” Ridgefield’s school buildings in the wake of last December’s school shooting in Newtown, $731,000 in school security spending — doorlocks, access control swipe cards, cameras scanning entrances, playgrounds, parking lots — has been approved by the Board of Finance, and scheduled for a mid-August town meeting by the selectmen.

“I think most people understand the reason why we need to do this,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

“Just about every town in the state of Connecticut is approving funding for improved security at all of their schools.”

Designed to improve security at every school in the district, the spending program will come before voters at a town meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 14, starting at 7:30 in town hall.

When approved by the school board in June, there was a thought that some of the work, or much of it, might get done over the summer. That no longer seems realistic. It’s August, and there still needs to be a town vote, then bidding, vendors chosen.

Work will likely go on most of the fall.

“I’m building in 90 days for them to get it all installed, and 30 days for us to test it and have them come back and fix it,” said Craig Tunks, the school system’s director of information and operations development.

“The hope would be that we would get it all done before the holiday break.”

A total of $731,200 for the school security projects was approved by the Board of Finance at a special meeting Thursday morning, July 25.

The appropriation includes: $162,000 for “access control” locks to interior doors; $231,000 for “access control” systems for exterior doors; and $338,000 for exterior security cameras, wiring and software.

The finance board vote was 4-0 with Jill Bornstein abstaining on what Chairman Dave Ulmer described as “procedural grounds.”

The exterior access control system is envisioned at 69 doors in the nine main school buildings — six elementary schools, the two middle schools, the high school.

“You have a card and you need to swipe the card to get in,” Mr. Tunks said. “It allows us to have all the doors locked, all the time.”

Depending on the school, there will be between four and 12 doors with exterior access control systems — and those will be only doors where people can get into the buildings.

“Every staff member will have a card issued to them that will also be their ID card, that will allow them access to the building during certain times,” Mr. Tunks said.

New interior access control locks will be installed in every classroom in the district, and selected other rooms.

“The teacher can lock the door from the inside without ever having to go out into the hallway,” Mr. Tunks said. “It’s part of the lockdown procedures.

“And at the same time we’re adjusting how the school is keyed, so we have commonality in keys through the district.”

An estimated 105 cameras will be used to enhance security at the nine school buildings.

“The cameras will be located to review all building angles and additional areas of focus such as playgrounds, visitor entrances, and parking lots,” a memorandum from the school administration says.

“At the front of the buildings we want to see the parking lot, the people entering the building and be able to identify their face, and be able to identify license plates,” Mr. Tunks said.

Each school’s digital camera system could be viewed at any time from  different locations — the front-door security guard’s station, the building’s main office, the school system’s central offices, the police department.

“In the event of a lockdown, the police will actually be able to access the cameras right from the Police Department.”

Doing the projects in the fall rather than the summer is a complication, but not a major problem, in Mr. Tunks’ estimatation.

“It would either be done after school to be non-disruptive to the school, if that’s a concern,” he said. “Or things would be done while the students are in session because we do a certain amount of work on the buildings throughout the year all the time.”

The $731,000 request the finance board passed on to the selectmen is part of a package of school security “capital” spending proposals approved by the Board of Education in late June. It was based a recommendation made after months of study by a School Security Committee that included representatives of the school system and the town, including emergency services departments.

The School Security Committee initially sought $851,000. But $151,000 for a “mass notification” system was financed, with school board approval, from the schools’ 2012-13 end-of-year surplus.

Further recommendations from the School Security Committee are expected to be proposed as part of next year’s capital budget. These include vestibule entrances, security gates, and window film that would make it harder to gain entrance to the schools.

As part of the 2013-14 school operating budget approved in May, voters authorized spending an $515,000 on additional security-related staffing. This included two new school resource officers that will be part of the Police Department, eight more private security guards to work building entrances, and more staffing in the area of mental health to better identify and assist students and families at risk.

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  • David

    I don’t think this is money well spent. And I don’t think any elected official has the guts to stand up and say so.

  • Secondhand Rose

    Agree 100%.

    I really wish the town would spend the same kind of energy and attention on the ungodly traffic problem that takes place every morning coming up Route 35 from Route 7. All it will take is someone to adjust the way the traffic lights are now working so that the Route 35 traffic flow can move more freely up the road instead of having to stop every 2 minutes and then sit there for another 5 or 6 before being “allowed” to crawl at 10mph bumper-to-bumper.

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