$400K Safety Upgrade OK’d

County Schools Entryway Project Going Out To Bid

Posted: February 1, 2013

The vestibule at Spotswood High School requires people entering the school to come through the office. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Matt Cross, resource officer at Spotswood High School, chats with students during class change on Thursday afternoon. Work is moving forward with safety improvements at several Rockingham County schools, including new entrances with vestibules at some schools and camera equipment. Each county high school already has its own resource officer.
A mounted camera keeps a watchful eye on the exterior of Spotswood High School.
Patty Quillen, special education social worker, signs in with the Spotswood security system. Eight schools in the Rockingham County system will be getting security upgrades, thanks to funding approved by the Board of Supervisors last week.
HARRISONBURG — Approximately $400,000 worth of safety projects are moving forward for Rockingham County Schools.

By the end of next week, the division will go out to bid to build safer entryways at eight of its schools and to install video cameras at all four middle schools. Throughout the remaining school year, the division also will pilot a new notification system that solves several problems schools are having with the current system.

Details were given Wednesday during a Safety Task Force meeting.

The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors voted last week to cover up to $500,000 of the cost of the school safety projects, according to County Administrator Joe Paxton.

Evaluating safety through the Safety Task Force was the division’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a lone shooter killed 26 people, including 20 young children.

Outfitting schools with secure vestibule entrances emerged as one of the main priorities of the division following the Sandy Hook shooting.

Of the eight schools getting safer entrances, seven will have secure vestibules, where visitors will be required to stop before being buzzed in to the main office.

The new entrances are to include shatter-resistant material used in place of glass for windows and doors, an electric latch system that must be unlocked by office staff and cameras or voice equipment that would allow staff to communicate with visitors in the vestibules.

“We’re estimating at this point between $7,000 to $15,000 per school to retrofit,” said Steve Reid, director of maintenance for the division.

The cost to complete the job at Plains Elementary will be about $150,000 because the office will have to be gutted and rebuilt, Reid said. The approximate total cost for the other six schools to be outfitted with secure entrances is $215,000.

The other division schools without safety entrances are Elkton, Montevideo and Wilbur Pence middle schools; Elkton, McGaheysville, and South River elementary schools; and the Dayton Learning Center. Building a secure vestibule at the learning center is not plausible, officials say, but a camera system will be installed and the front doors will have safety latches built-in.

Reid also announced that the division plans to spend around $35,000 to bring camera systems up-to-date at all four middle schools. When complete, each school will have a 16-camera system.

The other half of Wednesday’s safety meeting focused on upgrading the division’s parent notification system, used primarily for school delay and closing information.

Oskar Scheikl, Rockingham County Schools director of information management, said the system the division now uses has several limitations. For instance, if the system’s server is hit by a power outage, no messages can be sent.

“There’s really no fallback option there,” said Scheikl, who told the board Wednesday about School Messenger, the company the division is going to use for its pilot project through the end of the school year.

School Messenger will give the division the option of sending unlimited messages through various media platforms and can be specialized to send a message to specific groups of students or parents, Scheikl said.

The program will be free through the end of the year, and if the county decides to use it in 2013-14, the cost is estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000 a year.

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com

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