Voters OK appropriation for upgrades

REGION 16 — By a 60-vote margin, voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect approved the appropriation of $1,955,000 for security improvements in Region 16 at a referendum April 10.

The appropriation passed by an unofficial count of 294 yes to 234 no, as just a little more than 5 percent of the 9,952 registered voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect cast their ballot.

The appropriation was approved in both towns. Prospect voters approved it 167-113, while it passed in Beacon Falls 127-121.

“This was so important to make sure the students and staff are secure in our region and update what we need to update,” said Board of Education Chair Donna Cullen after the vote was announced in the Prospect firehouse.

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.

After the audit, the board began compiling a list of improvements to be made in the region and equipment to buy. 

New digital cameras and the infrastructure needed to support the cameras make up about half of the $1,955,000 cost. The new camera system will allow police officers to access live footage from inside the schools.

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

The tamper-resistant glass is not bullet-proof. Rather, it’s designed to withstand being shot multiple times without shattering.

Improvements will be made to Algonquin and Community schools as well as the district office in Prospect, even though they are not expected to be used by the district for much longer.

The school building project underway includes a new elementary school in Prospect, which will replace Algonquin and Community, and a new district office.

Every piece of equipment for the two schools and office can be taken out and moved to another location in the district, school officials have said. Safety measures are being incorporated into the new elementary school, which is currently under construction. 

The vote last week gives the board authorization to spend up to $1,955,000. The district will be reimbursed for eligible costs through a state grant.  

The amount the district is responsible for is estimated at $995,000. The district’s cost includes its match for the grant, about $612,000, and the cost of items not eligible for reimbursement under the grant, which is estimated to be $383,000.

The items not eligible for reimbursement include a generator for the pump house at Woodland Regional High School, replacing 46 single pane windows at Long River Middle School with aluminum projected windows and retrofitting the entrances at Long River and Laurel Ledge Elementary School to make them Sallyports.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the district will now move forward to seek the best prices on the equipment to be purchased so as to maximize the dollars available. Installation of the new equipment is expected to begin by the end of June, he said.

“I am pleased and grateful that the taxpayers approved the funds that will supplement the Safe School and Security grant that was awarded to Region 16 by the state. Their approval speaks to the high importance they place on keeping our students and staff as safe as possible,” James said.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said officials are reviewing its options as far as financing the improvements. She is expected to meet with the district’s financial advisor this week, and the final plan will be discussed with the board.

Mangini said the district is looking at a temporary note that could be rolled into a bond or taking out a bank loan.

The financial impact of the borrowing will not be felt on the school budget until the 2015-16 fiscal year, Mangini said.

Mangini said the district will borrow some money at first to get the projects going then more money as needed. The district will be reimbursed on eligible costs as it spends the money, she said.

“We certainly will not borrow more than we need,” she said.

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