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Safety at the forefront in District 833

Students at Liberty Ridge Elementary returned to school for the first day of classes, held Tuesday, Sept. 2. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

When they reported to class on the first day of school, it’s unlikely that students in District 833 noticed that anything is different about their particular school.

But while they were enjoying summer vacation, the district was installing new locks, cameras and shatterproof glass as part of a $1.5 million security upgrade.

All work in the multi-phase project should be completed prior to the start of the 2016-17 school year, said Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for district operations.

This fall, 13 schools will have new door locks that will allow a teacher to lock them from the inside without opening the door. They include Armstrong, Crestview, Hillside, Newport,  Pine Hill, Pullman, Royal Oaks, Grey Cloud and Woodbury elementary schools; and Cottage Grove, Lake, Oltman and Woodbury middle schools.

“All of our buildings will eventually receive new door locks,” Vogel said.

Prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, the district replaced classroom and sidelight glass with laminate shatterproof glass at Bailey, Cottage Grove, Grey Cloud, Liberty Ridge, Middleton and Red Rock elementary schools; Cottage Grove, Oltman and Woodbury middle schools; and East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools. The glass is not bulletproof, but is designed to prevent someone from breaking glass to get into a building or classroom.

Twenty-two buildings in District 833 received main entry upgrades that include intercoms, buzzers, door locks and surveillance cameras. Of these, 13 buildings have been completed, Vogel said. However, only East Ridge High School, Lake Middle School and Cottage Grove Elementary will have new cameras initially. The other schools will also have cameras installed in the main entries once they receive the web-based digital video surveillance system, Vogel said.

“Some of the buildings will have the intercom system and door locks and buzzers but not the cameras because we don’t want to have to replace the cameras when we do the video upgrades,” Vogel said. “We don’t want to have to replace them twice.”

The money comes from a  $6.9 million property tax hike that South Washington County voters approved last fall. It was the second question in a three-part referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot. The district will pay for the security improvements over the 10-year duration of the levy.

The most extensive part of the security upgrade involves the redesign of the main entries at six schools so that visitors must first enter the school office. Summer of 2015 is the target start date for new main entries at Grey Cloud, Bailey and Middleton elementary schools. The district hopes to complete work on Red Rock, Cottage Grove and Liberty Ridge elementary schools by summer 2016.

Vogel said they hoped to get started on this phase of the project this summer, but the district had to reject bids from all three prospective contractors because they were over budget.

“We were disappointed that we weren’t able to move forward with the larger security and mechanical system replacement,” Vogel said. “We’re pleased with the effort on the remaining items. They’re coming in generally under budget.”

All security improvements will still be completed by the original target date, Vogel said.

“We had planned to start them this summer,” he said. “Now we’re going to start the summer of ‘15 but still have them done by the summer of ‘16.”

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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