Both schools will undergo major security upgrades
The School Committee decided unanimously last week on an emergency vote to approve suggested security upgrades to the main entrances at both town schools. Construction could begin on the improvements as early as April vacation and no later than the end of the school year.
Superintendent Marcia Lukon said the emergency vote on Feb. 7 was needed due to the “major number of responses concerning the entrance of Melrose Avenue School.”
Upgrades to both schools will cost just shy of $50,000. The money will come from the capital fund, which is a surplus balance that currently stands at approximately $225,000. Therefore, the security upgrades will add nothing to the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget currently under consideration.
Police Chief Ed Mello was in attendance and noted that the main entrances of the two schools were of primary concern because they were “high-risk areas.”
At Lawn Avenue School, the front doors will be replaced with two medal doors. Each door will have bullet-resistant windows. Bullet-resistant windows will also be installed around the doors to allow light in.
The second set of doors will be moved from their current location farther into the school, almost in line with the doors of the music room. The new set of doors will be similar in construction to the new front doors.
A key-fob system will also be installed. A key-fob system involves a key card and a receiver attached to the wall like in most government buildings. Teachers and other authorized personnel will carry keys that can unlock any of the doors.
The office will also be retrofitted with medal doors, bullet-resistant windows and a transaction window. Parents will be able to place items for their children in the transaction window, which will resemble the one at the police station.
All of the new doors will be locked so that no one can open them from the outside. Each door will be covered by video surveillance and equipped with a buzzer. People seeking entrance to the school will have to buzz the office where staff will be able to see the person who buzzed and unlock the door remotely. All the doors will be able to be opened from the inside in accordance with the fire code.
According to the committee, Melrose Avenue School presents tougher remodeling issues, even though all of the systems placed at Lawn Avenue will also be installed at the elementary school.
New doors will be placed to the office side of the third-grade wing and to the elevator side of the nurse’s office. The office itself will be retrofitted with new doors and a transaction window, the elevator will be equipped with a key-fob system, and the double doors to the lower level will be replaced. Also, the two windows overlooking the multipurpose room will be replaced with bullet-resistant glass.
Unfortunately, Lukon said, the changes at Melrose Avenue will substantially alter traffic patterns. Lukon noted that new procedures would have to be worked out.
“I think there is going to be a balance,” she said. “It’s going to be really challenging.”
Committee member B.J. Whitehouse said the reason is that the elementary school was “built with ascetics in mind.”
The School Committee said the security changes address two concerns. First, the changes will prohibit unauthorized people from roaming the schools. Second, the changes will better control entrance into the schools.
“It creates a trap if you will,” said Mello. “People won’t be able to get past the office.”
When asked if he thought the changes would change life at school, Mello responded, “It takes some getting use to.”
“Who is inconvenienced?” asked Whitehouse. “I don’t care as long as children are safe.”
While Mello acknowledged the improvements are not perfect, he noted that in incidents such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a few minutes could be critical. It can be a lifesaving measure to slow somebody down, he said.
Jamestown resident Jerome Scott worried that the School Committee was overreacting. “This is Jamestown,” he said. “We don’t need this.”
“Newtown could have said the same thing,” responded Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser.
There was some concern that the additional duties of watching the doors could overwork the staff. However, Lukon explained that procedures could be worked out as early as next week and that no new staff was anticipated.
It was also asked whether moving the Melrose office to the preschool, and using the nearby entrance as the main entrance, had been considered. Such a move was considered but decided unfeasible.
Town Councilor Blake Dickinson, who has two young children in the school system, was at the meeting. He said the changes seemed to make the buildings resemble prisons rather than schools. “It’s disheartening to me,” he said.