Hearing set for safety upgrades

Plan would make security improvements at Region 16 schools

A surveillance camera watches over the parking lot at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is holding a public hearing Thursday on a proposed $1,955,000 plan for security improvements. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

A surveillance camera watches over the parking lot at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is holding a public hearing Thursday on a proposed $1,955,000 plan for security improvements. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — The public will get its chance Thursday night to weigh in on a plan to appropriate $1,955,000 for security and safety improvements across the Region 16 school district.

A district meeting and public hearing on the plan will be held at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls. School officials will detail the planned measures to improve security at the district’s schools and the financial impact at the hearing.   

School security became a main concern of districts and the state after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Following the shooting, a security audit was performed on each school in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and the district office. School officials subsequently began working on the list of improvements to be made at the schools.

The Board of Education finalized the list at its Feb. 12 meeting. A resolution to go to a public hearing was approved by the board last week.

New digital cameras at the district’s five schools and the infrastructure needed to support the cameras make up a little more than $981,000 of the planned improvements. The new camera system will allow police officers to access live footage from inside the schools. Also, security guards will have the same access through iPads.

The list of district-wide upgrades also includes installing window film on all ground-level windows, an intercom system with remote release at food service entry points, silent alarms in the schools with remote emergency buttons to alert first responders and tamper-resistant glass on the exterior doors at each school.

The board is planning to bond the $1,955,000 needed to make the improvements. Voters will have to authorize the bonding at a referendum eyed for early April. The exact date of the referendum is expected to be set Thursday night.

If the board gets approval, it will bond the entire $1,955,000. However, the district will not be responsible for the whole cost.

The district was awarded a nearly $1.075 million grant from the state for safety upgrades in November. The grant was part of the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act, which was the legislature’s response to the shooting at Sandy Hook.

The grant funds will be used to reimburse the district.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini estimated the cost to the district to be roughly $995,000. The cost includes the district’s match for the grant, about $612,000, and the cost of items not covered by the grant, which is estimated to be $383,000.

Two Beacon Falls residents addressed the board last week regarding school security.

Christy Tottenham, a mother of two Laurel Ledge Elementary School students, thanked the board for its work putting together the safety package. She said the safety of her children is of the utmost concern for her.

Fred Smith, a security guard at Woodland, said everyone has seen enough tragedy in schools over the years.

“I can’t express enough how important it is for us to create the safest learning environment we possibly can for our students and our staff,” he said.

Smith stressed how important the additional surveillance cameras will be at Woodland as well as the other schools. 

“You can’t make anything 100 percent, there’s no doubt about it, but we do have an obligation to do the very best we can for everybody in the school [Woodland] and all our schools,” he said.

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