Worthington News

District plans to tighten its building security

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Beginning next school year, visitors no longer will be able to simply walk through the front door at any of Worthington's elementary or middle schools.

All doors will be locked during the day. Anyone who wants to enter will be viewed on a camera and will talk into an intercom system to a person in the school office who will be able to remotely unlock the door.

The so-called buzz-in system will be installed in the summer as part of a new district-wide safety and security system.

A committee that has been studying the district's security made its recommendations to the Worthington Board of Education on May 6.

Besides the buzz-in system, panic buttons will be installed in all schools; two-way radios will be linked directly to the Worthington Police Department; more mental-health services will be available; and all staff members will be trained in how to use the new equipment.

"Your best plan is directly tied to people," said Jeff Maddox, director of innovation and school support.

Some of the new security measures already were planned, but efforts to make the schools safer escalated following the murders at a Connecticut elementary school Dec. 14, 2012.

A committee comprising mostly school administrators met with representatives of all schools for input and hired a consultant who visited every school and did walk-throughs with principals.

The consultant's recommendations focused on the front doors, Maddox said.

Currently, all doors are kept locked except the front doors.

Besides the buzz-in system, each entryway will receive reinforced glass to make it more difficult to break. The "chicken-wire" appearance will be avoided, Maddox told the board.

Panic buttons will be installed at a secretary's desk in each school office. It will alert Worthington police of a problem.

New two-way radios will have dedicated lines to the police department. If a building is not in Worthington, the appropriate police department will be notified by Worthington dispatchers, Maddox said.

At the high schools, the front-door situation is more complex, he said. A simple buzz-in system will not work.

Instead, the district will hire architects to look at building "forced entries" at the high schools.

To enter the school during school hours, a visitor will be forced into an office where he or she must speak to a designated person before being buzzed in.

The forced entries will not be ready for the 2013-14 school year but will be part of phase 2 of the plan, which also will include continued discussions about hiring resource officers and placing cameras inside buildings.

Northwest Community Counseling Center already has received additional funding via a recently approved levy and will provide additional services to the district, Maddox said.

"I hope staff training goes in the direction of identifying mental-health risks," said board member Julie Keegan, a member of the safety and security committee.

All staff members will be issued new key fobs over which the district will have control. If one is stolen or lost, it could be disabled immediately, said Tim Gehring, director of facilities. He estimated the cost of the improvements at $23,000 per building, plus $10,000 across the district for panic-button installation.

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