When Kettering City Schools completed major renovations to its buildings six years ago, the need to thwart a potential gunman wasn’t a priority.
“Unfortunately, things have changed and changed very quickly,” said Larry Richter, a senior associate for Edge and Tinney Architects, who worked on that project and has now drawn up plans for how the district can adapt buildings that were constructed in another era to be more secure.
Beavercreek and Northmont schools, which are using money from past bond issues, and Vandalia Butler are among other large area districts spending millions of dollars on similar projects to improve security at their buildings following the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Kettering officials will find out today how much their project will cost when they open contractor bids for retrofitting all 11 school buildings with secured vestibules.
Ken Lackey, director of building services, estimates it will take $90,000 to $100,000 for each school and said the district will pay for it out of the general fund “because we feel it’s a necessity to do at this time.”
Miamisburg City Schools are ahead of the curve. The district completed vestibule upgrades in the spring at all 10 buildings, including 106-year-old Kinder Elementary School.
“Five years ago, we were fortunate enough to have voters pass a $78.5 million bond levy to build new schools and to enhance security. We recognized that we needed to address it,” said Miamisburg schools business manager Scott Gilbert.
Lackey said Miamisburg’s system “is a good example of what Kettering wants to do.”
According to Gilbert, the vestibules allow visitors to enter, but go no farther until school personnel assess them and their reason for being in the school.
“There are card-reader access points. If the person is not allowed to be in a certain building, the card they are assigned will not permit them to go there. We have eliminated a lot of keys,” he said.
Area schools have formed district safety committees but have increasingly worked together to address security issues following December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
“We are comparing notes on this. There’s no question that it’s been a hot topic for superintendents, principals and business managers over the past year,” Lackey said.
“We definitely did our due diligence in seeking input not only from other districts, but also local law enforcement through our safety committee, which is made up of police and EMS staff from the municipalities that represent the area,” said Jenny Wood, information officer for Northmont Schools.
Richter said there are “basically two ways to secure school buildings. You can start at the perimeter, put up a fence and not let anyone on the property. We’re not to that point yet. Or you can install some sort of vestibule, with cameras and the other technology that goes with that.”
Kettering schools “have taken pride in making their buildings open and inviting,” the architect said. “It can no longer simply be, ‘We trust you.’ Now it has to be, ’We want to know who you are and what your intentions are before you can enter.’”
While the area’s newest school buildings and those currently under construction have incorporated tighter security into the original design, older ones require renovations.
All of Kettering’s buildings were built between 1949 and ’66.
“The offices are generally near the front door, but not so a visitor is required to go there before he or she can go farther,” Lackey said.
“Some school buildings have as few as three main doors. Some have 20,” Richter said. “Fairmont High School has a lot of doors. No single plan will serve every school.”
Patricia Shannon, assistant superintendent for pupil services in Beavercreek Schools, said prevention and intervention must now be taken into account, not just response.
“We’ve tightened everyone’s access to our buildings. We’re adding many more video cameras on buses.”
Beavercreek is awaiting bids to upgrade entrances at its last two schools – Main and Parkwood elementaries.
“At Parkwood, for example, the doors have been locked, but the secretary could not physically see the person who wanted to enter. This will change that and immediately enhance safety,” Shannon said.
Northmont is in the process of building a new high school (grades nine through 12) and an early learning center that will house pre-school, kindergarten and first-grade students.
“Both of these will have secure vestibules with state-of-the-art camera systems. We will be retrofitting the remaining buildings in the district with new security systems,” Wood said.
Lackey said Kettering’s renovations will be under way, not complete, by the start of the new school year on Aug. 13.
“The biggest change will be for visitors during the school day. They will be permitted only to come in the front door and will then have to go through the office. The change won’t be so great for staff, but they will be required to use selected doors with electronic access to go in and out.”
Bethany Reiff, public relations coordinator for Vandalia Butler Schools, said not all of the district’s six buildings – down to five with the closing of Murlin Heights Elementary as part of a district-wide reconfiguring of grade levels – have upgraded vestibules.
“We are looking into pricing out what we need to do. It’s in discussion by our safety committee.”
Securing the schools
Kettering City Schools and several other area districts are in various stages of making their entryways more secure, in response to the threat of school shootings and other crises. The plans include:
• Kettering plans to retrofit all 11 of its school buildings with secure vestibules that will require visitors to go first to the office and then limit their access to other areas using coded cards and badges.
• Miamisburg Schools recently completed a districtwide security upgrade to 10 of its school buildings.
• Beavercreek has two more elementary schools to complete.
• Northmont, which is building two new schools that will be state of the art for safety, is seeking bids to upgrade its other buildings.
• Vandalia Butler schools are studying which steps to take on some of its older buildings.
By the numbers
26: Number of people killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.
20: Number of doors to secure in one Kettering schools building.
106 years: Age of oldest Miamisburg school building made more secure.
$100,000: The cost to pay for new security measures at one school in the Kettering School District. 11 to receive work.