Voters to decide safety appropriation

A surveillance camera watches over the parking lot at Long River Middle School in Prospect. A referendum will be held Thursday on a proposed $1,955,000 appropriation for security improvements. –FILE PHOTO

A surveillance camera watches over the parking lot at Long River Middle School in Prospect. A referendum will be held Thursday on a proposed $1,955,000 appropriation for security improvements. –FILE PHOTO

REGION 16 — On April 10, the polls in Beacon Falls and Prospect will be open. The question before voters will be whether to authorize the Region 16 school district to appropriate up to $1,955,000 for security improvements.

Voting will take place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the firehouse, 26 New Haven Road, in Prospect and Laurel Ledge Elementary School, 30 Highland Ave., in Beacon Falls.

The district is looking to buy a host of equipment to upgrade safety at schools.

“The safety and security of the students and staff are of the utmost importance,” Board of Education Chair Donna Cullen said.

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 at the schools. The board finalized the list in February.

New digital cameras at the district’s five schools 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, new radios 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 too 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.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said every piece of equipment for the schools and office can be taken out and moved to another location in the district. The same safety measures are being incorporated into the new elementary school, which is currently under construction, he said.  

If approved, the district will bond the money needed to buy the equipment. However, it will not be responsible for the entire expense.

The district was awarded a nearly $1.075 million grant from the state for safety upgrades in November. The grant funds will be used to reimburse the district on eligible expenses as it spends the money.

The amount the district is responsible for is estimated at $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.

James described the appropriation as a one-time opportunity due to the size of the grant the district received.

If approved, Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said officials will begin working on bid specifications. She said officials are currently weighing whether to bond the entire amount at once or issue short-term notes, if voters give them the OK.

Short-term notes, Mangini said, would allow the district to borrow money as the projects move forward. This will ensure the district doesn’t borrow more money than is needed, she said.

No matter how the district borrows the money, if the measure is approved, the financial impact of the upgrades will not be felt on the school budget until the 2015-16 fiscal year, Mangini said.  

Cullen and James both said if the referendum fails the board will have to review the list and decide what to do next. James said he can’t see the board not making any improvements.

“We’re hoping the community will support it,” James said.

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