'Safety before covenience:' $3.2M in school security upgrades sought
The Board of Education's non-recurring capital spending plan includes $3.2 million in funding for security upgrades to the school district's buildings.
"We have been working with the first selectman and chief of police to develop improvements to our school security after the Police Department conducted a thorough study of all our school buildings after Sandy Hook," Superintendent of Schools David Title said, referring to the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six educators at the Newtown elementary school.
Title said the security plans were added to the $5.4 million list of capital projects as a convenience, so the proposed spending can be discussed at the same time as the school board's other capital requests, which include a partial roof replacement at Dwight School, a new boiler at Jennings School and a new turf field at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
The new year's capital list "is larger than prior years because we had added the school security infrastructure project to the list," Title said. "Otherwise, it is in keeping with previous years' requests." He said no projects were put off in favor of the security upgrades.
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the funding request at its Jan. 13 meeting.
As far as is practical, the funding requests include details on the various elements of the planned security upgrades, such as safety film on windows, upgraded security cameras, improved public address systems, secure fencing and a visitor management system. The work would be done over the next two years.
Some of the larger expenses are the safety film, which is estimated at $785,837 and an IP-based security camera at a cost of $1.19 million. The cameras would be installed both inside and out of school buildings. The request also includes $120,860 for BeSafe, a web-based emergency operations plan system that provides real-time data and information on the school buildings to police, fire, health and other emergency personnel.
The town applied for, but did not receive, a state grant for the work. It is not eligible for reimbursement through the state Department of Education.
Police Lt. James Perez, who along Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, now retired, conducted security surveys of all the town's schools, both public and private, following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Some recommendations from that survey have already been implemented, such as numbering each person entering a building and keeping doors locked during the school day.
Perez admitted that some parents might not be happy with some of the changes, such as new restrictions on visitors to the schools. But he said that is necessary so that when someone who is not supposed to be in the building can be more easily spotted. "They need to know what is normal and what is not normal," Perez said.
Other schools have also adopted a practice already in use at Fairfield Woods Middle School, Perez said. If a student has forgotten a book or lunch, no longer do parents bring the forgotten item inside. Instead, there is a cart outside, where the items are left and tagged with the student's name for delivery inside.
Some security changes may make things a little less convenient, Perez said, "but you don't ever put convenience before safety."