School security became a main concern of districts across the country following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last December. Since then, a security audit was performed on each school in the region, which serves schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and the district office. School officials have compiled a list of recommended improvements, which the Board of Education reviewed at a special meeting last week.
The board was presented with three separate lists of suggested improvements — one detailing items officials feel are immediate needs, another for items that could be deferred and the last was a list of confidential upgrades the board did not publicly discuss or disclose citing safety concerns.
The cost for the immediate recommended improvements is estimated at $1.43 million with an annual maintenance cost of $115,663. The bulk the expense is for replacing current surveillance cameras with a digital system and adding more cameras.
According to a security proposal, the cost of the 279 new cameras and the support system for them is a little more than $1 million.
All of the current cameras at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls, Long River Middle School in Prospect and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls will be replaced, the proposal states. Current equipment from Woodland and Long River along with new cameras will be installed at Community and Algonquin schools in Prospect. The two schools are scheduled to be closed when the new Prospect Elementary School opens in 2015.
The digital system would allow police officers to tap into the feed when they are responding to an emergency at one of the schools, according to officials.
Dave Langdon, the district’s supervisor of facilities and maintenance, said the additional cameras will also cover a lot of dead spots that currently exist. He pointed to Woodland specifically, saying cameras will be added to cover the field house and upper parking lot near the athletic fields.
Superintendent of Schools Tim James added a number of interior cameras will be installed as well, including ones to cover the inside of entranceways into schools.
Officials are also recommending window film be installed at the schools at an estimated cost of $16,269.
Langdon said the tinted film blocks someone from seeing from a distance what is happening inside the schools, while allowing those inside to see out. He said the film will be installed on the ground windows at all the schools.
The list of items for immediate consideration also includes a six-foot high fence around the rear perimeter of Long River for $24,920 and an eight-foot along the rear perimeter of Laurel Ledge for $17,000. The fence planned at Laurel Ledge is higher due to vandalism issues at the school, Langdon said.
Officials are also seeking to install digital signs, like the one at the entrance of Naugatuck High School, in front of Long River on the town-owned island on Route 69 and Woodland. The signs can display emergency messages or any message the district programs. Langdon added they are also tied into the Amber Alert system.
The signs are estimated to cost $7,600 each. However, officials said they could approach the towns of Prospect and Beacon Falls about sharing the cost since the signs could be used for town announcements.
The school board trimmed a couple items from the list of upgrades for possible deferment, including lightening alert systems at Woodland, Long River and Laurel Ledge. The items still on the list are estimated to cost $363,138 with an annual maintenance cost of $14,456.
The majority of the cost, about $246,000, is for a new digital radio system and 259 new digital radios, according to the proposal.
The new system would allow staff from each school to communicate with each other. The current radios only allow staff within a school to talk to each other.
The radio proposal drew some concerns from board members.
Chair Priscilla Cretella questioned why the radios were on the list of items considered for deferment. She said it’s vital school officials are able to communicate with first responders as they respond to a school. The digital radios would allow that.
“That is a very important thing,” she said.
Bruce Bartmess, director of technology, said first responders in both towns have the same radios currently used at the schools that allow them to communicate with officials when they respond to a school.
Donna Cullen, vice chair of the board, expressed concerns about the number of radios and people who would have access to communications throughout the district. She said it’s possible people could hear confidential information about a student they aren’t supposed to know. She argued the number of digital radios could be reduced so that only administrators in each school have them.
The digital radio proposal is being reviewed further.
The school board made no official decision on which items to move forward with last week. It is expected to continue discussing the matter at it’s meeting this month. The board is aiming to put together a bond proposal to pay for the upgrades with a vote on the package in October.
Board member Robert Hiscox, who took part in the walk-through of the schools for the security audit, said the district’s schools are safe. But, he said, there are some improvements that can made.
“Our schools are safe, but they can be safer,” Hiscox said. “There are some definitive upgrades that we need to do.”