Comprehensive site assessments are scheduled to begin next month in the Westerville City School District to identify what is needed in each building to help keep students safe.

Scott Dorne, executive director of facilities and operations, said one item that was a priority from the facility master-plan committee was continuing to address safety across the district.

"One of the key starting points to a project like this is comprehensive site assessment," he said. "We're planning those for the month of August when (staff) gets back.

"They will assemble a safety team at each building to identify what each site needs."

After the needs are identified, Dorne said, he would get together with Westerville fire and police officials to look at camera coverage from an internal aspect and then start to prepare a request for proposals to meet specific needs.

"This is a multi-layered approach," he said. "Starting points are based on current funding available. It's not as if this is the only thing we want to do, but we'll address this first."

In a presentation to the school board June 25, Dorne defined safety as not just life safety but also in the broader context of the word as related to the general operations of the schools, providing an environment conducive to teaching and learning in a safe and nurturing environment.

Dorne said he has been working with the district's information technology team; Debbie Meissner, director of health and safety services; local police, fire and community partners.

He recommends two phases to upgrade safety and security.

"As we look at phase one, we're talking about updating our camera systems which need improved in term of pixel capacity, zooming and tracking capabilities, increase coverage at building access points as well as interior coverage expansion," he said.

Dorne said one principal nicely summed up the district's current situation as not having enough cameras, having poorly located cameras and having cameras with extremely low video quality.

From the maintenance department's standpoint, the cameras vary in age, with the oldest one in use being 20 years old.

Dorne said there are two different systems operating in one building and that is less than ideal.

"Standardization is recommended by the IT department, maintenance and by our community partners," he said.

He recommends changes for cameras to expand coverage for both interior and exterior.

The number of cameras currently in the district high schools include 48 at Central; 38 at North and 32 at South.

Dorne said the Hilliard and Big Walnut school districts have 64 cameras in their high schools, while Reynoldsburg has 130 and New Albany has 172 cameras in its high school.

"We don't have as many cameras as some of our fellow educators have to work with," he said.

"And I'm not saying we need 172, but saying our people feel there are areas we lack coverage that would be very helpful."

At the elementary level, some Westerville buildings have only two cameras whereas others have as many as 10.

"All our IT department would have to be supporters on this project," Dorne said. "They have been great so far to work with. We need to collaborate with many different groups to make sure something like this goes in an appropriate and functional way for us to do this to best serve our students and staff."

Other proposed components of the first phase are network door access control (a buzzer system), wireless door-prop alerts and a Situational Awareness and Response Assistant, a risk management solution and mass notification system.

Board president Gerrie Cotter questioned costs.

Dorne said it's important to know that it's expensive, as he provided a ball-park figure of $1.5 million for cameras and related equipment.

Dorne said he estimates wireless door alerts would cost $100 a door, just for the alert, excluding software.

"Exploration needs to be done," he said.

Dorne said the scope of phase two has yet to be fully defined and will require significant input.

Some proposed suggestions include modifying controlled access points into buildings, duress-alarm systems (panic buttons); window film treatments and integration of communication systems.

Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker said she wants to see the district move ahead as quickly as possible.

"Components you've identified are pieces we really need to do," she said. "I want to see us move forward on each component."

With an initiative this big, Dorne said, he wanted to make sure there was backing, and he viewed the board's reaction as a vote of confidence.